Celtics bench continues to save season

Celtics bench continues to save season
March 9, 2013, 6:45 pm
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OKLAHOMA CITY — There was a sense from the very start of the season that the Boston Celtics' depth - and not any one or two dominant players - would be their calling card this season.

Little did anyone know that depth would be tested so much and on so many different levels.

But for all the areas in which this group has exceeded expectations, few stand out more than the impact of their bench.

Indeed, the emergence of Boston's ever-evolving second unit has made the C's a first-rate problem for most opponents.

They come into Sunday's game against Oklahoma City riding a five-game winning streak and an impressive 14-4 record since all-star point guard Rajon Rondo suffered a torn right ACL injury against the Atlanta Hawks last month.

Shortly after Rondo's injury, the C's lost Jared Sullinger to season-ending back surgery and later Leandro Barbosa who suffered a torn left ACL and sprained MCL injury.

The C's would later trade Jason Collins and Barbosa's expiring contracts to Washington for Jordan Crawford.

Atlanta coach Larry Drew said the new-look Celtics are a tougher team to defend because the starting point of what they do offensively is constantly changing compared to when the C's offense ran primarily through Rondo.

Even more noticeable has been the impact of Boston's second unit on just about every aspect of the game.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said one of the reasons the reserves have played so well is because the expectations for them isn't all that different than it is for the starters.

"We don't change the way we play now," Rivers said. "We do it for the entire game; we play the same rhythm. So now when they come in, nothing changes."

Well, that's not entirely true.

While the tempo and rhythm might be the same, the second unit includes more scorers who can only get their own shot off the dribble, but also create for others.

There's no greater example of how effective this new-look Celtics team is than Jeff Green who is starting to play his way into at least being mentioned in the discussion as to who the league's best Sixth Man will be this year.

The biggest knock on Green in Boston, and with his former team Oklahoma City as well, was whether he played with the kind of consistent aggression needed to be an impact player.

In the last couple of games, Green has shown he can be counted on in late-game situations, too.

Green had the game-winning basket with five-tenths of a second to play in Boston's 83-81 win at Indiana on Wednesday. And in Boston's 107-102 overtime win against Atlanta on Friday, it was Green's corner 3-pointer in overtime that gave the C's their first lead in the extra session.

Jason Terry. Jordan Crawford. Chris Wilcox.

Go down the list of Celtics reserves and all have stepped their game up to be steady contributors as the C's steadily climb the Eastern Conference standings.

Paul Pierce doesn't see why anyone should be surprised at the play of the bench, especially when you consider the players on the second unit and what those players have done in the league prior to coming to Boston.

"You talk about Jeff, he's been a starter for other teams," Pierce said. "Jet's (Jason Terry) been a starter in this league ... well actually Jet's been the best sixth man and should have been a starter in this league. Jordan Crawford has been a starter in this league and playing a lot of minutes. So when you get those type of guys coming off your bench, it's huge. That's a quality bench when you have that experience coming off the bench like that, that's used to being in games at the start."

But what stands out about this group is that often you'll find at least two of them on the floor to close-out games.

"Trust man, it's all about trust with us," Terry told CSNNE.com. "We already had it, but with so many of our main guys going down, we rely on that trust even more. And as you can see, it's working for us."