The Boston Celtics’ depth has been tested over the past several games — but the toughest test will come Tuesday night in Milwaukee.
Jayson Tatum (non-COVID illness) is officially ruled out for Tuesday’s game against the Bucks, the team announced this afternoon. Tatum will join Jaylen Brown (facial fracture) and Marcus Smart (right ankle sprain) among the sidelined C’s, while starting big men Robert Williams and Al Horford are both questionable for Tuesday night.
Tatum has only missed three games in 2022-23, and Tuesday will mark Boston’s first game this season without Tatum and Brown. If Williams or Horford can’t go, the C’s will be without four members of their preferred starting five against a Bucks team riding a 10-game winning streak.
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The good news for Boston is that Malcolm Brogdon (right Achilles soreness) and Grant Williams (right elbow swelling) are both available to play after appearing on Monday’s injury report.
Still, the Celtics might have to go deep into their bench Tuesday night: Derrick White, Sam Hauser, Payton Pritchard and Mike Muscala all could see increased minutes, while Luke Kornet and Blake Griffin could get additional run if Robert Williams and/or Horford can’t go.
That might not be a bad thing, though: Boston has won four straight and six of its last seven despite a depleted lineup. White has played a central role in that success, earning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors after averaging 24.5 points, 7.5 assists, and 4.8 rebounds over his last four games.
Tip-off for Celtics-Bucks is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.
Cavs don’t anticipate buyout of Kevin Love after difficult conversation about benching
Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love (0) shoots against Golden State Warriors forward Kevon Looney (5) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
As of late, Kevin Love has only been seen on the bench, in his warmups, cheering on the rest of the Cavaliers and holding up 3 fingers whenever a 3-pointer is swished.
As a veteran, his presence is still being felt as the Cavs continue to make a push for one of the top seeds in the East. But he has been absent from the floor, an instance of collateral damage while the Cavs have shuffled their rotation in an effort to find how the pieces in the puzzle fit the best.
It was a difficult conversation for the Cavs to have with Love, the 34-year-old veteran and locker room leader, the 2016 championship team member, the guy who played through the Cavs’ rebuilding years after LeBron James’ exit 2.0. Love came out through the other side of that rebuild to be a key rotational member of a suddenly contending Cavs team but, for the time being, he has been taken out of the rotation.
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In 41 games this season, Love has averaged 8.5 points and 6.8 rebounds on 38.9% shooting from the floor in 20 minutes per game. But he hasn’t appeared in a game since Jan. 24. And while he’s been active for the last nine games, he’s hasn’t checked in, either.
J.B. Bickerstaff’s nine-man rotation doesn’t include Kevin Love
Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff noted earlier this season that as the Cavs had players return from injury and shuffled their rotation, it could lead to some frustration. Bickerstaff didn’t want a rotation of 11 or 12 guys all playing only a few minutes a game, as it’s a bit more difficult to gel as a unit. Instead, Bickerstaff has wanted to stick to a nine-man rotation featuring guards Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Ricky Rubio and Caris LeVert, forwards Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman and Dean Wade and center Jarrett Allen. That left, most notably, Love as the odd man out.
“It’s a conversation that we’ve had with him, just trying to figure out what’s the right thing to do,” Bickerstaff said earlier this month. “We tried the small minutes, but to get guys burn I just didn’t like the way that it looked, and guys couldn’t catch a rhythm. So, trying to give guys both minutes to see if they can catch a rhythm and get the groups can catch a rhythm. And then, we’ll figure out the best pieces around it.”
Love could still play minutes here and there as the season progresses, but unless an injury pops up or the Cavs run into issues it might be sparse.
“I think the the plan is, we know, at some point in time during the season, everybody’s going to be an important piece of what we’re doing,” Bickerstaff said. “I think we’ve seen that from the beginning of the season till now. We still believe he’s capable of helping us in big moments, because he has that experience and has been through those pressures.
“So it’s not something that we want to completely go away from and not give him opportunities to play and catch a rhythm and still feel a part of it, because I do think there’s going to be times where we really need him.”
Cavaliers don’t foresee a buyout with Kevin Love on the horizon
Love also carries some additional value that can’t quite be quantified to the Cavs as a young team with very little playoff experience. Love is one of just two players on the roster (along with Mitchell) with any substantial, recent playoff experience. Due to the depth he brings, along with that experience, Cavs president of basketball operations Koby Altman said shortly after the trade deadline passed that he doesn’t anticipate a buyout of Love’s contract.
“Not one time since I’ve been here have they approached me about that,” Altman said. “I think we’re asking Kevin to make another sacrifice this year to do what he’s doing right now, which is be a great teammate, stay positive every day, stay ready and work on your body, work on your shot, work on everything to be ready for when that opportunity comes next. We got healthy and I think JB liked the rotation that we were going with and I think that’s a part of it. Not easy for Kevin I’m sure.”
Although the Cavs have appreciated Love’s professionalism, they also know he’s human. Playing for years on a rebuilding team surrounded by younger players getting their footing and then being asked to take a step back at a time like this isn’t an easy conversation to have. Bickerstaff noted it was an emotional decision for the team because they know “what it means to him.”
‘It’s the balance’: How the Cavaliers’ rotation has led to a 7-2 record over last nine games
But the Cavs have liked their recent rotation, which has led to a 7-2 record in their last nine games.
“It’s the balance,” Bickerstaff said. “You look at, from a starter standpoint, there’s a balance that you’re seeing in the scoring on that end of the floor, and then the guys who are coming off the bench are doing a really good job of complementing those guys and filling a role. They help your offense continue to tick over. Those guys can share and play-make, they’re not the guys who the ball’s in their hands and it always stops.
“And then, defensively, it’s versatile. There are guys who can guard multiple positions, figuring out how to cut off triggers by switching things, individual guys who can lessen their matchup. You’re not going to hold these guys or shut these guys out, but trying to get those guys into tougher, difficult shots, we’ve got guys that can do that as well. So there’s a nice balance offensively and defensively with the group.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at rle[email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Kevin Love is benched, but Cleveland Cavaliers don’t anticipate buyout