Celtics-Nets preview: C's bench needs to maintain its momentum

Celtics-Nets preview: C's bench needs to maintain its momentum

Al Horford and Jae Crowder’s return has helped solidify the Boston Celtics’ starting five.

And in doing so, the team’s second unit is starting to show some much-needed cohesion as well.

It was Boston’s backups who came up big down the stretch in Boston’s 99-93 come-from behind win at Minnesota on Monday.

And their play will be critical to Boston (8-6) going three games over .500 for the first time this season which would also extend their road winning streak to three in a row with a win tonight at Brooklyn.

In Monday’s win over the Timberwolves, Boston’s bench scored 31 points, 12 of which came from Terry Rozier.

It was one of the few games this season in which the Celtics’ bench did more than just provide a lift but carried the team towards victory.

“That’s something we’ve been talking about since preseason. When we get in, we either pick up where the first team left or we have to play even harder,” Rozier said.

And while the Celtics’ second unit has been middle of the pack in the NBA in terms of scoring (31.0 points per game, 19th in the league), don’t be surprised to see them have one of their better scoring nights as a group tonight.

According to hoopsstats.com, the Nets rank 29th in the NBA in bench points allowed (40.5 per game). Boston allows 34.2 bench points per game which ranks 16th in the league.

In Boston’s win at Minnesota, the Celtics scored the final basket of the third quarter and began the fourth with a 17-0 run.

The Celtics outscored the Nets 31-12 in the fourth and a pair of Boston backups -- Marcus Smart and Jonas Jerebko -- played every minute of the fourth quarter.

While there has been noticeable progress made by the second unit, they are still a unit that’s searching for a more clearly defined identity.

Because of the scoring power in the first unit, Boston’s bench scoring isn’t likely to rank among the league’s leaders like the Nets whose second unit averages 45.1 points per game which ranks second in the league.

So their identity when all is said and done, will likely lean more towards being a defensive-minded, gritty group than a high-octane, offensive juggernaut.

That certainly was the case in the win at Minnesota, a game in which the Celtics held the Timberwolves to just 20 percent shooting in the fourth with almost as many field goals allowed (five) as turnovers forced (three) in the quarter.

“That’s how we played,” Celtics Marcus Smart told reporters after Monday’s game. “We were the aggressor early in the fourth quarter. We had them on their heels. We were getting whatever we wanted, when we wanted it.”

They’ll look for a similar performance tonight against Brooklyn.

“It’s definitely important for us to grow as a group,” Al Horford told reporters on Monday. “We are a new team even though there are a lot of guys here last year. But we’re building, learning in each game.”

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

1:13 - The Celtics came away with a 105-100 win in Portland on Friday night. Find out why Chris Mannix is calling this the best Celtics win of the season.

6:05 - Mannix discusses details about Kyrie Irving’s ‘minimally invasive’ procedure on his knee and what his level of concern is with A. Sherrod Blakely and Gary Tanguay.

10:03 - Michael Holley and Tom Curran discuss what NFL players, including Devin McCourty, are doing beyond the gridiron by being active in criminal justice reform discussions held at Harvard this week.



Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

When you think about Marcus Morris these days, big-time scoring immediately comes to mind. 

But in Boston’s 105-100 comeback win over Portland, Morris’ contributions went beyond the game-high 30 points he dropped on the Blazers.

MORE - Blakely's stars, studs, and duds from Celtics-Trail Blazers

“Coach (Brad Stevens) is doing a great job of getting me the ball in my spots and my teammates are finding me,” Morris told reporters after the win. “And I’m just coming through.”

He’s providing strong play and a tremendous presence at both ends of the floor which has been critical to the team navigating some choppy waters with a number of regular rotation players – namely Kyrie Irving – out with injuries.

“One thing is, he’s healthy,” said Boston’s Al Horford, referring to the sore knee that limited Morris earlier this season and at times forced him to miss games. “And the other is, he’s just more confident, he’s playing very assertive. He’s playing great right now, in a really good rhythm.”

Said Stevens: “That’s been him (Morris). As he’s continued to feel better; I think physically he’s felt as good as he’s felt. He’s comfortable in our system and we need him to score. If you’re a basketball player and your job is to score, that’s a pretty good job.”

And it’s one that even with all the injuries Boston has played through, few envisioned him being such an integral part of the offense. 

Morris’ calling card prior to arriving in Boston was his defense. 

But Morris has made it known that his focus on the floor is to be as complete a player as possible.

“I’m not trying to just limit myself to just being that scorer,” Morris said. “Also, on the defensive end I think I’m bringing it; my defense has gotten a lot better, especially my on-the-ball defense. I’m trying to be that all-around player and not just an offensive player … but I can score.”