BOSTON — Kyrie Irving proclaimed two weeks ago that he "literally" can do anything he wants to do on the basketball court anytime he wants to do it before adding that his job on the Celtics was to figure out what he can do for his teammates so the squad can have the most success.
Without the five-time All-Star on Wednesday, the Celtics had no choice but to rely on each other to get the job done — which they did with impressive team basketball, rapid [...]
BOSTON — Kyrie Irving proclaimed two weeks ago that he “literally” can do anything he wants to do on the basketball court anytime he wants to do it before adding that his job on the Celtics was to figure out what he can do for his teammates so the squad can have the most success.
Without the five-time All-Star on Wednesday, the Celtics had no choice but to rely on each other to get the job done — which they did with impressive team basketball, rapid ball movement, aggressiveness attacking the rim, and mostly sturdy defense in a 115-102 victory against the uninspired Minnesota Timberwolves at TD Garden.
With Irving ruled out for Friday’s game due to irritation in both eyes after taking a shot to the face late in Monday’s loss at San Antonio, the Celtics are going to have to do it again against the Dallas Mavericks in the second game of a four-game homestand.
Terry Rozier is expected to get his second straight start at point guard in place of Irving.
“I think [it meant] more and more responsibility, more opportunities,” Gordon Hayward, who scored a Celtics career-high 35 points on 14-of-18 shooting on Wednesday, said of Irving’s absence. “I thought T-Ro played tremendous — especially there in the first quarter setting the tone. With those opportunities, you try to make the most of them.
“So little different of a mindset. But mostly just more responsibility.”
While Hayward was the star of the game, Rozier was the key to igniting the engine as he scored 11 points and had two steals in the first quarter.
“I thought Terry’s start was tremendous,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Not only scoring the ball, but getting us organized, getting us down the court. Then I thought whenever we got it side-to-side we made a lot of [good] decisions, and obviously it helps when you make shots.”
Rozier wound up with 16 points, five assists, five steals and three rebounds on the night as the Celtics cruised to a 23-10 advantage in fastbreak points and piled up 52 points in the paint.
“[Rozier] was huge,” said Marcus Smart. “Terry’s one of the fastest guards in the league — especially in the open court. There’s nothing you can do [against him].
“When we get out and run, and he has the ball in his hands, and he’s running that break, it’s something beautiful.”
Smart briefly left Wednesday’s game and went back to the locker room with his right arm hanging by his side. But he soon returned to the court after the pain cleared. He said he it was nerve pain when his shoulder was hit.
While Smart’s injury was simply a scare, Marcus Morris left the game for good in the second half after he experienced pain in his neck on a fall. Both Morris and rookie Robert Williams (groin) were deemed questionable for Friday’s game on Thursday, while Aron Baynes remains out after left hand surgery last month.
Through all the injuries, the Celtics fought their way through another sieve-like third quarter — in which they gave up 39 points and saw a 22-point lead cut to six — to bookend the night with a forceful start and finish.
Boston used a 22-4 run from late in the first quarter through the middle of the second quarter to build a 21-point lead. The Celtics then shot 64.7 percent (11-for-17) in the fourth quarter as they pushed the lead back as high as 19 before coasting home in the final minutes.
“Imposing our will,” Smart said of the effectiveness on offense despite being shorthanded. “We’re getting up in guys, creating, forcing turnovers and getting out and running. In the halfcourt, we are getting in the paint and finding the open guy.”
That was clearly the case for Hayward in the last three quarters as he followed up and 0-for-6 game on Monday with making 14 of his final 16 shots on Wednesday.
“I think it always helps when you get a couple at the rim that aren’t challenged,” said Stevens of Hayward, who had three dunks in the game. “So you got a couple of breakaways. You got the dunk on the drive at the end of the first half, the layup on the drive at the end of the first.
“Seeing the ball go through the net can kind of kick start a really good player, and it certainly did that.”