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The Read & React: Celtics bench handles Heat

The Celtics’ depth again proves to be one of the team’s biggest strengths.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Glass (First)Half Full for Celtics' Defense of Whiteside (Tim MacLean): Allow me to preface my thoughts by acknowledging the fact Hassan Whiteside torched the Celtics for 25 points and 17 rebounds while clearly playing at less than 100% health. But despite him being hobbled by a sore left knee, the Celtics still did a pretty good job of taking him out of the game in the first half.

Miami initially tried to go to Whiteside in the post in order to generate offense. But Whiteside has been pretty bad there this season, scoring a below average 0.659 points per possession, per Synergy, and the Celtics exploited that. Every time Whiteside received the ball down low, Celtics defenders stayed close as they waited for him to put the ball on the floor. Once he did, Boston hounded him with a double-team, which forced him to either kick the ball out to a teammate or force up a bad shot. As a result, Whiteside only managed to score two points in the entire first half.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Erik Spoelstra adjusted well during halftime, though. Instead of dumping it in to Whiteside and letting him go to work, the Heat ran a ton of pick-and-roll action that allowed him to dive to the rim for easy buckets. The fact that he had 23 points in the half wasn't a coincidence; Whiteside has been excellent in the pick-and-roll this season, scoring 1.341 points per possession as the roll man, per Synergy.

Perhaps Spoelstra was trying to take advantage of Tyler Zeller in the first half. He's not the best post defender but the help he received from Boston's wings and guards was enough to deter Whiteside from exploding early on. Had he been able to get off to a dominant start, we could be talking about a completely different result. One half of smothering Whiteside was good enough for the Celtics to leave Miami with a win.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Kelly Olynyk’s confidence game (Bill Sy): I’m a big believer that confidence is half the battle as young players find their way in the NBA. Sure, they have to get used to the size, strength, and speed of the pro game, but after they get acclimated and figure out what they can do in their role, it’s just a matter of trusting themselves. These are the growing pains that the Celtics bench are going through and may have finally overcome.

The back end of the rotation is made up of Tyler Zeller, Jonas Jerebko, and four players on their rookie contracts, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Kelly Olynyk. Smart has been playing with confidence since he was drafted. His game doesn’t revolve around his numbers, but he’s been a positive +/- player in all of the Celtics’ wins since his return from a preseason sprained ankle. After a strong summer and training camp, Rozier was the team’s breakout candidate. He was steady while the team weathered injuries to start the season 4-4, but it wasn’t until a strong 4th quarter performance on the road in Indiana that cemented his place in the rotation. At the start of the season, Jonas Jerebko was hesitating a lot and seemed to be one step behind on defense, but he has come alive since his homecoming in Detroit ten days ago. He’s been 7-for-8 from behind the arc since scoring nine points against his former team and brought an edge to the defensive side of the ball. Tonight might have been Kelly Olynyk’s revival.

He’s been good in spurts and in certain match ups, but like Jerebko, has looked hesitant with this shot and his drive. As a big that can hit the 3 and create of the dribble, that skill set is an important weapon in the second unit because he can serve as a catch-and-shoot finisher or as a playmaker with opposing centers drawn out of the paint.

In Miami, he seemed to just let it fly (but hesitated twice, but who’s counting). Whether it was on the kick out or whenever he got a mismatch against a small, he looked to score right away.

But I knew the old Olynyk was finally back when he drove passed Hassan Whiteside and took it strong to the rack. It’s taken KO three weeks to feel comfortable with his surgically repaired shoulder but I think we’re there now. And per ESPNBoston’s Chris Forsberg, the Celtics are 2-0 when KO where’s the tied back man bun.

Hack-a-Smart (Bill Sy): At first, I had to look up Marcus Smart’s free throw percentage to see if it even made sense. In Miami’s defense, it made some sense to put him on the line. Smart’s had a tough start to the season from the charity stripe, hitting just 55% (in only 29 attempts) after shooting nearly 78% last season. But with under three minutes to go in an 11-point game, it seemed a little bush league to me.

Smart seemed frustrated after the game, but the irony is that the Heat’s Hack-A-Smart strategy was a retaliation of sorts to Smart frustrating them the entire game. Yesterday, he drew charges, switched and effectively defended Whiteside, and ripped balls away from Dragic. Smart shouldn’t take umbrage with Spoelstra. He should be satisfied that he got in his head.

Good on you, Al Horford (Bill Sy): After Boston’s wire-to-wire win, CSNNE’s Mike Felger voiced his displeasure over Al Horford taking the night off to be with his newborn daughter and family. He said, “I know when you make $30 million a year it ain't much to get a private jet. Wyc would probably pick it up to fly down at 3 o'clock in Atlanta. It's about a 90-minute flight to Atlanta. Play the game and come right back." Kyle Draper defended Horford’s decision, saying that “Brad preaches family. He’s all about family first.”

For what it’s worth, it doesn’t matter how much Horford makes or how far it is between Hartsfield-Jackson and Miami International. The significance of the game and where it is in the schedule are irrelevant. Whether it was LeBron, Wade, and Bosh or Richardson, Babbitt, and McGruder, it doesn’t matter. What matters is how Al’s baby is doing and if his wife is O.K. Congrats to the Horford family.

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