Celtics coach Ime Udoka said before Saturday night’s home game against the New York Knicks that the team’s lack of productive shooters has limited his lineups down the stretch.
He pointed out after Thursday’s heartbreaking 108-105 loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden that most of the Celtics’ frontline players are shooting below their career averages from the 3-point line, adding to his quandary when trying to play a productive game-closing lineup.
Udoka used Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Robert Williams, Marcus Smart and Dennis Schröder in the final minutes against the Knicks. Smart hit two 3-pointers early, Schröder and Brown did not score while Tatum scored 13 of Boston’s 21 points.
Only Grant Williams and Josh Richardson are shooting above their career average beyond the arc and the Celtics are 23rd in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage but 11th in attempts.
“It really comes down to who’s playing well,” Udoka said about his fourth-quarter lineup. “If we’re going the [defensive] route, you would [want] Josh or Grant or possibly Al from a size or versatility perspective. Dennis was doing well and having his moments in the second and third quarter, so we went with him late. Guys besides Grant and Josh are having below average to career-worst shooting years.
“If you’re going offense-for-defense lineups, you’re going to have some of your best defenders out there and you’re gonna have some guys who aren’t shooting as well this year. You have to stay confident. We know what they’re going to do with Jayson and Jaylen, load up, and they continue to make the right plays.”
Evan Fournier a late scratch
Evan Fournier was a late scratch with a thigh contusion for the Knicks but the former Celtic made his impression in the season series.
Fournier was coming off a 41-point, 10 3-pointer performance in Thursday’s win in New York and has averaged 35 points in three meetings.
Fournier has scored 514 points this season for the Knicks in 38 games, 105 have come against the Celtics.
Udoka said several mistakes were made in coverages against Fournier, including ignoring the game plan not to go under screens. Fournier was left wide open in the opening quarter on two occasions and drained 3-pointers.
“We let him be too comfortable,” Udoka said. “Losing track of him, not being connected, not being physical on his pick-and-rolls. Quite frankly, not following the game plan on him, which is chase him over [screens], not go under and several times we got caught going under. When somebody’s making that many, you have to find him on the court. We lost him quite a few times. Then he was in that rhythm, you’re [in a tough position] and even when you are contesting, he’s in such a hot streak that you made a few tough ones late.
“Overall he’s been great against us more than anybody. We know him. He knows us.”
Udoka pointed out the first minute Thursday, when Smart switched off Fournier, expecting Horford to switch on to Fournier. He was screened by Mitchell Robinson, leaving Fournier wide open for a 3-pointer.
“We’re talking about locking in and focusing in from the start of the game, not allowing one mistake and remembering the game plan,” Udoka said. “And when you multiply that by five guys and everybody makes a mistake and you find ourselves down or letting guys getting going early. It wasn’t just last game.”
Familiar foes out
Former Everett High standout Nerlens Noel (conditioning) was not available for the Knicks. Kemba Walker (knee management) was also out and unavailable to face his former team. Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said Walker is getting closer after being shut down last week because of knee issues . . . Knicks star Julius Randle was fined $25,000 by the NBA for what the league called an “egregious” use of profane language in interviews with the media following a Jan. 5 practice and again the next night following a victory over the Celtics . . . The Celtics now have an open roster spot with the release of Jabari Parker, whose contract would have been guaranteed Friday if he had remained on the roster. The club could add another player to a 10-day contract or leave the roster spot open for more trade flexibility.
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.