Early in the Celtics season, before Boston was plagued by its inconsistencies, Ime Udoka insinuated the first few weeks would consist of him seeing what he has in his lineups before tightening the rotation.
Unfortunately, weeks of injuries and a COVID-19 breakout delayed that process and the Celtics instead had to adopt “a next man up” mentality. And for Boston, next man up sometimes meant bringing someone in off the street.
But in the month of January, the Celtics have really started gelling on the court together. And for the second straight night — to earn a third straight win — Boston benefited from a tight, eight-player rotation against the Charlotte Hornets.
“We went with eight because Josh (Richardson) and Grant (Williams) played extremely well in their stretch in the first quarter,” coach Ime Udoka said after the game.
“As I mentioned before, a lot of times we’ll monitor how that first quarter is going and do something, you know switch, possibly Romeo, Aaron, Payton at the second quarter — but those guys were rolling so well where we extended their minutes and then Jayson and Jaylen’s rotation will stay pretty much the same.”
Williams’ (12 points) shooting this season has been everything in helping, the second-year forward earn minutes over fellow youngsters like Aaron Nesmith and Payton Pritchard. And at many times, working one-too-many of those players into the game at the same time just invited opponents to go off on runs the team couldn’t climb out of.
That’s why Richardson’s lack of playing time has been intriguing — especially in how efficient he’s been on both ends of the court. Against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday, he scored a team-high 23 points with two rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in 31 minutes off the bench.
His performance was important in a game where Jayson Tatum (19 points, six rebounds, nine assists) and Jaylen Brown (15 points, six rebounds, six assists) took more of a playmaking role, setting up Marcus Smart (22 points, four rebounds, six assists, one steal) for a balanced night.
Are they figuring things out? Or is this what we would have seen from the Celtics had they been at full strength the whole time?
Either way, Boston has won 10 of its last 14 games, and since Christmas Day the team owns the best defensive rating and field goal defense in the entire NBA.
Oh, and those shots that weren’t falling all year? A few have started to go in.
“We feel like we’ve hit a stretch where we get the shots. We want to get the right looks and then buckle down on defense and make the right plays. So that’s a sign of growth and we’ll take it. Obviously we’ve been on the other end.”
Only twice prior to Wednesday had Boston earned a three-game win streak. Now they have a chance to improve on their best stretch with a fourth-consecutive win.