Celtics bench outscores the starters in a sign of things to come

The Celtics reserves outpaced the starters 67-45 against the Sixers last night. This is not really a surprise. They bring in a 5'9" professional scorer off the bench.

Without a doubt, Isaiah Thomas is the team's best offensive player. Last night the little scoring machine recovered from a slow start en route to 27 points on 10-19 shooting with 7 assists and 3 steals (6-7 FTs). He was +19 for the game. Amir Johnson will be in a neck and neck battle with Marcus Smart for the claim of the Celtic's best two-way player this year, and the newcomer answered Stevens' call with 15 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks on 6-11 shooting. He was +16 in his 20 minutes and showed a nice pick and roll chemistry with IT4.

The leader in +/- for the C's? Evan Turner. Who put up a very Evan Turner-y 6 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers while recording a team best +23 in 22 minutes. Jerebko's two buckets helped put the game away and the Swede was +14 on the night. And then there was the resurrection of Jared Sullinger, who tallied 12 points (6-8 FGs) and 7 rebounds in his 21 minutes. He was +5 for the game. Sullinger's defense on Okafor was the turning point, as Tyler Zeller was bulldozed early by the big rook. Sully came in to stop the bleeding and the team erupted for a 21-2 run.

The starters were paced by Marcus Smart, who's 13 points came largely at the three point line (3-6) and the free throw line (4-4). Bingo. The rest of Smart's stat sheet was filled up with 5 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block, good for +22 in his 32 minutes of action. No other starter was in the positive for the game. Avery Bradley was particularly invisible, posting a net zero in +/- despite leading the team with 33 minutes. Not sure how that's even possible considering the Celtics won by 17.

Couple caveats: the Sixers are bad and their bench is worse. Tyler Zeller was sent to the bench after getting his clock cleaned by Jahlil Okafor and played only 11 minutes, limiting the amount of production from the starting frontcourt.

But the starters still tallied more minutes than the reserves, and the way Stevens has configured the lineup will have the bench outscoring the starters more often than not. Whether Sullinger or Olynyk plays with Johnson, either of the two can put up points. Thomas and Johnson playing a nifty little two man game on several possessions showed why Stevens has his heart set on playing them together. When Smart joined them, those three made things happen on both ends of the floor. It would be tough to imagine the Celtics finishing any close game without the Smart/Thomas/Johnson trio out there. But can the team succeed with two of their best three players coming off the bench?

On one hand it makes a lot of sense to stack the bench. The Celtics put themselves in a possession to use their depth to exploit their opponent's weakest lineups. Basketball is about getting mismatches and against the league's second units the Thomas/Johnson pairing will conceivably always have the upper hand. If the Celtic's starters can be even or close to their opponent's starting five, the bench advantage is where the Celtics will pile up wins this year.

But that's a big if. Like last year, the question remains if the first unit is good enough to keep the Celtics in the game. Last night they came out and started the game by clanking a bunch of mid-range jumpers. It's only one game, but the Lee/Zeller frontcourt was overmatched by Okafor/Noel last night. Do they have the strength to fend off a more capable team's power forward and center?

With Thomas/Johnson coming off the bench, the second unit is going to score and this won't be the last time they top the starter's output. Celtics fans have to be hoping that the starters can pull their weight enough to allow the bench to continue to be their difference makers.

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