During the first half of the Celtics’ 116-100 win over the Magic on Wednesday, reports emerged that the Heat had agreed to a deal for former Warriors standout Andre Iguodala ahead of Thursday afternoon’s trade deadline. It was the first notable move among the six teams that figure to be factors in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
It remains to be seen how the rest of the conference’s arms race will shake out, but back at TD Garden, the Celtics were once again showing that perhaps they will not need reinforcements.
They were once again considerably shorthanded, this time without starters Kemba Walker and Daniel Theis, and sixth man Marcus Smart. And once again, it didn’t matter as a makeshift rotation won by 16 points against a likely playoff team, stretching this winning streak to five games.
“We never want to make excuses,” forward Jayson Tatum said. “Once we go out there, whoever we got, we’ve just got to make it work. That’s what we do most of the time.”
On Monday, rookie Javonte Green made his first NBA start in the Celtics’ win over the Hawks. On Wednesday, coach Brad Stevens went even deeper down the bench in search of a new option.
At the team’s morning shootaround, Stevens informed rookie Romeo Langford, who had played just 118 minutes all season, that he probably would start against Orlando. Langford’s rookie year had mostly been a mix of nagging injuries and trips to play for the Maine Red Claws. He said that when he texted his mother to share the news, even she thought he was talking about the team’s G League affiliate rather than the big club.
Langford said the butterflies set in once he found out he might start, and when lineups were announced, he did not even hear his name called. Stevens tried to ease his nerves by simplifying his task a bit. He told him to just make life miserable for Magic sharpshooter Evan Fournier, and let more accomplished teammates mostly take care of the rest.
Langford did not sparkle, but he certainly did not look out of place. He made 3 of 4 shots, had several strong defensive moments, and Boston outscored Orlando by 8 points during his 28 minutes on the court.
“I think that he came out and was a little passive,” Gordon Hayward said. “I told him that in the second half. And then he made some good drives, finished strong. I think for him to be as young as he is [Langford turned 20 on Oct. 25], I think he’s ahead of the curve.”
It was just two years ago that Tatum was a nervous rookie himself. Now he is an All-Star, and he provided more evidence of why on Wednesday, finishing with 33 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals. When Orlando was lingering in the fourth quarter, Tatum poured in 10 points over a three-minute stretch to help extend an 89-86 lead to 99-91.
Hayward scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half and added 7 rebounds and 7 assists. With Walker and Smart out, he once again roamed as a 6-foot-7-inch point guard, providing another example of how valuable his versatility is, particularly when this team is undermanned.
Although Theis could still be sidelined for a bit, the Celtics are hopeful that Smart and Walker will be back soon, perhaps as early as Friday against the Hawks. But injuries this season have come through a revolving door, and Jaylen Brown could be next.
Brown tweaked his ankle in the final minute of Wednesday’s win. He limped to the locker room with a member of the team’s medical staff afterward.
“He tweaked it,” Stevens said. “So, it didn’t look like Theis’s [ankle sprain] the other day or anything like that. He’s got his foot in a bucket of ice like most of those guys do after every game anyway. So, hopefully we’ll get him back sooner rather than later. I don’t know what it’s going to be.”
Brown declined to speak to reporters after the game. He had a noticeable limp as he left the locker room, and he was carrying his right shoe instead of wearing it. But even if he misses a game or two, the Celtics have shown that they won’t back down, regardless of their personnel.
The Magic took a 66-65 lead on a Nikola Vucevic 3-pointer midway through the third period, but Hayward, who dominated that quarter with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and a steal, answered with a basket inside at the other end, and the Celtics never trailed again. They made 53.5 percent of their shots overall and 56.5 percent of their 3-pointers.
“Everybody that went in played hard,” Hayward said. “We competed. We tried to execute the game plan to the best of our abilities. But we just battled.”