The Celtics improved their undefeated record to 5-0 by knocking off the Philadelphia 76ers, 105-74, Tuesday night. Paul Pierce finished with 21 points, but as has been the case in multiple instances this season, he, along with Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins did not need to break a sweat in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics' starters scored just four points in the game's first six minutes, but the bench helped them build a 69-54 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Doc Rivers went with what has become a typical second unit of Rasheed Wallace, Eddie House, Marquis Daniels, Shelden Williams and Ray Allen to start the fourth and that contingent cooked the fish that the other starters helped reel in for them.
"In the third quarter the starters came out and played and then the second unit came back in and stretched the lead," said Rivers afterward.
Allen finally was replaced in the fourth quarter by Lester Hudson with 6:50 remaining in the frame and the score, 85-58. Not many benches in the NBA are capable of taking a 15-point lead and and transforming it into a 27-point mountain that opponents have absolutely no chance of scaling. Boston's second five outscored Philly 16-4 in this stretch, which speaks volumes of its offensive capabilities, as well as its defensive potential. The bench finished with a season-high 62 points on the night.
Granted, Wallace was ridiculous from three-point nation in this one, knocking down six of his eight attempts in his Philadelphia homecoming (he finished with a season-high 20 points). But this really served as the first game this season in which the bench personally finished off an opponent, which was a great sign.
The two other legitimate blowouts this season occurred against the Charlotte Bobcats last Wednesday and against the Chicago Bulls last Friday. In both those contests the bench had significant contributions (30 bench points against Charlotte and 49 bench points against Chicago), but the games themselves were basically over when the fourth quarter began.
Against Charlotte Boston held a 67-41 advantage going into the final period and against Chicago, the Celtics led 88-61 after three quarters. Sure, it was the bench's responsibility to maintain those large leads, but there wasn't much of a comeback threat in either of those contests.
But against Philly, a 15-point lead with 12 minutes left against a team that put up 141 points in its previous game is not exactly safe, no matter how poorly it might have been shooting throughout the course of the game. If Philly had rattled off five or six straight points (and we saw evidence of such runs by the Sixers midway through the third) Doc Rivers might have been forced to re-insert Pierce and co. just to make sure the job got done.
Not in this one, though. Wallace kicked things off with a three with 10:14 left in the fourth, putting Boston up 75-56. Less than three minutes later, House buried one three-pointer with 7:55 to go, good for an 82-58 lead, then followed it up with another trey 31 seconds later, putting Boston ahead 85-58.
The Wallace-House combination is truly lethal, as three-pointers can act as daggers to the guts of opponents or as helpful means of clawing one's way back into a contest. In the majority of the first five games, this three-point barraging duo have helped put the Celtics ahead and kept them there.
But they certainly do not deserve all the credit for the second unit's success. Marquis Daniels finished with only six points, but it was the other things he did on the court that impressed Rivers.
"(Daniels) doesn't get a lot of the baskets, but he leads to all the baskets. He does so many little things for our basketball team," said Rivers. "He's a phenomenal defender, he's our point guard out there with that group and I just thought he went through a stretch - where Eddie and Rasheed got those threes - I thought Marquis orchestrated the whole thing. His basketball I.Q. jumps off (the page)."
One cannot count out Shelden Williams in this matter either, who continues to put up solid numbers in Glen Davis' absence. Williams finished with 11 points and seven rebounds in this one, highlighted by a one handed offensive snare and putback with 8:38 left in the fourth, good for a 79-58 lead.
Rivers acknowledged Williams' continued improvement in the Celtics' system, citing his comfort 12-13 feet away from the hoop and his rolling to the basket off of pick-and-rolls when Wallace is in the lineup with him. Rivers also highlighted Williams' rebounding ability.
"The one thing he does, too, is rebound," Rivers said emphatically. "That dude can rebound."
Rivers has been steadfast in his wanting to see the team improve with each win and admitted that even though the Celtics took down Chris Paul and the Hornets on Sunday, the improvement wasn't necessarily there. It seems the bench was the aspect of the team that improved most in the Celtics' victory over the Sixers on Tuesday.