In the NBA a lot of emphasis is placed on constructing teams with multiple superstars in the starting lineup. Have one superstar? You might not make it too far. Have multiple stars and you will likely seriously contend for a championship.
On the other side, having a collectively strong bench can have as much value as any superstar player. This was very much on display last night when the Celtics overcame a double digit deficit going into the fourth quarter and won 99-93, fueled mainly by the outstanding play of bench players Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Jonas Jerebko.
Only one Boston starter played more than 35 minutes, Al Horford, while every Minnesota first unit player logged over 37 minutes. Why was Boston able to limit starters limits? Because, at least last night, there was no serious falloff in production between the first and second units.
Terry Rozier summed it up best when asked post game about the bench's impressive production:
“That’s something that we’ve been talking about since preseason, when you get in, we’ve got to either pick up where the first team dropped off or we’ve got to even play harder than them,” Rozier said. “We had a team meeting not too long ago and that’s one of the things that we said. We made a lot of things happen.”
As a whole, the second unit combined for 31 points compared to the 14 points scored by Minnesota's bench. The main storyline last night, however, was the fourth quarter comeback that put Boston over the top.
The Celtics trailed by 13 going into the final frame and would go on wild run that would culminate in a statement win. It was a message by Marcus Smart that may have given the C's the extra motivation they needed to get over the hump and pull out the victory:
“Everybody was [ticked] off how we were playing the whole game,” Smart said. “We were getting as we liked it call it, ‘punked.’ We saw that and everybody had something to say about it and we had to change it. Everybody agreed that we weren’t playing to the caliber that we usually play.”
Jonas Jerebko and Marcus Smart would go on to play every minute of the final quarter and would combine for 14 crucial points. Both were part of the crazy 17-0 run that would shrink Minnesota's lead to 4 points in the fourth quarter, capped off by Rozier's steal and dunk. The only starter in the lineup during the run was Al Horford.
Terry Rozier with the steal and the slam and the lead! And Isaiah is LOVING IT!💪👍 pic.twitter.com/c3MmvbfTMy— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 22, 2016
So far this season, Boston's bench hasn't been its strongest asset but there may be a valid reason for that. The C's haven't been healthy all season, forcing the bench to try to compensate for the losses of various players instead of playing a specific role. In essence it seems like the bench players have been playing out of their comfort zones.
But now, with everyone back and somewhat fully healthy, the second unit can revert to its complimentary self instead of being forced to try to fill starter's shoes. Now we can see the depth in the second unit that Boston possesses.
With a strong bench C's starters can play less minutes in games and possibly force opposing teams to keep starters in to match up against Boston's strong second unit. Last night the Wolves had to do just that, leading to fatigue for the starters.
Interesting that Rozier says Celtics could tell Wolves were gassed. All 5 Minn starters played 38 minutes or more; no Celtics did.— Adam Himmelsbach (@AdamHimmelsbach) November 22, 2016
Hopefully this trend can continue and the bench can continue to play the way they did last night. If they do then the rest of the NBA will officially have to be put on notice.
Photo credit: USA Today Sports
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