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.”