Thank the Celtics’ bench.
Without it, Boston’s game last night against New Jersey might have had a different outcome.
It seems odd to credit the bench. It has been bad lately… Pretty damn bad. In recent weeks, it seems, I haven’t held out any hope that the bench could help win games. I’ve only wished that it wouldn’t ruin the first team’s efforts to win the game.
I’ve sat at home watching the games and thought to myself, “Doc, these guys aren’t helping… Get them out… Please…. I’m begging now… DOC!!!”
It has been easy to blame the bench’s struggles on the absence of Marquis Daniels; his versatility can help in so many areas.
But to use Daniels’ injury as an excuse would be to let the biggest culprits off the hook. He will help, but he won’t completely cure all the problems. His return alone won’t force Rasheed Wallace to stop lingering near the three-point line, or to play defense with a sense of urgency. Daniels won’t make Eddie House drain wide open jumpers, and he won’t make Brian Scalabrine any quicker. He won’t give Shelden Williams a decent set of hands, and he probably won’t help Tony Allen be any less turnover-prone.
Improving the bench will take a better effort from all the Celtics’ reserves and a return to the most essential of all basketball skills… making shots.
Perhaps the improvement started last night.
An upset was potentially on the horizon.
Not just any upset, either. An earth-shattering, woe-is-me, Miracle on Ice upset. A Virginia vs. Chaminade upset. A Broadway Joe over the Indianapolis Colts upset. A Jim Valvano running around the court upset. A David Tyree off the helmet upset.
A half of supremely lackadaisical basketball had left the Boston Celtics in danger of falling to the miserable — possibly historically miserable — New Jersey Nets. They’d only won four of their first 48 games, but in Friday night’s first half the Nets looked more than formidable. They shot 63%. They emerged with a 55-51 lead. They outplayed the Celtics, who had their heads firmly entrenched in their own rear ends.
Better defense in the third quarter allowed the Celtics to cut the lead to one by the end of the period, 73-72. But they were still losing. To the New Jersey Nets. The Nets!
Cue the bench.
A few Eddie House flame-throwers later, Boston was well on its way to a 9-point victory. House’s ten-point outburst — which could have been 13 had the referees not seemingly erroneously ruled one of his three-pointers to be after the shot-clock buzzer — was the most memorable contribution from the bench, but the bench made its mark in other areas too.
House himself stole a pass to the wing, leading to a Ray Allen lay-in. Glen Davis bodied Brook Lopez, forcing him into tough shots. Davis also snared a couple offensive rebounds to keep a possession alive, and nailed an open jumper. Even Bill Walker got into the action, drawing a foul on a foray to the hoop and drilling both free throws. Doc Rivers was so impressed that he didn’t reinsert the starting unit until only 2:40 remained in the game.
The bench’s performance was perhaps its best of the season, but it was a performance the likes of which, coming into the season, was expected night in and night out. The bench was supposed to be a strength, a weapon. Inconsistency and poor play were not supposed to be such big problems for a retooled bench bolstered by the additions of Daniels and Rasheed Wallace.
But the talent remains, and in the game before Daniels might return to the lineup, everything came together. The bench, not the starters, won last night’s game.
And the upset was avoided.