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James Young working way into Celtics’ rotation

James Young (13) has shown drive lately, including staying after practices to work on his shooting.File/Rick Bowmer/Associated press

NEW ORLEANS — It may have taken one-plus seasons, a plethora of trips to the NBADL, and plenty of extra practice work for James Young to finally earn an opportunity to crack the Celtics rotation.

On Monday, the second-year forward and youngest player on the roster (20), maximized his slice of playing time in the 111-93 win over the Pelicans at Smoothie King Center.

Young had 4 points with 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal in 20:21, the second-longest stint of his career. After rookie R.J. Hunter strained his hip flexor during practice Sunday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he was considering giving Young rotation minutes.

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Stevens threw Young into the game in the second period, and he looked as comfortable as he has in his brief career. He scored two second-half buckets, including a twisting layup that gave the Celtics an 81-67 lead after the third period.

"James has had a rough go about it because there's been times where he hasn't played as well, [rookies] R.J. and Terry [Rozier] actually came in and have done a lot of good things for us," Stevens said. "It's been tough, but he's stayed the course. He's worked. I kind of sensed on his trip that he's been just ready. I thought he's played well in practice, shoot the heck out of it when I watched and then we needed a body."

Young played defense with vigor and was aggressive offensively, taking the ball to the basket instead of settling for long 3-pointers as he did last season. He looked more polished and confident.

"It was good to get some reps in and coaches told me to be ready," Young said. "I was nervous at first, but I kind of loosened up and the guys told me to go out there and play solid. The coaches all have my back, and they told me not to be hesitant."

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Going into Monday's game, Young had played nine minutes over four games. For Maine of the NBADL, Young had also played in four games, averaging 20 points.

Free looks

Isaiah Thomas is by far the Celtics' leader in free throw attempts, taking 40 more (106 to 66) than second-place Jae Crowder. But his free throw rate is down from last season. In 21 games with Boston last spring, Thomas attempted an average of 6.5 free throws per game, which was 1th in the NBA from the time he joined the club until the end of the season.

His 5.3 attempts per game this season is 26th, and that number has dipped to 4.3 in his past 13 games, and it's something Thomas notices.

"I just keep going, different refs call different things," he said. "I don't feel like I've been getting the calls I usually get. But for the most part I'm going to keep pushing, keep attacking like I know how."

After attempting no free throws despite taking 21 shots from the field in the Celtics' win over Washington on Nov. 27, Thomas has attempted 22 free throws over his past four games, including nine in the 108-105 loss to the Spurs. He did not attempt any Monday against the Pelicans.

"It is frustrating, but you can't control it, can't do nothing about it," Thomas said of the inconsistency. "You just have to keep playing it the same way. Late in the game they start calling it a little more. I'm just going to keep going and put the pressure on them to make a call.

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"A lot of guys don't know how to get fouled. I think I'm pretty good at it, although I haven't been getting too many calls. I've always been able to create contact."

Lee eyes return

David Lee tried working through his bruised right heel injury during shootaround, but was ruled out for Monday's game. Hunter, who strained his hip flexor, was also held out.

Hunter participated in a post-practice 3-on-3 game Sunday and limped through the team's shootaround.

Lee missed the Celtics' loss Saturday to the Spurs. He would love to return for Friday's matchup with the Warriors, his former team.

Meanwhile, guard Avery Bradley missed the shootaround with an illness, but was able to play Monday. He worked out before the game and said he wasn't 100 percent, but was strong enough to play.

Bradley played 29 minutes, and accumulated 11 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds.

Olynyk up front

The Spurs' game plan was obvious the moment Kelly Olynyk hit the floor in the first period. Go at him in the post, prove the 7-footer can play post defense. Olynyk picked up five fouls in 12 minutes and scored just 6 points.

Olynyk said he realizes opposing teams are going to try his interior defense.

"I've just got to stay disciplined," he said. "A couple of those fouls were offensive, which was really tough because they weren't [hard fouls]. You have to adapt to the game. Some games it's not going to go your way. You have to limit the games that happens in."

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The Spurs threw burly forwards Boris Diaw and David West at Olynyk. Three of his five fouls were committed against the duo.

"I think he has actually historically done a better job against more traditional [power forward] than he has on that spread guy," Stevens said. "This year I think he's actually done a pretty good job on the spread guys. Hopefully he can continue to play that way. I'm not too concerned about it. I think with Diaw especially, we needed to do a better job of meeting him outside the paint. Our first point of contact was too low."


Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.