The Celtics acquired veteran Mike Muscala at the trade deadline to bolster their frontcourt depth with the smooth-shooting big man. Over his first three games, Muscala averaged 13.3 points and 4.7 rebounds while shooting 48.4 percent from the field.
But he did not appear in Boston’s first two games after the All-Star break and also sat out the first half of Monday’s loss to the Knicks before getting an 11-minute stint during the second half. Muscala had just 3 points, a rebound, and a block, but coach Joe Mazzulla said his presence was meaningful.
“I thought the second half just — our spacing felt different, our ball movement felt different when he was in there,” Mazzulla said Wednesday, before the Celtics faced the Cavaliers. “So I think that’s something he can bring.”
Celtics centers Robert Williams and Al Horford have not played in games on back-to-back nights this season, so Muscala is expected to be called upon more often in those situations. The Celtics have four back-to-backs remaining this year. But aside from injured forward Danilo Gallinari, the roster is finally fully healthy, so Mazzulla is still trying to figure out rotations while also finding ways to work Muscala into the mix less than a month after he was acquired.
“The game will kind of tell us what lineup we need now that we have the ability to go a bunch of different ways,” Mazzulla said. “It’s important that we make sure we play that way when we need to exploit the matchup.”
Getting the band back
Celtics All-Star Jaylen Brown returned after missing Monday’s game because of personal reasons. So the regular starting lineup of Brown, Horford, Williams, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart was deployed for just the third time this season.
That unit was one of the NBA’s best last year, but it is still finding its footing in limited opportunities this season. Entering Wednesday, the group had played 53 total minutes together and been outscored by 11.8 points per 100 possessions.
Mazzulla said he is pleased with that lineup’s work on the defensive end, but acknowledged there are some cobwebs to knock off at the other end of the floor.
“I think just continuing to fight for our spacing and fight for early offense,” he said. “So, those first 6-8 seconds, both our bigs are working on where they’re at on the court, and then our guys reading what our actions are out of that. So I think it’s just getting organized a little quicker so we can get into our stuff a little faster.”
Live by the three
The Celtics entered Wednesday attempting 42.1 3-pointers per game in both wins and losses. But they are making 40.4 percent of them in wins and just 30.9 percent in defeats. Mazzulla said that he does not want his players to veer away from this approach on nights the shots are not falling. If anything, he wants them to lean further into it.
“What we can get better at is when we’re not making them, shoot more,” he said, “and shoot it with confidence.”