CLEVELAND — One night after the Celtics squeaked past a severely undermanned Bucks team, they fielded a shorthanded roster of their own in the loss to Cleveland on Saturday.
Boston forward Jaylen Brown missed his fourth consecutive game because of a strained hamstring. Also, forward Al Horford was held out because of lower back pain and guard Josh Richardson was sidelined due to right knee tendinopathy.
Brown suffered his injury in Boston’s Nov. 4 win over the Heat and was expected to miss 1-2 weeks, but it’s clear that he probably will not return until the far end of that timeline.
“Getting treatment,” coach Ime Udoka said, “and we’ll know more when he ramps it up in the next week or so.”
Horford was a game-time decision before being ruled out an hour before tipoff. The Celtics will look to manage the 35-year-old’s minutes over the course of the long season, but Udoka said Horford would have played in this back-to-back set if he was healthy.
“You can look ahead at three [games] in four nights or six in nine nights and try to plan something there,” Udoka said, “but he actually had tightness, and not just a rest night.”
Udoka said Richardson has some mild knee soreness and is expected to return for Monday’s rematch against the Cavs.
The Celtics and Cavaliers are playing a rare two-game set in Cleveland. This format was introduced last year to reduce travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, but this will be the Celtics’ only two-game series in one city this season.
Udoka, for one, is a fan of the setup.
“It’s a chance to preview what you do in the first game, make some adjustments on the fly,” he said. “I think it limits travel, so that’s a positive thing. Then gives you a little playoff atmosphere or buzz where you can go in there and work on some things. So, I don’t mind them at all. It’s something new and I think a lot of people prefer this than going back and forth and coming back to the city later on. Knock out two in the same city. It limits travel, and there’s a lot of benefits to that.”
Back on board
After having some issues on the backboards earlier this season, the Celtics have out-rebounded their opponent in five of the last six contests, including a 47-39 edge on Saturday.
Friday was one of their best efforts, when they held a 53-39 edge on the glass against the undermanned Bucks. The surge has been sparked by Robert Williams, who is averaging a team-high 9.5 rebounds per game after piling up 16 against the Cavs.
“We’ve been competing,” Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said. “I try to tell Rob I’m a better rebounder than him. Oftentimes after the game we joke about who got more rebounds. But guys are competing, even the guards, the little guys coming in and grabbing the ones when the bigger guys are boxing out. But it’s just a collective effort. Everybody is buying in.”
Dennis Schröder followed his season-high 38 points in Boston’s win over the Bucks on Friday with a team-high 28 on Saturday. He has appeared increasingly comfortable in his growing role as the team’s third scorer behind Tatum and Brown.
Udoka and Schröder agreed that the key to his success is remaining on the attack throughout a game.
“He’s finding his way,” Udoka said. “He’s brought his bench role to the starting lineup [in place of Brown]. He’s been very aggressive.”