The Boston Celtics have been struggling as of late, and the primary reason for their issues is due to their subpar bench group.
For the last two weeks of the regular season, the conversation around the latter topic has reached a fever pitch, and for good reason.
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The losses started against the Houston Rockets, where a miraculous shot from Jaylen Brown was needed to send the game to overtime. However, it was their next game in which their depth was really tested.
With Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker missing the second half of the game against the Brooklyn Nets, Marcus Smart having fouled out, and Jayson Tatum missing the game due to illness, Boston didn’t have a single starter on the floor except for Daniel Theis.
Therefore it is no surprise that the Celtics fell to Brooklyn after giving up a preposterous 51 points in the final quarter, making Brooklyn look like an All-Star team.
Boston went into Cleveland just one day later, and led by Tatum and Smart, grabbed an ugly win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Their past two games have kept the bench questions coming, though, as more quality opponents have taken over when certain starters sit for the C’s.
In a loss against the Utah Jazz, the Celtics let up an 11-point comeback in the final minutes of the first quarter. That scoring run took place right as Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum came out. The Jazz never looked back, and a late rally from Boston fell short, in large part to some ill-advised threes from backup Brad Wanamaker.
In their recent loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston was up by as many as 18 points in the second quarter. The Thunder slowly crawled back, and despite a strong final few minutes from the Celtics, Kemba Walker fumbled both the game – and the ball – away in the closing seconds.
The bench was an issue in those two games, as they scored 13 points and 17 points, respectively, in those two contests. Those numbers will hardly win you a basketball game. Relying on the starters to do 80-to-90 percent of the scoring is a strategy for failure.
Comparing Boston’s bench to that of previous NBA champions within the last five years, all but the San Antonio Spurs have ranked in the bottom half of the league (NBA.com). So it is possible for the Celtics to make a run to the NBA Finals, but it won’t be easy. After all, in the playoffs you go as far as your stars carry you and depth means less.
Despite that, the Boston Celtics are trending in the wrong direction with their bench scoring. They currently rank 29th but have been way below their average of 27.1 in the past two games.
It may be too late to sign a difference-maker, but names like Jamal Crawford and Isaiah Thomas have been floating around. If the Celtics had a consistent shot-creator like those two off of the bench, the game against Brooklyn may have ended differently, and their loss against Utah may have swung the other way if a capable scorer came in to close the first.
While it was not an issue early in the season, the Boston Celtics’ injuries have piled up, leading to an increased opportunity from the bench, Unluckily, that increased opportunity has led to decreased production.
This team should serve as a lesson to all contenders that depth is a vital piece to any contending squad.
The Celtics could very well be in the midst of just a slump, and getting healthy is all it will take to right the ship.
The reluctant nature of Danny Ainge gives off the impression that he wants to see the team at full strength and judge from that. By the time that occurs, it may be too late to sign someone in time for the playoffs.