By JD PELEGRINO
Last Wednesday looked like a routine practice at TD Garden where the Boston Celtics took down the Cleveland Cavaliers team without two of their stars Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. Despite losing two key players, the Celtics did not falter from playing solid team basketball. The Celtics pulled off the win 123-103.
This game marked the second meeting between the Celtics and Cavs this season, but the first game back in November was even more unfavorable for the Cavs than the second on Wednesday. Terry Rozier replaced Irving starting in the point guard role, not skipping a beat. Rozier went for his season-high 26 points in 30 minutes, had 6 assists, and shot 100 percent from the free throw line. Rozier was instrumental in the win Wednesday night.
“I think ultimately, I think Terry’s played not only well tonight, but has had the better part of the last few games, he’s been very good,” coach Brad Stevens said about Rozier’s play to a Boston reporter. “I’m really encouraged by him.”
The Celtics didn’t take a commanding lead early, but they usually don’t. They have such depth at every position and play the most wholesome basketball that they get production from every player on the roster and outlast teams. The Celtics are no Houston Rockets who rely on James Harden to score 61 points a game or they lose. Boston has a threat at every position and more to go along with that.
Cleveland led the Celtics 30-27 at the end of the first quarter, despite Rozier’s 16 points. In the second, the Celtics offense got even better, but so did their defense. The Cavs were only able to score 20 on a strong Boston defense, but let up 38 points. The Celtics earned every point of the 65-50 lead they had at halftime.
Throughout the rest of the game, small forward Gordon Hayward and shooting guard Jaylen Brown were the next highest scorers for the Celtics, and off the bench. Brown scored 23 points in 25 minutes and cashed in on 8-of-12 baskets.
Hayward has been the largest contributor off the bench for the Celtics success all season. Hayward had the third most points for the Celtics with 18. He was 60 percent shooting and went 6-for-7 from the free throw line. When Hayward is on, the team is on and although he does not have a starting role on the team, his 13.2 points-per-game through the month of January are most of any bench player and third overall on the team.
Boston had six players scoring double digits, half of them coming off the bench. As soon as the team is 100 percent healthy, it will be very hard to beat them. The Celtics have always had at least one or two players injured and that is just the nature of an 82-game season. For the Celtics, that becomes near 100 games come playoff time, but a lot has to be done before that mark is reached.
“Just going out there and just say, hey, high confidence, just playing free,” Rozier said about his performance to a Celtics reporter. “And when I’m like that, I don’t even want to say it.
Currently the Celtics are fifth in the Eastern Conference, only five games back from first. They own a five game winning streak and are 8-2 in their last 10 games.
Saturday night the Celtics will host the No. 1 team in the Western Conference the Golden State Warriors at home. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. ET.