Boston's Bench Prepping for Big Series
WALTHAM, Mass. – Remember that run to and through the seventh game of the NBA Finals last season? Remember when Glen Davis carried Nate Robinson on his back near midcourt while sparking the Celtics to a Game 4 victory over the Lakers?
As teams inch closer and closer to an NBA championship, their bench becomes more and more important. Yes, the starters claim most of the minutes, but the reserves can often play game-changing roles in the postseason.
The Celtics have witnessed such a phenomenon take place in front of their very own eyes, and they wouldn’t mind seeing more of that during the current postseason. There wouldn’t be any better time for Boston’s bench to start making a serious impact than in its upcoming Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Miami Heat.
When Pat Riley completed his mastermind plan of bringing in two of the league’s premier talents to join forces with Dwyane Wade, the first question that was asked was, “Who will be playing alongside them?”
Miami’s bench has proven to be a weak spot this season. Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh combined to score 69.4 percent of the Heat’s nightly points during the regular season. No one outside of those three players averaged more than 8.0 PPG, and the one player who did average 8.0 PPG, Udonis Haslem, has been out since Nov. 20 with a torn ligament in his left foot.
To put it bluntly, the Heat are thin. Very thin. The Celtics? They’d like to believe they’re the exact opposite.
Boston boasts two reserves who essentially averaged double-digit scoring off of the bench this season. Glen Davis was fourth on the team in scoring with 11.7 PPG and Jeff Green averaged 9.8 PPG during his 26 games with the Celtics.
On top of those two, the C’s have several other players who have been starters for the majority of their careers, highlighted by Delonte West and (possibly) Shaquille O’Neal.
Boston’s depth was a strength throughout the season while the team battled through several injuries and reserves were forced to play big minutes. In fact, the team’s third and final win of the season over Miami came at one of the most injury-riddled times of the season.
“You know, you think about the injuries; you know Nate (Robinson) had said he wasn’t going to play right literally five minutes before the game, and then came up and said he wanted to give it a go. Paul (Pierce) said he felt awful,” Doc Rivers said after Boston’s 85-82 win over Miami back on Feb. 13. “And so, we literally were thinking at one point, ‘We’re not going to have enough bodies to play this game.’ “
And yet the Celtics still won. It’s not the way the basketball operations staff envisioned this season, but having reserves step up and deliver in the absence of other key players has been a constant in 2010-11.
That will need to happen again in this series, and Paul Pierce knows it.
“It’s going to be big,” Pierce said of the performance of Boston’s reserves. “We need everybody playing well. It’s not going to be easy when you start getting into later rounds and playing against better defensive teams, better offensive teams.”
Starters typically play more than 35 minutes a night in the postseason, but a situation can always arise where that simply isn’t possible due to arbitrary factors.
“You get in a situation where some of the starters may get into foul trouble because teams are better, or get tired a little faster from playing a little harder,” said Pierce. “So it’s going to be very important for our bench to be ready to provide a big spark for us.”
Interestingly enough, Boston’s captain noted that on Wednesday night, he saw that exact effect on Miami’s squad after Mario Chalmers checked into the game. The third-year point guard scored 20 points off of the bench, including six 3-pointers, during the Heat’s series-clinching win over Philadelphia.
The Celtics aren’t necessarily looking for 20-point nights from any of their bench players, but they are looking for “solid,” play, according to Davis.
“Just don’t make it hard, just (keep it) simple,” Davis said when asked to clarify his “solid” statement. “If we’ve got a play, we run it over and over again, and things like that – a simple game.”
Keeping the game simple is what Rivers has been preaching to his team for some time now. It was well documented that he told his team over and over to “keep the game simple” during Boston’s last matchup with Miami on April 10, a 100-77 loss.
Since that day, the message has seemingly been received. The Celtics have made a lot of things easy, including sweeping the New York Knicks aside in the opening round of the playoffs. Boston’s bench played a large role in completing that sweep in Game 4, and Pierce is looking for that to continue against Miami.
“You just want them to be able to do it on more of a consistent basis, getting confidence,” said Pierce. “But I think this week has been really good, getting them some practice time – the last couple weeks, actually – when they kind of find out who they are and what they can bring to this team to help us win ball games.”
When the media was allowed down onto the court for a pre-practice media session this afternoon in Waltham, Mass., nine players were already well into their day of practice. It wasn’t the Captain, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen or Rajon Rondo running through a mini practice with assistant coaches Armond Hill, Kevin Eastman and Roy Rogers. Instead, it was all nine of the Celtics’ active bench players.
They clearly understand their importance to this team, and they’re doing everything they can to prepare for this daunting seven-game series against Miami. Their coach knows how important they are as well, but he also believes that its his starters who will lead him to the Promised Land.
“It’s important,” Rivers said of his team’s bench play, ”but at the end of the day, guys, the starters are the key. If your starters play well – your bench obviously has to give you help, and I think we have enough guys that that will happen with us as well – but let’s make no mistake, if your starters are playing well, you have a very good chance of winning playoff games.”
Rivers is spot on with that assessment, but championships aren’t won with five guys. He understands that, and that’s why his first words after his media session were eagerly directed at Eastman.
“Kevin… how did it go?”