Bench big in win (Keith P. Smith): With Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder already out, the last thing the Celtics needed to see was Jaylen Brown hobbled. Isaiah Thomas is a remarkable talent, and Marcus Smart can change games with his defense, but someone needs to help those guys. Gerald Green and James Young to rescue! Both were excellent off the bench. They combined for 26 points on 11 of 15 shooting. After the All-Star break, assuming health for Bradley and Brown, along with Crowder getting back, we might not see much of Green and Young, but it was good to see them step up when called upon tonight.
One guy we'll see a lot of no matter what was pretty good too. Kelly Olynyk scored 19 points with 7 rebounds and two blocks, including one that prevented a dunk attempt from Rudy Gobert. Olynyk takes a lot of flack for all the things he isn't (physical inside presence, sometimes he looks like Bambi on ice when he moves on the court, etc.), but he is a big part of Boston's success. He can stretch the floor with his shooting, he generally runs the floor well, he fills the break solidly and he's a good passer from the high post. Against a guy like Gobert, his ability to pull Gobert away from the basket and open up driving lanes for his teammates was a big part of the game plan tonight.
The Boston bench is often only consistent in their inconsistency, but it is good to know that when Brad Stevens needs them most, they can help to answer the call. That will go a long way towards sowing success for the rest of the season.
Plug and play (Bill Sy): Just some more quick numbers on Boston’s bench performance. Over the year, the Celtics have had one of the worst-scoring second units in the league. In total, they’re 24th in points per game at 31.3. In their defense, most upper-tier teams are top-heavy; Golden State, Cleveland, and Washington are 27th, 28th, and 29th respectively.
Over their last 8-2 stretch, the bench has averaged four more points. That may not seem like a lot, but consider that they’ve done this by moving Jaylen Brown into the starting lineup to replace an injured Avery Bradley, starting Marcus Smart to run point with Thomas off the ball, mixing and matching Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson depending on the matchups, and going through spurts without Al Horford and Jae Crowder. As Keith mentioned, last night it was Kelly Olynyk, Gerald Green, and James Young (!) that stepped up, but over the last ten games, we’ve seen Terry Rozier quarterback some bench-driven drives and Tyler Zeller provide a change of pace at the 5 spot.
Mid-season injuries in the NBA prove the old adage true: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. After the game, veteran Gerald Green said, "this group is very resilient. We just don't give up. We just keep going, keep fighting." The team’s defensive rating is down (way down) from last year, but they’ve shown grit in their ability to deal with injuries with their next-man-up attitude. And what makes it more satisfying is that it’s the young players that are stepping up.
A lot of teams would just give their rookies and sophomores a ton of playing time in the name of “development.” Brad Stevens has never subscribed to this trial-by-fire approach. If you’re not contributing to winning, you’re not playing. Maybe’s that’s stunted the growth of some of the Celtics in terms of getting in their 10,000 hours, but it has at least instilled in them the right attitude.
Hello, James Young! (Alex Kungu): He doesn’t play much, and he may not be on the team next month, but given the opportunity, James Young has shown time and time again that he’s ready to be a professional. It began in preseason when, despite being in a back-and-forth battle with R.J. Hunter for the last spot, he continuously gave up looking for his own offense to make the right play. Fast-forward to February and he’s a seldom-used reserve on a very good team. Yet when his number was called in Utah after sitting for most of the first half, Young responded with 10 big points and some solid defense against Gordon Hayward. We’re probably past the time of James Young ever becoming much as a Celtics player, but for a kid who came into the league without knowing how to be a professional, he quickly matured into an interesting young prospect worth an investment.
RIP, Fab Melo: It was reported last night that former Celtic Fab Melo passed away at the age of 26. He didn’t pan out in his short stint in Boston, but he seemed to have a good spirit and a fun sense of humor. Our thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family.