The Celtics returned to TD Garden for the first time in two weeks, a dramatically different team than the one that was pounded in the fourth quarter in a loss to the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 16.
The team managed a 3-3 West Coast trip with many of the younger players establishing themselves during the biggest challenge of the season. Not overlooked by coach Brad Stevens was the addition of Tayshaun Prince, who made his debut in the trip opener at Los Angeles.
“Adding Tayshaun to the mix was very helpful,” Stevens said. “I was disappointed in the last game and I went back and watched it. We were playing a different Minnesota team and they played well really. I don’t want to take anything away from them, but I do wish that we would have finished the trip [well] in that last game.
“We played some of our best basketball in that Golden State game and we also got a couple of wins on the trip. So there were some real positives. It’s a great challenge coming back and we’re going to have to be exceptionally good.”
The next goal, Stevens said, is establishing more consistency, especially at home.
“If you look at our roster, look at some of the injuries, look at the teams that we’re playing, we’re going to have to lean on everybody,” he said. “When [Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo] left, it puts a lot of onus on [our younger players]. They don’t have those two guys to turn to when the game’s on the line and we need a basket. It’s got to be them.
“Tayshaun made his fair share of plays during those [road] games as did our other older guys, but the young guys made a lot of them and that was a good thing.”
Guard Evan Turner said the team assumed a new identity after all the changes.
“We did a lot of adjusting and at the same time a lot of soul searching, but at the same time I think we’re getting better,” he said. “I think guys gained a lot of confidence. We’ve some guys playing really well right now and we just need to do a better job of making one whole collective effort like we’ve been doing this whole trip.”
Turner again had his right thumb wrapped, a sprain that has lingered the past few weeks. It didn’t help that Turner had it hit three times in Monday’s win over the Utah Jazz, forcing him to leave the game twice.
“It’s getting better, once I get my adrenaline, I don’t feel it as much,” he said. “It’s just a whole thing of my adrenaline taking over, but I’ve just got to get a good warm-up and hopefully it just blacks out from there. Sometimes it’s hard to catch the ball clean when I do a lot of movement. The more movement, the greater chance of error.”
Dwight Howard was not with the Rockets on their trip to Boston, returning to Houston to have his right knee re-examined. Howard played eight minutes in Friday’s win over the Phoenix Suns before leaving with knee soreness, and has missed the past two games. Howard has missed 15 games this season with various injuries and was left off the All-Star Team for the first time in eight years.
“I think it’s important to play with pace, even with Dwight,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “You don’t have the luxury of throwing it down to him low but if Terrence [Jones] can come back and get his legs underneath him, we have another opportunity to throw it back down to Terrence. It does change. We won’t have Dwight for a while, I’m sure. So we’re just going to have to go out there and play.”
The Celtics are hardly the same team who lost to Houston, 104-90, on Nov. 1. Rondo and Green were in the starting lineup. This new Celtics lineup has been rejuvenated with younger players.
“Rondo dominated the ball and was able to make plays,” McHale said. “I always like Jeff Green, he was a great guy that could do a little bit of everything very well. Slip him in at the 4, he could play some 2, some 3.
“From watching them and preparing, [Jared] Sullinger is going to be more aggressive. The perimeter guys are getting the ball more now that Rondo’s not there. They’re all being more aggressive trying to make plays. It just seems like they’ve opened up a little bit. They play hard every night. They hit the glass pretty hard. They’re a physical team, so we’ll have to be ready to play.”
Dawkins sent down
Shortly after he practiced with the Celtics on Thursday, NBADL product Andre Dawkins was sent back to Maine to play in Friday’s game against the Canton Charge. The Celtics have until Monday to decide whether to sign Dawkins, a high-scoring guard who played briefly with the Miami Heat this season, to a second 10-day contract . . . Kelly Olynyk was in the Celtics locker room with a boot over his sprained right ankle. He was invited to play for the World team in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend in New York but it’s questionable whether Olynyk would be available.