Posted Mar 21 2010 5:35PM
They're looking more comfortable in green. Doc Rivers is just waiting for them to play that way.
"Our bench has been pretty good, honestly," Boston's coach said Saturday. "They haven't played well at times, but it's been in flux all year."
When dissecting the Celtics, the conversation always starts with the guys who start. The celebrated trio of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen gets the lion's share of the credit for 2008's championship run, and rightfully so. If the C's are going to figure into this Larry O'Brien chase, the Three Party needs to bring it once again.
But starting fives don't get it done alone. The Celtics felt the depth pinch in their title defense a year ago when KG couldn't go in the playoffs. The seventh-seeded Bulls extended Boston to seven games and Orlando knocked out the champs by going the distance again in Round Two.
Rivers' reserves have remained in flux, as Boston searches for the right mix in restructuring the second team. The Celtics have gone long, short, old and young. Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels are the offseason imports, Nate Robinson arrived before the trade deadline and Michael Finley signed on two weeks ago. They join Glen "Big Baby" Davis, seemingly giving Rivers options galore when his starters need a blow.
"It's probably more important in some ways in the regular season than in the playoffs, because in the playoffs your starters play more minutes, but in the regular season it allows your starters to get the proper rest," said Rivers, whose group began Sunday third in the Eastern Conference (45-24) and having won four straight. "We've committed to playing guys shorter minutes and we've been doing that and still winning games, which is really good."
The bench is dripping with Finals experience. Wallace was one of the lead characters on Detroit's championship squad. Davis (Boston) and Finley (San Antonio) own rings, while Daniels was part of Dallas' drive to the championship series. Robinson has won three titles ... of the slam dunk variety.
"It's been a bench of transition more than anything and right now they've been together for a little stretch, the same group every night, and they're starting to get used to each other," Rivers said. "That's more of it than anything else. I never thought they had a problem with roles. I just thought they had a problem with playing at times, just trying to sustain any consistency."
Rivers credited the starters for carrying the Celtics to Saturday's rousing victory at Dallas. The first team scored 89 in Boston's 102-93 win, and Rivers admitted he was just trying to buy minutes from the second unit. Every one of the starters played at least 31 minutes. Pierce, Allen and Rajon Rondo each scored at least 20.
Despite the presence of some big names, Boston's bench isn't among the league leaders in terms of production. It ranks 22nd in points per game (27.8), 19th in total minutes, 23rd in rebounding and 14th in 3-pointers made.
"They're getting it," Rondo said. "They outplayed Houston's bench [Friday] night. Not every night is going to be perfect."
Robinson has been a spark of exuberance since coming over from New York. The 5-foot-9 gunner is a one-man 9-0 run when he gets it going. Rivers doesn't have qualms about Finley taking a big shot at the end of the game. Wallace still tends to shoot too many 3's for Rivers' taste, but the moody veteran is another potential game-changer.
"We just have to be ourselves," said Robinson, shooting nearly 47 percent from 3-point territory since the trade. "Everybody needs to contribute."
While Rivers may be worried about the bench's production, their attitude and ability to mesh with his veteran group wasn't a concern. The additions of Finley and Robinson didn't disrupt the balance inside the locker room. The Celtics have done it before, bringing in guys like Sam Cassell and P.J Brown for the stretch run.
"If you're going to bring somebody in late in the year, he has to be a good guy," Rivers said. "You can't take the gamble with a bad guy in your locker room. It always upsets things when you bring in a new guy, even if it's a guy that they want. Everybody still starts getting worried about minutes, so you need a guy that's there just to work and if minutes come, they come."
The Celtics of record could use a break. Allen, Garnett and Pierce are older and wiser, just not as prolific as two years ago. Rondo has emerged in the interim as a budding superstar and center Kendrick Perkins continues to improve. That starting five is as a formidable as any in the league, going 120-37 over the last three years.
And it Boston, ultimately, they're what it's about. The reserves have no illusions. They're just trying to hold down the fort.
"The more times we get to play together, the better we'll be," said Finley, a 15-year vet who asked to be released by the Spurs late last month. "But when it comes down to it, it's about our starters and our Big Three, in particular. When they're rolling and doing well, we have a great chance to win the ballgame.
"The bench, we just try to come in and keep the run going, get something started or just give our starters a break. There's no Jason Terry or Manu Ginobili type of sixth man on our bench. We're just coming in trying to keep the ship afloat."
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