Unclench your jaws and stop wringing your hands, Celtics fans. Boston’s 20-point win over the Detroit Pistons Saturday night was a glimpse of the team that was promised. The switch-heavy defense, the selfless offense, the team-first ethos—it was all on display as the Celtics, lead by their self-styled Bench With Attitude (B.W.A), ran away with their second win in a row Saturday night.
Marcus Morris Sr. (18 points, 8 rebounds), Daniel Theis (17 points, 8 rebounds), and Terry Rozier (14 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists) lit the Pistons’ reserves up. All three shot 50% or better from the field, combined for 24 of the Celtics 54 rebounds, and helped the Boston bench outscore the starters 62-47. The BWA outscored Detroit’s bench by 28 points. All on a night when Aron Baynes was out with an injury and when Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, and Jayson Tatum all scored in the single digits.
Bayne’s absence in particular was cause for concern ahead of the meeting with Detroit. The Australian center has been a fearless rim protector and big body since arriving in Boston—just the sort of player a team wants brawling under the rim with an athletic rebounder like Andre Drummond threatening to wipe a team out via the offensive glass. Without Baynes, the Celtics needed Theis to hold his own against the Pistons front line, despite the German national facing his own adjustment period after his injury absence last season.
The second-year center banished any doubt in his first appearance in Detroit, a 12-minute run through the first and second quarters in which he nabbed 6 of his 7 makes. He punctuated his performance, which was two-points shy of his career high 19 points, by establishing himself as the third Boston center able to hit spot-up threes.
My hands got all sweaty early last season when Theis notched his first career double-double. It was a sign that the enthusiastic 26 year-old could use his rangy length and skill set to be part of something the Celtics had lacked for quite some time: depth in the front court. (Remember we’re barely two seasons removed from a time when Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas lead the team in rebounds for a brief stint.) His injury last season contributed its notable darkness to the long shadow cast on Boston before their incredible postseason run.
On Saturday night, Theis was feeling it. He hustled under the rim early for second chance opportunities—the kind of buckets that separate bench units that build on leads from those who cling to them. Unfortunately, Theis is now in a walking boot for two weeks, so he and Baynes will have to swap places again for the near future as the big Australian returns to the lineup just before Halloween.
While Theis cleaned up in the paint, Marcus Morris continued his excellent play of the bench at a practically unsustainable rate. Across six games, he has maintained a 50% FG and a lights-out 48% from beyond the arc, while averaging 14.3 PPG. Last season, those numbers where 42.9%, 36.8%, and 13.6 PPG—so he’s up in each offensive category. Add to it that he’s putting up more efficient numbers so far (averaging about two-fewer shot attempts per game so far this season) and Morris is, at least temporarily, making us less worried when he takes his beloved long-range isolated twos.
Those isolation shots have an air of hubris about them—a sense of do-it-all-your-selfishness that looks like bad basketball and slows down the Celtics, instead of letting them whip the ball around to find open shots.
So far this season, Morris is getting his shots in rhythm a bit more often as his teammates acknowledge that he has the skill to hit them.
Rozier’s shooting percentages have also crept up a bit to start this season, but temper those expectations. It’s a long season and Scary Terry figures heavily into the second unit—it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see his overall scoring and percentages improve, but count me amongst those who expect his stats to dip a bit as he touches the ball more, before finding some rhythm later in the season.