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Celtics bench comes alive in blowout against Nets

Romeo Langford stepped into Marcus Smart’s minutes off the bench with Robert Williams absorbing the floor time usually allocated to Enes Kanter. 

Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images

In Kemba Walker’s absence, Marcus Smart took his place in the starting lineup. Romeo Langford then stepped into Marcus Smart’s minutes off the bench, with Robert Williams absorbing the floor time usually allocated to Enes Kanter.

Langford provided the Celtics with some exquisite perimeter defense, regularly closing out rotations and clogging the passing lanes. Langford has impressed on defense during his limited time throughout the season, however, in his prolonged appearance against the Nets, he hardly put a foot wrong.

Interestingly, Langford also produced some defensive stops on the interior, blocking two shots in the process. According to Cleaning The Glass, of all the games played on Wednesday night, Langford ranked in the 100th percentile of wings for blocks.

Brad Stevens touched upon Langford’s defensive acumen during his post-game press conference:

“I thought he (Langford) was giving us solid minutes right before the hiatus, and he’s a good worker. He’s one of our more solid defenders, and that’s going to give him a chance to play, especially with the way we played the first couple of weeks.”

Offensively, the 6’6’’ wing didn’t provide much in terms of a scoring punch. Conversely, the spacing, smart cutting, two assists, and offensive rebound ensured the rookie could contribute on that end of the floor without forcing the issue around the rim.

In addition to Langford’s impressive showing, Robert Williams put together a career night. Having seen the floor for a total of 13 seconds since the NBA resumed, Williams came into the game and immediately began to make his presence felt.

Coming off the bench, Williams provided the Celtics with a rim running big capable of deterring shots around the basket, then getting out in transition to cause havoc on the Nets interior. Marcus Smart made the most of having the athletic big on the floor with him, finding him on multiple lob passes, both in transition and half-court sets.

One of Williams’ more maligned tendencies is to bite on shot fakes, but even against the Nets’ small ball lineup, he was fairly solid. The Nets were hoping that forcing the third-year big to guard a more dynamic scorer would force him to react and allow accessible lanes to the bucket. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Williams stuck to the basics and strung together multiple impressive defensive possessions. Williams explained this change in mentality:

“I was just listening to one of my coaches: Jerome Allen. He was telling me to stick to defensive principles, no swiping down, and know how much pressure you want to put on these guys coming off the screen.”

On offense, Williams was money throughout, going 7-for-7 from the field and occasionally flashing his passing skills. According to Cleaning The Glass, Williams finished in the 67th percentile among bigs in assists on the night, which is big on a night where playmaking giants such as Al Horford, Joel Embiid, and Nikola Jokic were also in action.

Jeff Van Gundy noted that Jarrett Allen’s growth as a Net has seen him accept who he is as a player and how he plays to his identity. Timelord is on a similar career path. Williams may be beginning to develop his own identity, which will bode well as the team moves into the playoffs.

Besides the big performances from the Celtics two young players, Brad Wanamaker found a return to form. Tied for second in attempts at the charity stripe, and leading the bench in assists, he played his backup role to perfection.

The Celtics bench had been struggling to create on offense heading into this game. However, Wanamaker was able to find his man more often than not, which allowed him the room when operating in the half-court to pick his shots.

Operating alongside Romeo Langford in the backcourt, Wanamaker controlled the pace of the game against the Nets’ second unit. With the Celtics running their offense through Wanamaker with the starters on the bench, the well-traveled veteran ranked in the 94th percentile of guards for usage rate on the night with only a single turnover.

Overall, this was one of the best bench performances from the Celtics in recent memory. Multiple players staked their claim for a more significant role--at least for the remaining seeding games--while also resolving the issues surrounding the stagnating offense when the starters aren’t on the floor.

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