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Sometimes in the NBA, you’ve just got to concentrate on the good, and forget about the bad – no matter how much of either you might find on any given night.
Friday’s game in Philadelphia is a perfect example of that notion when it comes to the Boston Celtics.
A crop of its youngsters unexpectedly took the court for extended playing time against the 76ers and provided a significant lift on a night when the C’s badly needed one. Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith combined for 27 points off the bench on 11-for-15 shooting and were two of Boston’s top players during a 111-99 loss to Philadelphia. Grant Williams and Romeo Langford, along with veteran Enes Freedom, each provided solid minutes as well.
The final score of this contest is the best indicator of just how well these reserves performed. Boston’s starters fell behind by 22 points on multiple occasions during the second half and never made a dent in Philly’s lead. Seconds after Nesmith, Langford, Williams and Freedom joined Pritchard on the court at the 9:17 mark of the fourth quarter, the Celtics trailed by 20. Eight minutes later, that group had sliced that deficit in half.
Boston’s 10-point deficit at that moment marked the closest it had been since it trailed 22-12 late in the first quarter.
“I liked their competitiveness,” head coach Ime Udoka said of the group that finished the game. “They shaved the lead down, and a lot of times in those end-of-game-situations, they let it go the other way at times.”
Such was not the case Friday night, but that doesn’t take away from the way Boston’s youngsters performed. Not only did Pritchard, Nesmith, Langford, Williams and Freedom slice the lead down to 10, but they did so while playing the high majority of the fourth quarter against Philadelphia’s best players.
Doc Rivers, the 76ers’ head coach, did not remove Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Seth Curry – the team’s top three talents – from the game until the 2:43 mark of the fourth. Even then, Rivers rode out the rest of the contest with his other top rotational players such as Tyrese Maxey (a starter), Andre Drummond (a former All-Star) and Georges Niang (sixth on the team in minutes per game).
These were real minutes, against real talent, and as Udoka indicated to his reserves before they checked in, that matters.
“We told them, ‘It’s invaluable for your development. Our team, we want to see what you can do in these last nine minutes,’” Udoka recalled telling the young players and Freedom. “And I loved their competitiveness overall.”
This group played with fire and confidence at both ends. It swarmed on defense, forcing Philly into four of its 10 total turnovers on the night. At the other end of the court, the fivesome displayed aggression while scoring 27 points on 61.1 percent shooting from the field.
In many ways, the group of Pritchard, Nesmith, Langford, Williams and Freedom played the way Boston’s starters were supposed to play from the opening jump. Obviously, that didn’t happen for the starting unit, and that’s why the Celtics fell behind in a big way early on. That’s the bad from Friday night.
Those final nine-plus minutes of impressive basketball from the youngsters and Freedom – undoubtedly – stand as the good. They made the final score respectable and built momentum for the team heading into Saturday's matchup against the East-leading Bulls