Kornet’s Stellar Return Powers Celtics to Victory

Kornet’s Stellar Return Powers Celtics to Victory

It didn’t take long for Luke Kornet to be tested in his first game back after a two-week tear. The veteran big man earned a starting spot alongside Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis in his return against the Raptors on Friday night. Within 14 seconds of the opening tip, Toronto went straight for Kornet when Jakob Poeltl ran a pick-and-roll into the middle of left field. Kornet traded blocks away from the Raptors big man and set the tone for his best night as a member of the Celtics.

Boston later held on for a 120-118 win against the Raptors despite three rotating players, including Jayson Tatum, and Kornet was front and center for much of the win. The 7-foot-6 big man had a season-high 20 points and 8 rebounds while shooting a spectacular 8-of-11 from the field.

Perhaps most impressively, he played 33 minutes after returning from injury and stayed on the floor even after the Raptors opted to play small ball for much of the fourth quarter. Joe Mazzulla explained why he stuck with his big man despite the change in tactics after the win.

“I really trust Luke and he has an innate ability to navigate our defensive channels and guard contests and not get bogged down in miscommunication,” Mazzulla said. “So he does a really good job of guarding different players and our different coverages, and I think offensively he’s done a really good job of creating mistakes and turnovers.

So sometimes he’s hitting down, sometimes he’s sliding outside, and I think he’s one of those guys that when you’re playing against the switch and you have to be unique defensively, he can really make it happen. Kornet impressed on both ends with five rebounds and three blocks to help the Celtics extend their 15-game home streak to start the year. The 28-year-old has now played 75 percent of the season in a part-time role, but his solid play in that position has earned him high praise from his teammates.

“Luke is the best teammate,” Jaylen Brown said. “Just a great locker room, gets along with everybody. He’s funny, so he just lifts everybody up, even in moments where we don’t want to laugh. And then on the court, he’s just old reliable, always in the right place, doing his job, screening, shooting, playing hard, grabbing offensive rebounds and going up and in games like today.

And he had a great game today. But Luke is the best teammate.” As the Celtics consider their trade options over the next six weeks, one area of ​​constant focus will be improving the big post behind Horford and Porzingis. However, given Boston’s limited ability to move the roster out of the top six with a salary cap, it’s hard to find many big players at this price who would play better minutes than Kornet right now.

Between him and Neemias Queta, the Celtics have decent depth options depending on the opponent, at least for the remainder of the regular season. This development helped eliminate Boston’s best players, as the Celtics were able to stay in the standings without them. While Kornet may be nothing more than a depth piece, he shows he can do more when called upon with performances, as we saw on Friday night.

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