CLEVELAND — Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Aaron Nesmith would get an increased role with Jaylen Brown being out with wrist surgery and he backed up his word, putting the rookie in the starting lineup Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Nesmith scored 8 points in the 102-94 loss, going 3 for 10 from the field but missing all four of his 3-point attempts
One of the Celtics’ few bright spots in a rough post All-Star Break has been the development of Nesmith, who has flourished with increased playing time. He entered Wednesday averaging 9.4 points and making nine of his 14 3-point attempts in May. He equaled his career high with 16 points Sunday against Miami.
Stevens said the Celtics will have to lean on Nesmith and others with Brown done for the season. The drafting of Nesmith and Payton Pritchard, an All-Rookie team candidate, has turned into a positive for the Celtics.
Stevens prefers to bring Pritchard off the bench, meaning Tremont Waters got the start for the Celtics at point guard with Kemba Walker missing the second of a back-to-back set.
The Celtics have two games remaining in the regular season. If the Celtics are the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, which is where they sit now, they would need to win one game to clinch that spot and face the second-seeded team in the first round.
Homecoming for Thompson
Wednesday was the return game for Tristan Thompson, who played nine seasons with the Cavaliers before signing a two-year deal with the Celtics in the offseason. Thompson was drafted fourth overall in 2011 and played on some porous teams along with Kyrie Irving before the club brought back LeBron James and won Cleveland’s first pro sports title in five decades in 2016.
Thompson, the franchise’s third-leading rebounder, received a warm round of applause when introduced at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. He finished with 10 points and seven rebounds.
“Tristan and I have a great relationship, have for quite some time,” Cleveland coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Having the ability to coach him brought our relationship to another level. The amount of respect I have for the way he plays, his commitment to the team, all the small things, sacrifices in order to impact winning. The legacy here speaks for itself. He’s a guy this city embraced. He was there the entire way. His style is a style people can respect and appreciate.”
Thompson has had an uneven season in Boston, missing a month because of COVID-19 protocol. But he is the team’s leading rebounder and now the lone proven center with Robert Williams out with turf toe.
Marcus Smart missed Wednesday’s game with a bruised right calf, but the good news is that it’s unrelated to the strained calf that cost him a month earlier this season. Smart collided with Miami swingman Duncan Robinson and both fell hard to the floor in Tuesday’s loss to the Heat. Smart remained in the game but the club decided to give him extra rest. The Celtics do not play again until Saturday at Minnesota.
Williams remained out with right turf toe and his return date is uncertain. Stevens said Williams underwent a cortisone shot but it has yet to alleviate the pain. Williams played the first half of Sunday’s loss to Miami before being forced to leave.
Walker missed his usual second game of a back-to-back, and is expected to miss the season finale Sunday at New York. Walker briefly left Tuesday’s loss to Miami after getting hit in the area where he strained his left oblique. But he was able to return and scored 36 points.
The question is whether Stevens will rest players to prepare for a potential play-in game Tuesday at TD Garden.
Wednesday’s loss erased any hopes the Celtics had to finish as the No. 6 seed, but the Celtics don’t have the seventh seed locked up either. They need one win or Charlotte and Indiana to lose one to clinch No. 7 and a home play-in game against the eighth seed.
Also, the Celtics don’t have the seventh seed locked up either. They need one win or Charlotte and Indiana to lose one to clinch No. 7 and a home play-in game against the eighth seed.
“We’ll meet (Thursday) as a staff to go over what we’re going to do from here on out,” Stevens said. “There was no necessarily plan to sit any of those guys (Wednesday) except Kemba and we will re-evaluate (Thursday) and see if it’s more solidified by then.”
The Cavaliers were without two players who played pivotal roles in their win over the Celtics in February. Darius Garland (sprained ankle) and Larry Nance Jr. (fractured thumb) were both out. But the Celtics faced veteran Kevin Love for the first time this season. Love has played just 25 games this season because of injury and rest, but he erupted for 30 points and 14 rebounds Wednesday night … Because of the team’s lack of big men, Tacko Fall was active for Boston. Celtics fans chanted “We want Tacko!” on Sunday even though Fall was in street clothes.