Celtics injuries start to catch up with them

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Celtics injuries start to catch up with them

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON The Boston Celtics have been a no-excuse team all season.

Injuries be damned, finding a way to win was still the primary mission.

But the more you watch this beat-up Celtics team play, it's clear that the injuries are starting to catch up with them.

The C's are good enough and deep enough to beat most teams with a short-handed roster.

However, victories against the league's elite teams are a lot tougher to come by with a patchwork lineup, which was exactly what the Celtics had to work with in a 92-86 loss Thursday night to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Boston came into the game with just 10 players healthy.

Among those unable to play were Marquis Daniels (bruised spinal cord); Semih Erden (right adductor strain); Jermaine O'Neal (left knee surgery); Shaquille O'Neal (right Achilles); and Delonte West (right wrist).

The C's didn't even get to halftime before their roster of healthy bodies was reduced to nine.

Nate Robinson suffered a right knee bruise after less than four minutes of action, and is scheduled to have an MRI performed on Friday.

One of the strengths of the Celtics has been their ability to play through adversity.

Most nights, it's not a problem.

On Thursday?

Big problem.

A 14-4 run in the second quarter brought the Lakers within striking distance. A fast start by Kobe Bryant put the Celtics on their heels and they were never able to recover and regain control of the game.

"Mentally we were not a very good team and usually we are," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "I didn't think we fought hard enough through adversity, and we're great at that usually."

Fighting through tough times becomes even more daunting when the number of healthy bodies continues to dwindle away.

"It definitely hurts when you don't have the normal guys come off the bench to kind of spell you," said Paul Pierce. "Certain guys played extended minutes, but that's no excuse."

Maybe not, but it does provide an explanation for why the Celtics are struggling for the first time all season - they've lost three of their last four games.

Life doesn't get any easier for the Celtics, who will host the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon in a game pitting the top two teams in the Eastern Conference against each other.

While these games often serve as an early litmus test, the C's can't read anything into that game - or Thursday's loss - in large part because so many of the players that the Celtics would use in case they met in the playoffs, are out with injuries.

West, who was not expected back until after the All-Star break, might return as early as Sunday's game against the Heat.

Rivers said there was some discussion among the medical staff about possibly playing West against the Lakers.

Because no consensus was reached, Rivers decided to keep him out in Thursday's loss.

"He's going to practice Saturday," Rivers said of West. "I would like him actually to play in the New Jersey game on Wednesday just to get him one game. But even if he does play Sunday, let's say, it will be 5 or 10 minutes. It won't be much either way."

Regardless of whether West returns, the Celtics are going to need some seldom-used reserves to step up in a big way in these final two games before the all-star break.

The player most poised to do so is Von Wafer, who had eight points against the Lakers.

Wafer scored all of his points in the first half.

"I played basketball; I just played basketball," he said. "That's what I do. That's what I get paid to do."

He'll get an opportunity to do more of that in these final two games as the Celtics limp towards the All-star break with a beaten and battered team.

As for the players that are out with injuries, Rivers isn't thinking about them right now.

"They weren't here," Rivers said. "So, you know what I mean. What am I supposed to . . . they're not here, so the fact is Shaq and JO, it doesn't matter tonight. We had what we had. Whether it would've made a difference or not, I don't know the answer, is what I'm saying."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – For most of his life, basketball has come easy to James Young.
 
So, the idea that in training camp he wasn’t just fighting to get playing time but also to stay in the NBA, was a jarring eye-opener.
 
To Young’s credit, he rose to the challenge and beat out R.J. Hunter for the Celtics' final roster spot.
 
And while Young’s playing time has been sporadic, he has done a much better job of maximizing his opportunities.
 
So, as the Celtics roll into Detroit to face the Pistons, Young finds himself playing his best basketball as a pro, good enough to make coach Brad Stevens not hesitate to put him in the game in the fourth quarter of a close matchup.
 
“It’s exciting to come back home,” Young, who grew up in nearby Rochester Hills, Mich., told CSNNE.com. “A lot of my family will be there. I’m not thinking about me. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”
 
And lately, he’s getting an opportunity to do just that beyond being someone who helps in practice.
 
We saw that in the 107-97 loss at Toronto on Friday. Young came off the bench to play four minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter with only two other Celtics reserves, Marcus Smart (8:39) and Jonas Jerebko (5:10) seeing more action down the stretch.
 
“It means a lot,” Young said. “He’s starting to trust me a little bit more. That’s a good thing. I’m just trying to do little things; rebound, get defensive stops and score when I get a chance.”
 
The fact that his scoring is just starting to take shape helps shed some light on why he has been buried so deep on the Celtics bench.
 
For his first couple seasons, Young seemed a hesitant shooter physically overwhelmed by opponents too strong for him to defend as well as too physical for him to limit their effectiveness.
 
But this season, he has done a better job at holding his own as a defender while making himself an available scoring option who can play off his teammates.
 
Young is averaging just 2.9 points per game this season, but he’s shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on 3’s, which is also a career-high.
 
Getting on the floor more often has in many ways provided yet another boost of confidence to Young.
 
“I’m getting used to the flow of the game playing more consistently,” Young said. “I know what to do. It’s slowing up a little more and it’s getting easier.”
 

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

TORONTO – It’s far too soon to say if the Celtics’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline was a mistake.
 
But the early returns aren’t encouraging.
 
Their 107-97 loss Friday night to the Toronto Raptors wasn’t because of Kyle Lowry (right wrist), who didn’t even play, or DeMar DeRozan, who played out his mind while scoring a career-high 43 points.
 
The game will be remembered by the new guys Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, both acquired at the trade deadline by the Raptors.
 
Ibaka, who was a bad fit, and on most nights a bad player, in Orlando, looked like the O-K-C Ibaka while scoring 15 points to go with seven rebounds against the Celtics – numbers that were better than his two games combined against the Celtics this season with the Magic when he scored a total of just 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
 
And then there was Tucker, who got a crash video course on Raptors playbook just hours before the game, and proceeded to show the kind of toughness at both ends of the floor that has made him one of the league’s more underrated defenders as he finished with a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.
 
It was their first game with their new team, but you would have thought they had been with Toronto all season long with how seamless they seemed to fit in.
 
Ibaka draining jumpers, Tucker causing chaos defensively, while absolutely crushing the Celtics on the boards...their play was a painful reminder of what could have been for the Green team.
 
Both were rumored to have been in the Celtics’ crosshairs prior to the Thursday 3 p.m. trade deadline. The Celtics were lukewarm at best on Ibaka (they didn’t want what would have been a 25-game rental) and just couldn’t quite strike a deal and cross the finish line for Tucker.
 
It’s too soon to hit the panic button and rip Danny Ainge for not getting a minor deal done like adding Tucker or Ibaka.
 
Still, his players have to embrace the truth behind what transpired this trade season.
 
Ainge went big-game hunting, focusing most of the team's efforts on landing a major difference-maker, a la Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
 
When that didn’t work out, he settled for the next best thing, which was to keep this group together.
 
The onus is now on them to prove that trust Ainge has in them, was well-placed.
 
Putting too much stock in the first game after the break is a risky proposition that no one should subscribe to.
 
But in the loss, it revealed many of the concerns and weaknesses of this roster that tend to get magnified in defeat while glossed over when they manage to win despite those flaws.
 
Isaiah Thomas may be the best scorer in the fourth quarter, but he’s human.
 
There will be games when Mr. Fourth Quarter can’t get it done.
 
Friday night was that kind of game for him. He scored just four of his team-high 20 points in the fourth.
 
And as the Raptors blitzed him repeatedly with two and three defenders, his teammates failed to step up when the opportunity was there to make impactful, game-altering plays down the stretch.
 
Watching the Celtics’ defense in the second half was painful.
 
DeRozan got whatever he wanted, when he wanted it.
 
And when he missed, the Raptors controlled the boards, got all the 50/50 balls and repeatedly out-worked Boston.
 
It exposed Boston in a way that’s painful to see, especially when those inflicting the greatest amount of damage could have been in the Celtics huddle and not the one on the other sideline.