Young Celtics stars install in just-in-time roles

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When Boston Celtics striker Jaylen Brown heard the question, he thought for a moment.

What had he learned about himself and his team during the breathtaking race on the edge of the NBA finals, is there a season?

"I've learned about us, that we have a lot of young talents who can really play well, and we know how to win," Brown said.

"For me, what I've learned about myself, is that when I'm in the right position, I can play with anyone."

Brown's comments were corroborated by the way he and his team managed this race – one that put Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward out of the way with injuries ending the season. But if this race without two stars of the Boston Stars was supposed to have propelled the Celtics to the top of the Eastern Conference this season, it has become one of the reasons why people are not sure of able to achieve this.

"I think to some extent this has created some uncertainty with roles," said Hayward. "When you have guys who are supposed to be your main men, who hurt and hurt themselves badly and miss a lot of time, then other guys come in and play well, you're going to have some uncertainty there. So I think that's how it affected us a little bit.

"But we kind of started to understand that now."

Whether they really do or not, it will help determine where Boston will go.


After losing four consecutive games after the break from the stars, the Celtics have won four wins out of six. "Now we are trying to overcome this bump," says Jayson Tatum, agreeing. AP Photo / Michael Dwyer

The Celtics – to say the least – were not supposed to do what they did last season.

They lost Hayward six minutes into the season, injured in the leg and ankle. Then, a year ago this week, Irving was the victim of a knee injury that ended the season. Losing two stars was supposed to be enough to sink them (and, in fact, should have been enough to sink just about any team).

Boston, however, continued its momentum, largely because of the play of its trio of young players – Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum and Brown – who won disproportionate roles in Irving and Hayward absences.

"I still think that they should have won this game 7 and made it to the finals," Hayward said. "It was really not a surprise."

Although it may not have been a surprise to the Celtics, it certainly was the case for everyone else. Last season was an undeniable success and the Celtics were anointed as this season's favorites to succeed LeBron James at the top of the East.

"We believed in ourselves," Tatum said. "Nobody chose us to win one of the playoffs [we were in]but it is not what people say from the outside. It's about what we believe in this locker room. "

This conviction, both individually and collectively, contributed to the dynamism of the Boston race last spring. But it also caused these three young players to get used to much larger roles than expected. Thus, when this season began, it was difficult for them to suddenly return to the roles they were supposed to assume before.

Rozier has gone from being a full-time starter – one who has earned cult status in Boston for his impressive turn-to-turn ratio, his nickname "Scary Terry" and his call to Eric Bledsoe, Milwaukee goaltender Bucks, in their first series – – to save Irving again. Brown initially struggled to be part of the starter training and was eventually sent to the bench because of it. And although Tatum did not see his diminished role, he was not able to match the same highs he had made in the playoffs – including facing James in the Eastern Final.

"I think it's all part of the growth," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "You're always in a different scenario every year, and each year presents new challenges that should make you better over time.

"These guys are still living things for the first time, and finally, last year provided them with a lot of opportunities, and you've seen their level grow.This year, you do not see it. not as much maybe, but you should improve and learn a lot.

"It's the part that," I say to Jaylen, "it will be as successful as ever, when he comes back."

The Celtics hope this will be the case not only for Brown, but for the rest of the team. And, at least recently, signs of optimism could appear (even beyond the last week's magical flight ride which, according to the team, has cured its ills).

Brown has always been one of Boston's best players in 2019, and the combination of him and Hayward coming off the bench has gained traction in recent weeks. Boston outshines teams by 5.3 points for 100 possessions when both are together on the field.

Al Horford, meanwhile, looks to be a completely different player after being slowed by knee tendinitis earlier this season, and he is in the midst of one of his best Sections since he's joined the Celtics in recent weeks. Irving has probably had his best season as a professional on the field and recently promised not to go through the highs and lows that followed him and the Celtics all last season.

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"I do not really know what to say at this point," said Brown. "That's what he is, what are we in the games at 60 something?" I'm just focused on this year's playoffs.

"Last year was last year, I'm just focusing on what's in front of me, not what's behind me."

At that time, a year ago, the Celtics were heading for an unknown territory. They were already without Hayward, had just lost Irving and seemed destined for a quick exit for the series without them.

A year later, the Celtics remain in unknown territory. Even with the struggles they endured – at least compared to what they were supposed to do – Boston is still in a position The first four seeds in the playoffs of the East and realize all that was planned.

And, if the Celtics can do all of this, the difficulties of trying this job will go away quickly this spring.

"We know what we are capable of and we were about to arrive at the championship [last year], "Tatum said.

"Now we are trying to overcome this bump and get there."