Before Game 2, Coach Brad Stevens said that the Celtics would need to replace Hayward by committee. Marcus Smart entered into the starting lineup which led to a possible void in substitutions. However, the bench stepped up by committee and was the confidence boost this unit needed as they came up huge in the big time win.
The Boston bench outscored Philly’s bench 41-20. Kemba Walker commended them after the Game 2 win saying, “those guys can hoop, man. Whenever their names are called, they’re ready.”
In the second and third quarters before the doors were blown open, Grant Williams, Enes Kanter, Romeo Langford, and Brad Wanamaker made so many crucial plays to get back the lead and then extended it. “Those guys were unbelievable tonight,” Walker said.
This foursome with Jayson Tatum sparked the big 22-5 run in the second quarter that changed the game for the Celtics. The numbers backed up this dominant night as well with Williams finishing with a +13 plus/minus, Wanamaker +28, Langford +26, and Kanter +24.
There were minutes to fill with the absence of Hayward, and this bench unit stepped up in a major way for the Celtics. Hayward was averaging 18.7 points per game in the seeding games, and that was replaced with 19 points combined from Kanter and Williams, along with 7 and 6 points from Wanamaker and Langford respectively.
It was not only the points that were contributed by this group, but it was the smart plays on both ends that helped the team control this game. “Our whole disposition changed when we went to the bench. We got a lot tougher,” Stevens said of the make shift second unit. “I never would have thought we would stay with them that long, but I couldn’t take them out. They turned the game around.”
For Grant Williams, it was a first-quarter three-pointer that jump started his night. It seeminglg gave him that confidence to stay on the floor against Joel Embiid, sometimes going one-on-one against him. This clip was later on in the game, but it shows his high basketball IQ for a rookie that keeps him on the court even if he is not lighting up the stat sheet. This Theis-like seal will not be recorded in the box score, but it gave Tatum the lane for an easy two. His first minutes at the end of the first and start of the second gave life to the bench, especially when Kanter, Wanamaker, and Langford joined him.
The physicality is also something which really helped slow down the Sixers as they were starting to get into a rhythm early on. When Kanter checked in for Daniel Theis, Embiid started taking more fadeaway and long range jump shots that plays perfectly into the Celtics defense. Embiid chose against battling down low with Kanter or Williams on the block. It rattled him enough to change up his game.
Kanter and Williams body him up and do not let him easily push through them. Embiid then concedes and attempts a jumper or falling away hook shot. Both attempts are what the Celtics hope for. Unfortunately, Embiid knows he can get under the basket with the smaller Theis, so the answer may be giving a big chunk of minutes to Kanter and Williams against Embiid in the paint.
“The way the bench played just brought the physical toughness back on our end and that was a big reason why we got back in the game and eventually took the lead,” Tatum said of his gritty teammates.
In the back court, Romeo Langford is showing out to be one of the Celtics better guard defenders on the roster. In Game 2, Langford had the best defensive rating (84.2) of any player who played more than ten minutes. He absolutely brought it in his first real playoff game which paired nicely next to the intensity from the rest of the bench vets.
As for Wanamaker, Kemba Walker had a quote post-game that summed everything up quite well. “Brad Wanamaker, who is one of our leaders, was great. He doesn’t always score a lot of points, but he’s great for us every night.” That is exactly what this game was for Wanamaker. He did the right things and limited mistakes.
Game 2 was a glimpse of what this group can bring to the team. It is these types of contributions from the bench unit that will make up for Hayward’s injury.