TORONTO – The attitude and toughness that has come to symbolize Boston’s bench was very much alive and well on Friday night against Toronto.
But their impact on the game wasn’t quite up to par which was one of the many factors that played a role in Boston’s 113-101 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
Boston’s second unit was outscored 28-23, but more significant than that was the timely contributions from Toronto’s backups.
The Celtics seemed to have a firm grip on the game near the end of the first half, in need of one last final defensive stop.
They seemed to get it, but a loose ball after a Toronto miss wound up in Fred VanVleet’s hands, leading to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that cut Boston’s lead to 53-49 at the half.
There were drives to the basket by Toronto’s O.G. Anunoby (nine points, 4-for-6 shooting) as well that played a role in the game’s final outcome.
Marcus Morris has said on more than one occasion that the Celtics have the best second unit in the NBA.
But in the Raptors, Boston faced a team that returned most of the players from its bench last season, a bench that ranked among the best in the NBA.
According to Hoopsstats.com, the Raptors bench last season ranked in the top 10 in several categories such as scoring (41.2 points, 5th among reserve units); rebounds (17.5, 7th); assists (9.3, 4th); steals (3.8, 2nd); blocks (3.1, 1st); as well as offensive (4.3, 4th) and defensive rebounds (13.2, 10th).
The Celtics return most of their second unit players as well, with Boston’s backups best statistical rankings coming in steals (3.0, 8th) and offensive rebounds (4.1, 10th).
While Boston’s personnel is similar from a year ago, the roles that the Celtics’ second unit players are tasked with has changed.
And the one player whose role has gained significantly more prominence is Morris.
Following Boston’s 105-87 season-opening win over Philadelphia, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens discussed the importance of Morris to what the team is trying to do on a night-in, night-out basis.
“Everybody has to do their role exceptionally well,” Stevens said. “But we’re asking more of Marcus Morris than we are a lot of guys. Because he’s a guy that could be playing 32, 34 minutes a night, starting, and playing a lot for … for a lot of places.”
Morris knows that he could be playing more minutes elsewhere and has never been shy about telling you that he wants to play more than he is currently.
“At the same time, I’m trying to just contribute in the minutes I’m given,” Morris, who had eight points on 3-for-7 shooting against Toronto, told NBC Sports Boston. “Obviously, I want to play a lot more but the circumstances we have, whatever I’m given I’m trying to maximize, help the team; be one of the guys off the bench and help lead the bench.”
They will need that leadership, as well as more production, to get back on a winning track in the back end of their first set of back-to-back games, on Saturday night against the New York Knicks.
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