Celtics - Suns preview: C's second unit a strength

Celtics - Suns preview: C's second unit a strength
March 14, 2014, 1:00 pm
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(USA Today Sports Images)

BOSTON — With all the lineup fluctuations of late - OK, all season - the Boston Celtics have never really established any kind of consistency with their rotation.

But lately, the Celtics' second unit has actually become one of the team's strengths.

A big part of that improvement has been the Kelly Olynyk-Jared Sullinger tandem coming off the bench.

Their play, particularly when it comes to scoring, is huge for a second unit that doesn't really have many places to turn when it comes to generating scoring.

"Phil (Pressey) is not a volume scorer," said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. "Chris Johnson and Chris Babb are probably better playing off of others, although they’re both certainly capable. Having those two guys as playmakers in that second group is good. Now we don't play that second five together the whole time all at once, usually, but they all know how to play and they all know their roles and they play their roles pretty well."

That improved scoring more than anything else, has benefited the Celtics from a defensive standpoint relative to their second-unit brethren.

This season, the Celtics have allowed second units to score 32.4 points per game which ranks 23rd in the NBA.

But in the last five games, Boston has limited opposing backup units to just 31.8 points which ranks ninth in the NBA in that span.

They'll have their hands full tonight against a Suns team that's fifth in bench scoring (37.6 points) this season.

Doing whatever it takes to be successful, is the focus of Boston's backups.

"You know as a second group we don’t want the level to drop," Olynyk said. "If anything we want to raise the level. You know sometimes you are not going to score but off the bench we can really bring energy and that is what we do.”

Here are some other keys to tonight's game:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:  Phoenix will come in looking to do what they do best, which is to get out in transition quickly. They average a league-best 18.8 fast-break points per game. Boston's transition defense has been decent this season, giving up just 10 fast-break points per game in the last four games which ranks sixth in the league during that span.

MATCHUP TO WATCH:  Rajon Rondo vs Eric Bledsoe

This will be one of the few battles where Rondo faces a player shaking off more rust than he is. Bledsoe has one game under his belt since returning to the Suns lineup after undergoing knee surgery in January. As for Rondo, the explosiveness and ability to finish around the basket have returned. Now it's just a matter of doing those things on a more consistent basis.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Avery Bradley is expected to make his return to the Celtics lineup tonight. Naturally he'll be a little rusty in terms of shooting. But the key for him and the Celtics will be his defense; specifically on Phoenix guards Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston has been steadily improving on generating second-chance points, a trend they should be able to build on tonight. It should be easier to accomplish against the Suns, the fifth-worst team in the NBA in giving up second-chance points (14.5). During their four-game losing streak, they have been even worst, allowing 17 second-chance points per game which is the second-worst mark in that span.