Edwards Leads Solid Bench Effort in Shorthanded Win Over Clippers

On Friday evening, before taking on the LA Clippers at STAPLES Center, Celtics coach Brad Stevens mentioned to the media how important the upcoming stretch of games would be for his bench to “try to create some real reliability” with some of Boston’s core players sidelined.

Later that night, with Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart both missing from the lineup and Daniel Theis leaving midway through the game with knee soreness, the second unit stepped up and delivered in just the way Stevens had hoped for.

Carsen Edwards erupted for 16 points, Rob Williams added 10 of his own into the scoring column, Payton Pritchard scored eight in his first game back from a sprained right MCL, Semi Ojeleye came through with some clutch defense, and Jeff Teague dished out a team-high-tying four assists. Altogether, that second-unit fivesome helped the starting five to deliver a 119-115 upset road victory over the star-studded Clippers.

“They came in ready, focused, and locked into the game plan,” Kemba Walker said of Boston’s bench performance. “Carsen was amazing. He really got us back into the game. Payton, his first game back, he hit some big shots. Rob was great off the bench and everybody, the energy was just great all around. It was a great, great team win.”

The win wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for Edwards’ emergence during the second quarter. LA went up by as many as 16 points during that frame, but the sophomore sharpshooter kept Boston in the game by pouring in 10 points over a six-and-a-half-minute stretch before halftime.

Stevens loved seeing such a performance out of Edwards, taking note of how persistent the young guard has been over the last two seasons despite having an inconsistent role.

“Last year, it was just hard to get minutes on that team,” Stevens said. “We were so deep at the wing and so interchangeable with that group, that when there were minutes available you didn’t want to play small, you wanted to play more versatile. But he stayed with it. He’s had a good couple of months, and his opportunity showed up a couple of weeks ago in a game (when he scored 18 points against Cleveland).

“Even when he’s not playing he’s not getting down, he’s staying ready. So you thought he would play a role tonight (with Brown and Smart out). We don’t win this game tonight without him changing the complexion of the game. That’s really encouraging.”

For Edwards, this game provided another huge confidence boost after watching his first three 3-point attempts fall through the net. He wound up shooting 3-of-5 from deep, boosting his 3-point clip to an impressive 40 percent on the season after shooting just 31.6 percent from deep last season.

“Regardless if you play a lot or you don't play much or if you are a consistent guy, seeing that first shot go in is always a good feeling,” said the 5-foot-11 guard. “I feel like I'm trying to learn to be able to get into a rhythm through other ways, through getting stops, trying to get a rebound or something like that. But to be able to see a shot go in, it helps a lot.

“I'm just trying to stay consistent. it's a good game for me and it was good to play, but I just want to continue to try to build off this.”

While Edwards’ play received great notice, the effort of Ojeleye flew somewhat under the radar. His five points and four rebounds didn’t fill the stat sheet, per se, but the way in which he defended one of the best all-around players in the NBA was deserving of praise.

“He doesn’t get a lot of attention for what he does,” Stevens said of the hard-working veteran wing. “But it’s not the easiest role in the world to get subbed in with 32 seconds left and guard Kawhi Leonard one-on-one. In a week’s time, he’s on LeBron (James) at the end of the game and Kawhi at the end of the game.”

All in all, it was a stellar effort from Boston’s entire bench unit. And they did their coach proud by helping to knock off one of the best teams in the league.

“We don’t need everybody to put on a cape,” Stevens said. “We just need everybody to do their job well. Those guys did that.”

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