Stars, studs and duds: Starting five delivers for Celtics

Stars, studs and duds: Starting five delivers for Celtics

BOSTON – The record and the reality of the Boston Celtics’ season doesn’t really add up.

They have been bruised and battered bunch most of this season, a team whose preferred starting five came into Wednesday’s game having played 27 games together … all season.

While they haven’t played together a lot this season, that hasn’t stopped them from being one of the better starting five units in the NBA this season.

Wednesday’s 117-104 win over Minnesota was yet another night in which the Celtics’ preferred starting five – Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford – delivered in a big way for the Celtics (43-25).

MORE: 

Thomas led all scorers with 27 points. Bradley had 18. Crowder played great defense on Andrew Wiggins while Amir Johnson and Al Horford took turns taming Minnesota’s Big K.A.T., Karl-Anthony Towns who had 17 points and 14 rebounds. Towns’ 17 points snapped a 21-game streak, dating back to Jan. 24, in which he scored at least 20 points.

Balanced scoring.

Lock-down defense.

That is what this Celtics’ starting five can do for you.

“For us it’s keep getting as familiar as we can,” Horford said. “I feel like our defense is really solid and just keep building. Only 28 games, hopefully we can play the remainder as many games as we can untl the playoffs.”

Amir Johnson, who has started more games (64) than any other Celtic this season, was surprised when he learned that the team’s preferred starting five has only played 28 games together this season.

Regardless of who starts, Johnson believes all the Celtics have a job to do when they get an opportunity to play.

“If we stick to our defensive principles which we work on every day in practice, no matter what starting five we have in, everyone is doing the same thing, staying on a string,” Johnson told CSNNE.com. “I think we’re hard to beat.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Wednesday night’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

 

STARS

Al Horford: We’re used to seeing him fill up the stat sheet, but Horford was on a different level Wednesday night. The Timberwolves had no answer for Horford who flirted with a triple-double before finishing with 20 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and a pair of blocked shots.

Karl-Anthony Towns: It’s a matter of when, not if, this kid will be a legit contender for the league’s MVP award. The Celtics made limiting him their number one priority, but he still managed a double-double of 17 points on 7-for-14 shooting with 14 rebounds and four assists.

 

STUDS

Isaiah Thomas: Just another ho-hum performance for Thomas who continues to score at an amazingly high level. He had a game-high 27 points on 8-for-15 shooting, along with three rebounds and four assists.

Andrew Wiggins: Jae Crowder did not have a great game shooting the ball (1-for-8), in part because he put so much effort into making Wiggins a high-volume shooter. Wiggins still had 21 points but did so on 9-for-23 shooting.

Avery Bradley: In the fourth, Bradley came up with big shots to keep the Timberwolves’ comeback from ever getting close. He finished with 18 points which included a team-high seven points in the fourth quarter.

Ricky Rubio: Known primarily as a defender and passer, Rubio made a huge impact shooting the ball for the Timberwolves. He finished with a team-high 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting to go with seven assists and a steal with just one turnover.

 

DUDS

Minnesota’s second-chance points

The Celtics kept the rebounding totals fairly close (Timberwolves 42, Celtics 37), but Minnesota’s best offense was often the missed shot which they frequently rebounded and put back in for a score as the Timberwolves outscored the Celtics 20-6 in second-chance points.

Blakely: Celtics' success lies in balancing big-money deals with bargains

Blakely: Celtics' success lies in balancing big-money deals with bargains

BOSTON – When it comes to stockpiling talent, few in the NBA have done it better in the past couple of years than the Golden State Warriors, as evidenced by them winning two of the past three NBA championships.
 
In 2015, Andre Iguodala was the NBA Finals MVP but it was the play another reserve, Festus Ezeli, who in the third quarter of the decisive Game 6, scored eight of his 10 points and helped extend a two-point halftime edge into a 12-point lead going into the fourth in what eventually was an eight-point series-clinching victory.

MORE CELTICS

 We have seen the Cleveland Cavaliers make deep playoff runs led by their Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but the contributions of youngsters such as Matt Dellavedova (now in Milwaukee) also helped.
 
Indeed, often lost in the success of title-contending teams is how they manage to have enough max-salaried talent on the roster, while also augmenting the lineup with contributions from younger players or inexpensive veterans on team-friendly contracts.
 
Balancing the best of those two worlds is among the many reasons why the Celtics are considered a legit contender to get to the NBA Finals this season out of the East.
 
A lot has been made of the team’s signing of Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $127.8 million contract.

But what really makes the Celtics so special is how they have been able to add a max-salaried player each of the past two seasons (Al Horford and Hayward) at a time when the contributions of Isaiah Thomas ($6.26 million this year) and Jae Crowder ($6.8 million this season) are significant not only in terms of what they do on the floor but even more so in how little they make salary-wise relative to those contributions.
 
Boston getting the most out of talent playing on low-salary deals will be instrumental in their ability to build off the success of last season when the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2012.
 
And while the Warriors have achieved this by adding veterans on the cheap (David West), Boston has been more traditional from the standpoint of getting as much bang as they can from players on their rookie deals.
 
Boston currently has 16 players with guaranteed contracts.
 
Of that total, nine (Marcus Smart; Terry Rozier; Jaylen Brown; Ante Zizic; Abdel Nader; Jayson Tatum; Semi Ojeleye; Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele) are on their rookie contracts.
 
“You always need young guys,” Austin Ainge, the Celtics' director of player personnel, told CSNNE.com. “Your veteran guys make a lot of money and so you need some guys on rookie contracts to fill out your roster.”
 
This is especially true for teams that are in the hunt to win an NBA title.
 
Ainge recalled how the use of players on rookie deals was instrumental in Boston bringing home Banner 17 in 2008.
 
“We had [Rajon] Rondo and Kendrick Perkins and Leon Powe and Big Baby [Glen Davis] in 2008,” Ainge said. “You need guys like that. You look at the teams in the finals the past few years, they’ve got some young guys on lower money contracts contributing. That’s important.”