Boston Celtics: Playoffs will be true test for team’s depth

Apr 5, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) reacts after his three point basket with center Robert Williams III (44) against the Toronto Raptors in the second quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 5, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Celtics guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) reacts after his three point basket with center Robert Williams III (44) against the Toronto Raptors in the second quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports /

Throughout much of the regular season, the highly-touted bench of the Boston Celtics roster has been a focal point.  Their play has been one reason this year’s team has been set apart, and better, than successful Boston teams of recent seasons.

The roster, now healthy with a full compliment of players, is raring to go. The real test of this depth begins on Saturday, when the Celtics open the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks.

This test is not a question of talent and experience but if their contributions can carry over into the playoffs. Doing so will help alleviate the pressure from the starting five and the workload of a dynamic duo that was pretty special in 2022-23.

Bench hero for Boston Celtics

The best acquisition by the Celtics last offseason turned out to be Boston’s greatest asset, in terms of adding quality depth.

A consistent third-scoring option was desperately needed. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were doing the bulk of the work (and still are) in the scoring department. While anyone from Al Horford to Grant Williams could be the third-highest scorer on any given night, no one was really doing that consistently.

That’s where Malcolm Brogdon entered the chat.

Brogdon, the presumptive Sixth Man of the Year, expertly filled that role. Brogdon finished third on the team in scoring (14.9 ppg), appearing in 67 games this season, all off the bench.

Efficiency and balance were the names of Brogdon’s game. In his first year with Boston, Brogdon shot 48 percent from the field and was second on the team in three-point percentage (44.4), trailing only Horford (44.6).

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In 26 minutes per game, Brogdon also averaged 4.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists.

Brogdon proved to be a leader of a bench that has no less than eight players who can provide valuable minutes, if called upon. Rotations tend to tighten up during the playoffs but this depth can be especially useful in the first round of the playoffs. A bench unit playing well means fresh legs for the starters for is hoped to be a deep playoff run.

Boston Celtics: Treasure trove of depth

An ideal situation is Boston taking care of business with a quick first-round sweep of the Atlanta Hawks. The depth of the Celtics roster provides this opportunity. Multiple games in ’22-23 saw bench players earn starts and play well with 20+ minutes on the court, only to see them struggle over the next set of games.

Harnessing that type of “starter’s mentality” will be needed for a few of these players as the playoffs open. But by doing so, and contributing where they can, Boston will be better off.

Deep as the Boston Celtics are, it’s also foreseeable head coach Joe Mazzulla only dips into three or four players seeing quality minutes on the court. Brogdon, off course, leads the brigade but right next to him is Robert Williams III. Or, Derrick White, if Mazzulla goes against the lineup he was using for the most part down the stretch when both Williams and White were playing.

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The importance of Williams can’t be stated enough. Boston is so much better defensively when he is on the court, which only happened in 35 games this season. But the Celtics went 24-11 in those games and Williams, despite only averaging 8 points, brings an added (and needed) presence on the offensive end.

Chances are Grant Williams will also play a heavy hand in the bench rotation. So valuable in last season’s playoffs, and off to a strong start this season, Williams had a dip in play the last six weeks. There was even a brief stretch were it looked like he was playing himself out of the rotation but he has given Boston valuable minutes and should continue to do so.

From there, it will be interesting to see how the bench rotation plays out. Both Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser can warm up at a moment’s notice. One or both will no doubt be a hero at some point in the playoffs. Let’s just hope they are staying engaged and seeing the court in more than just garbage time.

The more interesting situation will be to see out the big men are used. Luke Kornet, Mike Muscala, and Blake Griffin all proved to be useful at various times. Griffin could be the odd man out of the bunch in regards to playing time but his energy and experience can definitely be used in spurts.

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The more players who can contribute, whether it be with five minutes or 15 minutes, the better the Celtics will be in the long run. Plus, the bench has proven they run with the best, defeating the Philadelphia 76ers (down four starters most of the game) and taking the Milwaukee Bucks to the brink. The bench on this bench can produce. Knowing that, Tatum, Brown, and the starters can flow, free and fresh, to help bring banner 18 home to where it belongs in Boston.