The bad news: The Boston Celtics were forced to play Wednesday night’s game without Marcus Smart. The good news: Smart’s absence gave head coach Brad Stevens another opportunity to experiment with his never-ending list of roster combinations.
Stevens blew up the starting five that opened Boston’s first three contests, rolling out a new unit that saw Isaiah Thomas make his first start as a Celtic alongside a new frontcourt combination of Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson, who replaced struggling big men David Lee and Tyler Zeller.
The C’s couldn’t pull out the win in a 100-98 loss to the Indiana Pacers, but Boston’s offense looked greatly improved after scuffling out of the gate.
The Celtics shot a season-high 42 percent (35 for 83) from the floor, and their starters led the way. Isaiah Thomas scored a game-high 27 points, while Avery Bradley notched a season-high 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Boston’s starting unit outscored the bench for the first time this season, scoring 71 of the team’s 98 points.
Of course, this effort came in a loss that dropped the Celtics to 1-3 on the young season, but Stevens took a positive out of his latest rotation experiment.
“We finally started moving the basketball a little bit and looking much better offensively, so that was the best part about the second half for me,” Stevens told reporters after the game in an interview that aired on CSN New England. “We looked a little bit like a basketball team on offense.”
Let’s hit some more notes from Celtics-Pacers:
— Lee finally found his shot while coming off the bench.
The Celtics forward, who entered Wednesday’s game shooting just 25 percent from the floor, tallied 10 points in 18 minutes on 4-of-6 shooting.
Lee pointed out to reporters after Sunday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs that he’s shot 50 percent for the majority of his career, and that he doesn’t expect his early slump to continue. Apparently, he meant what he said.
— Despite Lee’s turnaround, Boston still isn’t getting much production from its bigs.
The frontcourt accounted for just 21 of the Celtics’ 98 points Wednesday night, with 19 of those coming from Lee and Jared Sullinger. Tyler Zeller played just three minutes and missed both of his shots, Kelly Olynyk went 0 for 5 in 11 minutes and Amir Johnson tallied two points in 21 minutes.
The Celtics have plenty of depth up front, but that won’t matter much if none of their five bigs can contribute on a consistent basis.
— To be fair, Johnson wasn’t 100 percent, as he twisted his ankle in the first half Wednesday night. He was cleared to play in the second half and started the third quarter but didn’t play in the final frame.
Johnson said after the game the injury is “nothing serious,” according to Celtics.com’s Marc D’Amico.
— Marcus Smart, who sat out Wednesday’s contest with a left big toe sprain, was seen wearing a walking boot in the Celtics’ locker room before the game, according to CSNNE’s Abby Chin.
Chin said on the game’s broadcast that the boot is “precautionary.”
— R.J. Hunter’s NBA debut paved the way for a pretty cool coincidence.
Hunter’s father, Ron, coached Pacers guard George Hill at IUPUI before moving on to Georgia State, where he coached his son for four years.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports Images