clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Fueled by Malcolm Brogdon, the Celtics’ bench is emerging as a major strength

“I want us to believe we’re a starting group as well.”

NBA: Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics
Malcolm Brogdon plots his next move against the Wizards on Sunday.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

In Malcolm Brogdon’s eyes, coming off the bench is a double-edged sword.

He’s been a starter throughout his career, and he acknowledged life as a reserve is a little different.

On the flip side, he relishes the opportunity to observe the action and see what the Celtics need. He believes watching the game through an analytical lens pays dividends when he gets on the court.

“I’m trying to figure out what the flow is, what we’re missing and what I can provide,” Brogdon said.

He gave them the exact boost they needed Sunday, pouring in a season-high 23 points in the Celtics’ 112-94 win over the Wizards at TD Garden. Brogdon spearheaded a stellar all-around effort from the bench, as Washington’s second unit had no chance of keeping up with Boston’s.

Grant Williams added 10 points, Sam Hauser chipped in 9 and Luke Kornet was plus-13 in 19 minutes. With Brogdon as its unquestioned leader, the Celtics’ bench is emerging as one of the best in the NBA.

“I want us to believe we’re a starting group as well,” Brogdon said. “When we’re in there, we play with that energy and play with that confidence.”

On most other teams, there’s a noticeable drop-off when reserves enter the game. Star power is clearly missing, and offenses tend to stagnate as a result.

The Celtics don't have that problem. Of course they miss the skill of the starters, as any team would, but their bench is also extremely skilled. Head coach Joe Mazzulla has tinkered with rotations early in the year, and it’s clear they have many potent permutations.

Brogdon, the head of the snake, relentlessly attacked the rim and finished 8-of-8 from the line. He also dished out four assists and didn’t turn the ball over in 23 minutes – even after he was questionable this afternoon with a back injury.

Batman – sorry, Williams – returned from a one-game suspension and was his usual self. It’s getting to the point with Hauser where when he gets an open shot, you don't even need to look to see if it’s going to fall.

Then there’s Kornet, who earned the biggest ovation of the night when he drilled a 3 as the shot clock expired. He also continued to incorporate his trademark jump with the offensive player nowhere near him.

“We love it. It’s Luke, man. He’s different,” Marcus Smart said. “You don’t see a lot of people doing that. I think he catches a lot of people off guard. They are open, and then they see this 7-footer just jump straight up out of nowhere. It’s like, ‘what’s going on?’ It works.”

Mazzulla called it a “solid tactic” and praised Kornet for his ability to move the ball, provide a presence at the rim and rebound. He doesn’t have to do anything flashy, and he contributes simply with his size and serviceability.

“I think he just fits right in with our bench unit,” Mazzulla said. “I’m comfortable with the minutes that he gives us.”

Payton Pritchard, Noah Vonleh, Blake Griffin and Justin Jackson are also ready as needed. All four are capable scorers who excel at specific skills. Everyone is a threat to shoot, yet everyone is unselfish.

There will be games where the starters go cold – including in the playoffs – and this is a second unit fully capable of picking up the slack when necessary. The bench is starting to develop a collective swagger and genuinely expect dominance. The starters have taken notice.

“Our bench is something that we’re going to need this year,” Smart said. “They’re going to help us win a lot of games.”

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Celtics Blog Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Boston Celtics news from Celtics Blog