The Celtics prized big man Al Horford will miss Wednesday night’s rematch against the Chicago Bulls with concussion-like symptoms, resulting to from a blow to the head Horford suffered during practice Monday.
Horford was originally cleared to practice yesterday, but was pulled after reoccurring symptoms presented themselves during Tuesday’s session. Although it’s still early in the season, this Bulls team has looked good and after a sloppy performance against them last Thursday, I’m sure the Celtics are hoping to get their revenge tonight; a task that will be even more difficult without their starting center.
The Celtics are coming off four days rest, are playing in their second home game of the season, and Marcus Smart is set to make his season debut tonight so things were looking up for the Celtics up until this news came out. Having Smart back, another gritty defender, will help the C’s in a major way when considering Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade combined for 46 points, a little less than half the team’s 105 point total. Other than scoring from their guards, the Bulls defeated the Celtics thanks to a huge effort on the boards, making the loss of Horford a little harder to stomach.
As I wrote last week, the Bulls out-rebounded the Celtics 55-36 which included 18 offensive boards. While Horford didn’t look great from a rebounding standpoint in that game, he still made a difference and Chicago’s big men Taj Gibson, Robin Lopez and Nikola Mirotic had their way with the Celtics back-up big men while Horford missed large chunks of the game due to foul trouble.
Head Coach Brad Stevens is still trying to find the best pairings with his rotations, so it’ll be interesting to see who he decides to start with Horford’s absence considering the options he has. With Smart officially making his debut tonight, he could potentially go small with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart up top. This would shift Jae Crowder to power forward and Amir Johnson to center and would certainly make them smaller, maybe even too small, but it’s an interesting lineup nevertheless. I’m not sure if Stevens would throw Smart directly into the game, considering this is his first game back from an ankle injury, but having Smart Bradley and Crowder on the court at the same time would be a scary combo on defense. Terry Rozier has played well thus far, so if Stevens is hesitant to start Smart, he could always opt to use Rozier in his starting lineup if he does in fact decide to go small.
The obvious choice would be to insert Tyler Zeller in Horford’s place, but without Horford, the Celtics are extremely thin when it comes to big men, so I think Zeller will remain in a reserve role but will definitely see an uptick in minutes. Although I’d love to see them go small, Gibson and Lopez dominated Boston’s big men last week, so I think you have to start bigger if you’re Stevens. Enter Jonas Jerebko. In this scenario, Jerebko would play power forward while Johnson slides into the center position. Jerebko can space the floor the way Horford does and is big enough to help out on the boards and at least get in the way of Gibson and Lopez because let’s face it, Jonas just isn’t a great defender. This is probably the most likely scenario, but we should expect to see a multitude of different lineups out there tonight as Stevens tries to mix and match to find the best combinations.
The Celtics and Bulls will tip-off at 8:00 PM tonight, in Boston as they go for their third win in four games and revenge against an Eastern Conference rival.