For reasons both within and beyond their control, the Boston Celtics featured a different starting lineup Tuesday night than what we’ve been used to seeing.
When at full strength, the Celtics often have deployed a starting five of Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Morris and Al Horford. In Tuesday’s 116-106 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, Brad Stevens rolled with a starting five of Terry Rozier, Smart, Tatum, Horford and Aron Baynes. Kyrie Irving’s absence due to load management was the reason Rozier got the start.
After another dreadful loss — their fourth straight — on Sunday to the San Antonio Spurs, the Celtics were in need of some lineup changes. And given they were playing a big team in Cleveland that had both Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson available, turning to Baynes made sense.
Stevens indicated after the game that who they choose to start the rest of the way will change on a regular basis.
“I said it the other day, one of our things that we’ve wanted to do was play bigger more, and we just haven’t been able to with Al and Baynes out, you know, a lot,” Stevens told reporters, as seen on NBC Sports Boston’s Celtics postgame coverage. “That will be a game-to-game decision on who we start. I told our two guys today, and you need guys like Morris who are flexible like that. I thought Morris came in, and I thought his two 3’s in the late third, fourth, whatever it was, were huge. But when we can start double big, we certainly clog things up the way we need to on that end of the floor.”
Chemistry has been elusive for the Celtics all season, and while just seven regular-season games remain, it’s better late than never to start changing things up.
Here are some other notes from Tuesday’s Celtics-Cavs game:
— When Irving is out, there’s always a pretty big obligation for other players to step up. While many did, both Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum lit up the stat sheet most.
The two each scored 21 points apiece, with Tatum grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. Smart had six boards with four assists and three steals.
— Horford had himself a solid night after a two-game absence.
The C’s big man had 19 points with eight rebounds and five assists. He shot 7-for-10 from the field and knocked down five of his six free throw attempts.
Following the game, Horford told NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Mannix that his knee was feeling good after sitting out the previous two games.
— Boston swept the season series against Cleveland, winning all four matchups between the two sides. Entering Tuesday’s games, the Celtics were averaging a 20-point margin in victory in contests against their 2018 conference final foe.
— The Celtics now will prepare for a tilt Friday with the Indiana Pacers, who likely will be their first-round playoff matchup. With Tuesday’s result, the C’s now trail the Pacers by 1.5 games for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers will play one game before their meeting with the Celtics, and Friday’s game will be the first of two contests between the two sides over the final weeks of the season.
It’s unlikely that the Celtics will catch the Philadelphia 76ers for third place in the East, but favorable results that ultimately lead to them leapfrogging Indy in the standings will provide Boston with home court advantage in the first round.