|Jordan Mickey gets his shot as Celtics MASH unit in full operation with Avery Bradley, Amir Johnson, Jaylen Brown all out||01.11.17 at 7:05 pm ET|
The Celtics are about to find out just how good their bench is.
Brad Stevens opened his Wednesday pre-game media briefing with a painful grin, acknowledging the injury bug that has hit his team this week.
“It’s a long one. James Young is out. Avery Bradley is out. Tyler Zeller is out,” Stevens began. “Amir Johnson sprained his ankle in the first half [Tuesday]. He’s out. And then Jaylen Brown twist his ankle, sprained his ankle, Monday in practice and then played, felt pretty good, but aggravated it and felt sore today and he’s out.
“So who do we have in? I’m 99 percent sure which I’m going to go. I think we’re going to go with Jordan Mickey, with Al [Horford].”
Mickey, the second-round pick in 2015 out of LSU, is making his first NBA start. In nine games this season, he’s averaging 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds in just over seven minutes a game off the bench. In 25 career games, he’s averaging 1.7 points. So, why Mickey for Johnson?
“Keeping the second unit where it is,” Stevens explained. “I like where Jordan is with regard to how he impact with that first unit, rolling to rim and rebounding and defending and those types of things.
“I think the biggest thing is being around him for a year and a half. It’s not just practice, it’s watching him play and do individual workouts. It’s the way he goes through walkthrough, it’s his focus and attention to detail and hey, we’re going to need everybody that’s available to help us tonight. So, I think anytime you get a chance, especially when you talk about how we play with the first group, he’s a good fit for that. Amir’s largely rolling [to the basket] for us. Amir is defending in pick-and-roll and defending from a rebounding angle and everything else. We’re going to need that out of Mick.”
And by the sounds of it, Wednesday might not be a cameo for Mickey, as Johnson’s ankle seems to be a significant injury.
“Sounds like Amir’s [ankle] was pretty swollen earlier [Wednesday]. I’d say that he’s doubtful for the weekend. And Jaylen, I have not heard, from a severity standpoint. But it wasn’t made out to be quite as bad as Amir’s but he’s sore today.”
As for Bradley, who’s missing his third game with a sore right Achilles, Stevens said the soreness is persisting.
“He worked out [Tuesday] and woke up [Wednesday] sore,” Stevens said. “That’s my medical evaluation.”
Will he Bradley be back Friday in Atlanta?
“I have no idea,” Stevens replied. “I have no idea what that means, how sore. I haven’t asked any questions after I got out [vs. Washington].”
|Celtics Pregame Notes: Can Amir Johnson help Celtics improve on the glass?||11.30.16 at 6:24 pm ET|
The Celtics will be back to full strength for Wednesday’s tilt against the Pistons, with Al Horford back in action following the birth of his second child.
Horford’s addition will be a much-needed addition to a Celtics team still very much attempting to find its touch on the glass. The Celtics have been out-rebounded five of the last six games, due in some aspects to mismatches and guys having to play bigger than they are.
That notwithstanding, the Celtics are heavily reliant on asking guards to grab boards, as the boxing out responsibilities rest on the bigs.
Said coach Brad Stevens, “We ask our bigs to block out. Sometimes when you’re blocking out and you’re the same size or bigger, you can get the ball. But sometimes when you’re blocking out and smaller you just have to keep the other guy from getting it.”
As has been standard since his acquisition prior to the 2015-16 season, Amir Johnson has been tasked with playing a key role in the paint. Standing at 6-foot-9 and occasionally having to run the five, a stat sheet — which currently has him averaging 4.2 boards per game — can be a misleading basis of judgement.
“We’re asking Amir Johnson to guard a lot of fives, so to judge Amir’s performance by his defensive rebound percentage probably isn’t fair, because there’s probably six rebounds a game that somebody else gets in large part because he’s doing his job,” Stevens said.
Jonas Jerebko has found himself in a nice stretch of late off the bench. In his past seven games, the 6-foot-10 forward has averaged 6.4 points per game while shooting 81.8 percent from the field.
Since late last season, the 29-year-old has shown a wide range of versatility as a solid defender, a shooter, and a player with finesse around the basket — as evidenced by his more and more frequent use of a hook shot from just outside the paint.
“[He’s] just trying to do what he’s good at, I think that’s the most important thing. He’s a spacer and he’s a guy that can guard multiple positions and he’s really, really good when he does those things,” Stevens said.
Part of the current run for Jerebko can be attributed to his synergy with Kelly Olynyk, with the two combining well off the bench in Olynyk’s 11 games so far this season. The pair play a similar style, and can pose a threat from both the paint and the perimeter.
“I think people are figuring out how to play and play together and anytime you can do that, that’s better. [Jerebko] and Kelly have been a good combination for a while now, and I think that they kind of play and feed off each other.”
Other Celtics Notes
— Jae Crowder won’t be confined to any minutes restrictions in the foreseeable future. Stevens noted he hasn’t heard about any sort of minutes restrictions since before Monday’s win over the Heat.
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|Tyler Zeller doing ‘whatever I need to do’ to help Celtics with Al Horford out||11.03.16 at 12:32 pm ET|
Suffice to say that over the past two-plus seasons, Tyler Zeller has had to be the most flexible member of the Celtics in terms of his minutes.
When he came to the Celtics in 2014, he appeared in every game, starting 59, and averaged 21.1 minutes. The following year he played in 60 games, starting three (which happened to be the first three games of the season), while averaging just 11.8 minutes per game.
But just four games into this season, he was not only called upon to start, but called upon to replace the Celtics’ biggest free agent signing in recent memory in Al Horford.
“It’s good. I started a lot two years ago, last year was a little weird, but just being able to come in, try and do as much as I can to help this team win,” Zeller said. “Play hard, rebound, defend, whatever I need to do, but really just try to fit in with these guys.”
Zeller played 24:45 minutes in the Celtics’ 107-100 win against the Bulls on Wednesday, going 5-for-11 from the field for 11 points. He grabbed four rebounds and managed a steal in the process as well.
The 26-year-old occasionally looked lost in the early going, especially against a Bulls team that dominated the Celtics on the glass 55-36 in their first meeting last Thursday. But he settled in, most notably throwing down a dunk over Robin Lopez — who had been dominating him on the glass for the most part — in transition.
Air Zeller, you are cleared for takeoff! pic.twitter.com/wE4rvl4E0J
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 3, 2016
The Celtics ultimately lost the rebounding battle 49-39, but it was a step in the right direction after getting dismantled a week prior.
In a tilt against the Bulls on Wednesday night that taught a lot about the Celtics, arguably the biggest lesson was one that not many people would expect.
Amir Johnson can shoot from the perimeter.
Now, maybe it’s a bit premature to start throwing him in with the likes of Peja Stojakovic, but the 6-foot-9 veteran showed a different dimension of his game than previously seen during his first year and change with the Celtics.
He attempted (and missed) one other 3-pointer this season, but after going 4-for-4 from deep, he now qualifies for league leader considerations in 3-point percentage. And believe it or not, he leads the league with an .800 3-point percentage.
“I don’t think I was on the scouting report for ‘Running Amir off the line,’ ” Johnson joked following the game. “It was just a good night for me.”
That’s not to say it will stay that way — because in all likelihood it won’t — but after Johnson almost never ventured out to the perimeter with the Pistons, but then wandered out more in his time with the Raptors, it probably shouldn’t be a total surprise he’s capable of pulling the trigger from downtown.
“I’m always able to shoot,” Johnson said. “Guys can shoot in the league. It’s just in our offense, you know? I try to always play team ball. I’m a very unselfish player. I look to pass first, but I was able to just find open spots and knock down shots within our offense.
“I prefer to roll and get that soft touch, but if guys are just laying off and giving me that much time, like [Robin Lopez] likes to sit in the paint, then I’m going to shoot the ball.”
|Fast Break: Amir Johnson, Isaiah Thomas each put up 23 points as Celtics survive against Bulls||11.02.16 at 10:38 pm ET|
While one Chicago team was in pursuit of ending a 108-year championship drought, another was giving the Celtics a heart attack in the C’s 107-100 win over the Bulls.
Leading by 16 points in the fourth quarter, the Celtics squandered yet another lead at home, letting the Bulls tie the game with less than two minutes left in the fourth. Despite the late surge, the Celtics fended off the Bulls, scoring five unanswered points after the Bulls evened the game.
“We’ve got to play better in that situation,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought our offense was good and executed well, but we’ve got to be more sound defensively in that time.”
Amir Johnson had arguably his most memorable game in green, dropping 23 points on the Bulls, including four 3-pointers on as many attempts. He had three assists and five rebounds as well.
“I was just feeling good,” Johnson said. “I’m always able to shoot, guys can shoot in the league, it’s just in our offense I’ve always played team ball and been a very unselfish player, [tonight] I was just able to find open shots and knock down shots.”
Isaiah Thomas turned in a double-double performance, scoring 23 points while dishing out 10 assists.
In his season debut, guard Marcus Smart was quiet offensively, turning the ball over six times in his 33 minutes of work, but was solid on the defensive end. He managed to grab five boards with one steal.
With legitimate concern surrounding the Celtics frontcourt with the absence of Al Horford, the C’s were more than adept on the glass against a Bulls team that dominated them in rebounding during their last meeting less than a week ago. While the C’s were outrebounded 49-39 Wednesday, it was an improvement compared to them getting worked over 55-36 on the glass on Thursday.
“[Tyler Zeller and Amir Johnson] did a really good job. Both those guys are good players,” Stevens said. “We talked about Tyler’s reliability off the bench, and you know one thing about Al: When he plays with Al, a lot of times he’s the roller and Al’s the guy that plays on the perimeter. And tonight Tyler was is the roller and [Johnson] is on the perimeter more.”
|Celtics Practice Report: Amir Johnson looking to diversify his game||10.13.16 at 11:11 am ET|
Expect to see Amir Johnson changing things up this season.
When the Celtics went out and signed Al Horford, the laundry list of things he brought to the table were apparent, but one thing that flew under the radar was how he can help other players. And just over two weeks into camp, he’s already found a way to make fellow starter and big man Amir Johnson better.
“Chemistry is great, you know, it’s just me working around Al, Al working around me and we’re just putting it together,” the 29-year-old Johnson said.
The now-12-year pro noted that one dimension of his game that he is looking to improve is his 3-point shot. Last season, Johnson pulled from deep 43 times, executing on just 10 occasions for a 23.3 percent 3-point percentage, well below his career average of 31.5 percent from deep.
But with the addition of Horford, who can already do it all, it provides Johnson the flexibility to test his shot.
“Guys are starting to step out to that 3-pointer, and guys are definitely guarding outside the 3-point line, so it definitely changes in that aspect there,” Johnson said. “Every big man wants to step out and shoot the 3 and handle the ball, but now guys are working on it.”
With a player like Johnson implementing a 3-point shot more into his game, it can also have a less clear benefit. Regardless of if the shot gets knocked down, if Johnson is able to lure an equally-tall defender out to the perimeter, it gives a natural rim-protector like Horford a chance to isolate and grab the offensive board.
But whether Johnson is shooting or not, Horford’s versatility makes his life a lot easier.
“Al’s definitely one of those versatile bigs, able to pass the ball, step out and shoot the shot. For me it just kind of makes it easier just to work around him because you know he can the pass, you know he can make the shot,” Johnson said.
The synergy between the two is helping Johnson on the other end of the court as well.
|5 Celtics crack SI’s list of Top 100 NBA players||09.15.16 at 3:27 pm ET|
Sports Illustrated recently released its annual list of the Top 100 players in the NBA, and for the Celtics, it was merely affirmation of what they already believe: this team looks to be pretty good.
Five Celtics landed in the top 100, led by Al Horford at No. 18. Isaiah Thomas is 45, Jae Crowder 53, Avery Bradley 72 and Amir Johnson 86.
Horford was praised for his ability to fit into essentially any system and make himself a threat defensively regardless of who he’s up against. He can play in the low post, he can pick and roll, he can shoot if needed. Defensively, of course is his strength. Concern was mentioned about his rebounding troubles against top rebounders — something that has routinely plagued the Celtics — as well as his occasional interest to shoot a below-average 3-pointers.
In last year’s ranking, Thomas came in at 88, and he had something to say about it.
Sports illustrated Rankings are a JOKE lol. Feels like back in HS when those POLITICAL rankings would come out & we would just laugh it off
— Isaiah Thomas (@Isaiah_Thomas) August 31, 2015
This year, SI gave him a little bit more respect, specifically with his reliability and durability. The article noted his ability to drive (he was second in the league in points off the drive last season) but also the fact that as a result of his interest in driving combined with a smaller stature, he is prone to getting his shot blocked.
The focal point of Crowder’s assessment was how unlikely it seemed that he would be as adored and successful in Boston as he is when he was part of the long-awaited trade of Rajon Rondo. On top of that, his ability to steal the ball (he ranked second in the league in steals) was looked favorably upon while his reticence to routinely pull the trigger from deep was criticized.
Bradley was lauded for his abilities as a two-way player, as he won accolades for defense while being a knockdown shooter periodically last season. However, the article was critical of his inability to run an offense for extended periods of time and his injury concerns.
For Johnson — arguably the biggest surprise to make the list — the focus was on what he brings to the table defensively. A case could be made he is one of the most integral parts of the Celtics defense, which is saying a lot given how solid the C’s defense is. His drawbacks included the fact that he is not exactly a threat offensively, getting most of his points from putbacks. Even still, his impact is massive given he is the first one to the bench in most games.
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