Greg Monroe posted his best outing as a Celtic
The Celtics have seen an engaged and passionate Greg Monroe too many times over the past few years, so they believed he would eventually emerge in Boston.
Monroe had punished the Celtics with his array of post moves and on Wednesday at TD Garden, with backup center Daniel Theis out with a strained right hamstring, the Celtics guards continuously fed Monroe in the post against overmatched Charlotte center Willy Hernangomez.
Monroe found ways to the rim repeatedly and then found more ways to score as the Celtics cruised to a 134-106 win. The most important development from this victory is the comfort level of Monroe, who had not made the expected impact since the Celtics added him three weeks ago.
Monroe had scored 34 points in previous six appearances for the Celtics, but he tallied 14 in his Celtics-high 21 minutes on 6-for-9 shooting. It’s critical Monroe gains comfort in the offense because he might receive key minutes down the stretch and during the playoffs as a better offensive alternative to Aron Baynes.
Baynes was effective Wednesday, posting his third double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds, but in case Baynes runs into foul trouble or isn’t as productive offensively, Monroe can come in and score and get to the free throw line.
He is a traditional big man. He plays with his back to the basket. He needs time to create scoring space against his defender. He is methodical, hence his nickname “Moose.” And there is still a place in the NBA for guys like Moose. He can score easy buckets. He can get to the free throw line and he can take pressure off Kyrie Irving and other Celtics scorers with his ability to punish opposing centers.
Postgame interview with Greg Monroe
Hernangomez had no chance against the skilled Monroe and the Celtics have to develop a post presence if they hope to advance far in the playoffs. Of course, they would love to launch 3-pointers and score easy fast-break buckets, but in the halfcourt-emphasized playoffs, where every possession is critical, Monroe will be needed.
“We’ve been on the other end of that with Greg when he gets going in the post like that,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “So you could tell that he had a feel for the game, I thought he was really engaged, really locked in.”
Monroe worked out individually Tuesday, when the Celtics were off, at the Waltham practice facility and gained some confidence after sitting out Monday’s win over Memphis.
“I thought that was really good, you could see that he was going to have a good impact when he got in,’’ Stevens said. “I thought he did a good job too when [the Hornets] went with that shooting lineup in the second half as they were trying to come back. The more that we can get out of everybody, the better, but he does things that other guys aren’t as good at.”
Monroe has waited for his turn to make an impact. During his stops in Milwaukee and Phoenix, he grew accustomed to coming off the bench as a change-of-pace player but it was speculated he would eventually take the starting slot from Baynes. But the Celtics like Baynes’s defensive presence so much, he has kept his job.
And with Theis not only defending but scoring at the rim and hitting occasional 3-pointers, he has cemented his status as the backup big man. So Monroe may have to fight for minutes, but he appears prepared for the challenge.
“I know what these fans expect out of the team,” Monroe said. “This team has been playing at a high level, so I just want to come in and enhance what they’ve already got going. It’s just been tough for me getting a rhythm, especially with my situation this year, but it felt good to get some extended minutes, actually get out there, get into the flow of the game and just try to be as effective as possible.”
With 19 games left in the regular season and Monroe still trying to carve out a role and minutes, it is important for Stevens to get him more involved, especially with Theis nursing an injury. And there will be times when the offense focuses squarely on getting the ball into Monroe in the post and have him score against lesser defenders.
The Celtics have to have an interior offensive presence. Baynes can score at the rim occasionally but isn’t a great finisher and isn’t the type of center that can catch lobs in the post and go to work. Theis is more of a scorer on short jumpers and putbacks, so there is a role for Monroe.
There is room for his skill set on this roster but it’s difficult for a methodical big man to jump on a roster at midseason and suddenly flourish without playing extensive minutes.
“Sometimes when you throw it in the post over and over and over, you can become stagnant and watch because that becomes an isolation play,” Stevens said. “We’ve got to be able to manage that appropriately but when [Monroe] has a matchup we have to all find out. It’s going to take some time to get used to that. We [didn’t have] a ton of post [plays] in prior to him arriving. But obviously with him being guarded by a backup center, we’ll look to do that more.”