Team Growth Propels C's to Sweep of Back-to-Back

DENVER – We’re watching the Boston Celtics grow right in front of our eyes. Not as individuals, but as a team.

Team basketball has pushed Boston to consecutive one-point victories on the road in the Western Conference. First, it downed the Trail Blazers Thursday night in Portland. Next, it defeated the Nuggets Friday night in Denver.

Boston is floating a mile high as it heads out of Denver. It is playing team basketball from top to bottom, and it is seeing tangible results.

“We need that. We need that,” Brad Stevens said of the Celtics’ teamwork and balance. “We’re going to continue to need that.”

Stevens said it perfectly. Playing team basketball from top to bottom isn’t only what Boston wants to do. It is what Boston needs to do to win games.

We’re seeing the proof in the pudding.

Friday night’s 100-99 victory over the Nuggets in Denver was team basketball at its finest. Eleven Celtics appeared in the contest, and every single one of them contributed in a positive way.

There is no doubt that fans will hear mostly about Avery Bradley’s clutch shots, of a stat-stuffing performance from Brandon Bass, and about a strong night from Jared Sullinger. Those guys were critical to Boston’s victory, but so were the other guys on the court whose box score lines do not do their performances justice.

The Celtics looked the way of a team that was playing in the second night of a back-to-back in the league’s most elevated city. They needed a pick-me-up, and they found it on their bench.

“I didn’t feel like we had any juice, or enough juice, in the first quarter, and so that’s why I threw Phil (Pressey) in there,” said Stevens. “I thought he kind of sparked us and did some things that got us going.”

Stevens also called on another energy-giver, Gerald Wallace, early on in the contest. All 8:26 of Wallace’s playing time came during the first half. The Celtics outscored Denver by four points during those minutes despite the fact that Wallace did not score a point, grab a rebound or dish out an assist. He affected the game with his intangibles.

Two more unsung heroes, Tyler Zeller and Tayshaun Prince, stood out during the second half, and not necessarily from a statistical standpoint. Stevens called on Zeller and Prince during some of the most important moments of the game, and for very different reasons.

“I just thought [Zeller] looked really bouncy today in the second half and I thought he looked pretty fresh,” said Stevens. “He didn’t play a lot yesterday. Sully (Jared Sullinger) played a lot … I thought tonight Tyler had some good bounce to him.”

Zeller’s activity led to five buckets and five rebounds during the second half. He played nearly eight minutes of the fourth quarter.

Prince wasn’t far behind Zeller, as he himself logged seven-plus minutes of action during the fourth quarter. Stevens has credited Prince for his knowledge of the game and his defensive abilities. Those characteristics were on full display during the final play of the game.

“On the last play, Tayshaun switched onto Jameer (Nelson),” Stevens pointed out. “Tayshaun is a hard guy to get a shot over and we felt pretty good about our chances even though Jameer had such a great night.”

Prince forced Nelson to miss an 18-foot, step-back jumper as time expired, preserving Boston’s one-point victory. He finished the game with four points and two rebounds.

From Bradley to Bass to Pressey to Prince, all 11 Celtics who appeared in Friday’s game contributed in a positive way. That’s what Boston needs, and momentum is building toward expecting that occurrence each and every night.

“I think the important thing is we have to go into the game with the mindset that it could be anyone’s night,” said Bradley. “That’s what kind of team we are.”

Bradley continued on the topic, adding, “We all have to have confidence in each other and not be selfish and worry about ourselves and our stats … I feel like everyone is getting out of that selfishness and it’s really helping our team out a lot because when you play that way, now you’re playing into your roles and everyone’s out there and just playing and not thinking.”

Key word: everyone.

The Celtics are getting contributions across the board. They’re growing as a team from top to bottom.

The evidence is right in front of our eyes: a clean sweep of a challenging back-to-back on the road in the Western Conference.

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