Scoring from the bench was all but absent when the Boston Celtics lost to the Houston Rockets on Saturday, a trend occurring too much this season.
The attempts were basically non-existent, which could also be attributed to only four players off the bench seeing action, with 14 minutes being the top earner. This was shared by Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams.
Ojeleye did not attempt a field goal, but did harness five rebounds. Williams connected on his only shot and added three rebounds himself.
Brad Wanamaker? Well, he played only 13 minutes and missed his two field goal attempts (but did have two made free throws). Romeo Langford? He was 0-1 in 11 minutes. Enes Kanter and Robert Williams didn’t even play, though this makes some sense given the lineup the Rockets trot out on a nightly basis.
Should this lack of scoring production by the Celtics bench be a concern? Or was last night’s game simply an anomaly?
The simple answer: yes, to both.
In regards to the latter question, playing the starters so many minutes might have been a conscious decision by head coach Brad Stevens. The Rockets present a unique match-up opportunity on the defensive end. And with the way Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Daniel Theis and Marcus Smart have been gelling, it made sense to keep this unit together as much as possible.
Plus, it would have been huge — at least mentally — for Boston to end their four-game (now five) losing streak to Houston.
Except the plan didn’t work, not when the Celtics suffered through a fourth quarter in which they went 7-22 from the field. This was followed up by an overtime in which Boston missed their final six shots. Perhaps Stevens should have listened to his own pregame thoughts about Carsen Edwards when he said, “He could easily be a guy that breaks into the rotation for the end of the year or certainly in a playoff series if you’re struggling to put the ball through the net.
Sure, it wasn’t a playoff series but, in hindsight, a few minutes for Edwards to find success might have not hurt.
Finding the right balance
This model of playing starters heavy minutes game-after-game is not a sustainable one in building a deep playoff run. The Rockets game might have been a one-time thing, but no matter the case, better bench scoring is needed.
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This is an issue easily resolved with the return of Kemba Walker.
It has been stressed throughout the season on how the rotation will improve when the Celtics are at full health. At one point, it could have been argued that once Walker returns, maybe try him coming off the bench to provide instant offense.
Of course, Walker is more valuable as a starter and Smart has been improved on offense this season, meaning he could be the one to up the ante for the bench.
Smart had 26 points and 7 assists against the Rockets, completing a February in which he averaged 15 points per game. He has scored in double digits in six straight games, started by a 31-point night against the Clippers.
Smart is also having his best season of his six-year career, with career-highs in points and assists while also shooting his best number from beyond the arc. If he can carry the starter mentality while coming off the bench — in the scoring department — the Boston Celtics will be just fine.
Wanamaker, Houston game aside, is also coming off his best month, in which he averaged eight points per game. Smart and Wanamaker provide a nice one-two punch for bench scoring and all the rest would be gravy.
The Boston Celtics have the players on hand to make for a deep bench. It’s not all about scoring, of course, but it would be nice to see more of it from the bench. It would alleviate pressure on the starters while also giving them rest, something desperately needed when a team plays into June. All this means is that the bench needs to go from missing to found or it’s going to be a short playoff run.