Well that took awhile….about three or four weeks to be exact. A healthy bench. A competent bench. A talented bench. A bench you feel comfortable leaving out there for the entire fourth quarter in a semi-competitive game while still keeping control. This was what Danny Ainge thought he constructed this offseason for the 2010-11 Boston Celtics but the injury gods had other plans.
So instead of being at the mercy of those fickle gods for the final two months of the season, Ainge decided to be more proactive. Get even deeper he thought, especially at the spots where veterans need the rest, while potentially sacrificing both some size and defense. Upgrade the offensive firepower for when the starters go flat. Actually have 12 guys on the roster you feel “comfortable” inserting into a game for a stretch.
We’re not at that 12 number yet, but tonight this team had ten guys. Ten veterans who could handle the upstart Indiana Pacers. They went two deep at every position and it showed as the bench won this contest in the second quarter, to dig out of the hole the starters made for them early on.
To have every player on the roster play less than 30 minutes in a game that wasn’t technicially a blowout….well…..I can’t remember the last time Doc Rivers was able to do that. Make no mistake though….it was nice. Before we go any further however, let’s put a few caveats in here. The Indiana Pacers are not a good team. They were also coming off of a back-to-back. They have no business winning against Boston anyday of the week, but especially last night.
There’s talent there, but this is the team the Celtics would love to face if they get the top seed in April. Will Indiana sneak in over Charlotte and Milwaukee? Your guess is as good as mine for this inconsistent bunch coached by ex-Celtics video coordinator and assistant coach Frank Vogel (a very nice guy by the way.)
Despite all of these edges, the C’s still fell behind early in this one. The offense was all out of sorts. Easy shots were missed. Rajon Rondo was not attacking. The Celtics scored a mere 15 points in the first quarter and it wasn’t pretty. Doc however wasn’t overly disappointed with the early effort, just thought his guys were pressing he said later.
Luckily, the a relatively healthy bench was there to save the day as Doc mixed and matched with Carlos Arroyo, Delonte West, Jeff Green, Big Baby and Murphy for most of the second quarter. Davis was the ringleader at first, attacking the basket with almost too much reckless abandon in the opening minutes of the quarter.
The good news was his energy was contagious, as that crew got stops defensively and kept feeding the ball to Jeff Green who got to the free throw line and scored all over the floor (13 points in quarter) to help start the run. Once Pierce and Ray got back into the game with six minutes remaining the wheels were turning and the two of them combined to hit three consecutive three’s to break this thing open and finish off the 15-2 run.
The key to the quarter though was really the spark of that bench. They played hungry and stayed active, something the starters really weren’t in the opening quarter, but were able to grab onto in the second quarter and ride through most of the second half.
That kind of play couldn’t really be expected out of your Semih Erden, Sasha Pavlovic and Luke Harangody’s of the world. With the C’s bench guys tonight it can and hopefully will continue to get better and better.
He looked a little rusty to start but my goodness did he shake that off extremely quickly. A tough fadeaway 18-footer? Check. A one-handed one-timer cross court assist to Troy Murphy off a pass? Check. (Don’t worry, it was with left hand). Crisp pick and rolls with Krstic and Big Baby? Check. A ridiculous block on Paul George? Check. All of this in just 16 minutes of action. West left his imprints all over this one. The box score won’t blow you away, but for a guy whose not close to 100 percent yet, there’s a lot to look forward to here.
Danny Granger is a good basketball player who has had a very tough time with Boston this season. Take note of tonight, where he hit just 5-of-16 shots for 15 points. Through three games this season, he has hit just 15-of-57 field goal attempts for a repulsive 26.7 percent. Pierce has been getting plenty of love for his O this year (another sick dunk tonight, 20 efficient points in 27 minutes) but his D has been just as solid.
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
The rebounding was bad tonight. Indiana outworked Boston on the glass for a 48-37 margin including 19 on the offensive end, which tied an opponent season high for the C’s. Indy is a mediocre rebounding team overall, but used their bulk tonight (Hibbert 5, McRoberts 5, Foster 3, Hansbrough 3,) to pile up the boards on the offensive end.
The return of Shaq should help in this department and lots of offensive rebounds is a sign of a good defensive game most nights, but this continues to be one of the biggest chinks in the armor and is worth keeping an eye on.
– Rondo had a bizarre line of 0 points, 0 rebounds and 8 assists. He played poorly in the first quarter, then pretty solid the rest of the way. Nothing great, but he didn’t screw things up like he did in New Jersey when it comes to turnovers (2 overall). He’s in a slump but C’s got all they needed out of him tonight.
-Speaking of turnovers, C’s did not have a turnover in over 20 consecutive minutes of game action, a stretch that lasted from the end of the first quarter all the way through the 4:02 mark of the third. Uncoincidentally, the Celtics outscored the Pacers 49-36 over that period of error-free basketball. They finished with 15 turnovers overall over the other 28 minutes.
-Just when you’re ready to write Troy Murphy off, he comes through with the reverse one handed jam. You earned yourself three more weeks with Murphy as well as a quote of the night from Doc:
“I think he was surprised. I was worried about him getting hurt coming down, because I don’t think he’s jumped that high in quite some time. It was a slow-motion reverse-dunk. It was terrific.”
That seems a good place to stop for now. C’s head out for three-game tough roadie tomorrow morning. Luckily, they’ll have reinforcements for the first time in a long time.