BOSTON -- First, there was the talk.
Soon after that came the t-shirts.
We’re talking Bench With Attitude, the early season moniker of the Boston Celtics’ second unit.
They had talent, depth and as the namesake tells you, serious attitude when they stepped on the floor.
But B.W.A. is not the same, not with Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart - the leaders of the BWA movement - now in the starting lineup.
While the bench isn’t the same BWA, ass-kickin’ crew, that doesn’t mean this unit can’t work teams over.
After months of tweaks and adjustments due to uncertain roles or untimely injuries, it appears Boston’s backups have found their stride as individuals and as a collective group.
And that’s one of the many reasons why optimism surrounding this team is so high as the Celtics try and close out this final month of the regular season and go into the playoffs with some momentum.
One of the key components to the Celtics trying to finish the season strong is the bench which has been instrumental in Boston (42-27) winning four of its last five games.
In that five-game span, Boston’s second unit has ranked among the NBA’s top reserve groups in several categories such as scoring (43.6 points, fifth); assists (16.0, eighth); field goal percentage (.500, third) and three-point percentage (.411, third).
And the unexpected catalyst of their recent surge has been Jaylen Brown.
In Boston’s last five games, Brown has averaged 16.0 points and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 50 percent on 3’s.
A starter last season who was second on the team in scoring (14.5 points) to Kyrie Irving, Brown has steadily improved as the season has gone on primarily coming off the bench.
“He’s done a good job of embracing that,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s done a good job of not letting that affect his aggressiveness or his game.”
While Brown’s impact off the Celtics bench has been steady for some time now, Gordon Hayward playing the role of being a consistent difference-maker off the bench is relatively new.
Hayward has shown flashes of being really good in a reserve role, but the last couple of weeks has introduced us all to what a high-impact, late-game closer Hayward has the ability to become for Boston on a night-in, night-out basis.
In the last five games, Hayward has averaged 15.0 points off the bench while shooting 62.5 percent from the floor and 42.9 percent on 3’s along with 3.8 assists in 25.6 minutes per game.
Together, Brown and Hayward provide the Celtics with a pair of drivers to the basket which is a good compliment to a team that for long stretches of the season, relied heavily on the 3-point shot.
And on nights when the 3-point shot isn’t falling, Boston now has the luxury of leaning on the 1-2 punch off the bench to stay on the attack with drives to the basket.
“Our basket attacks were good for the most part; and we needed it,” said Stevens following the Kings win, a game in which Boston missed 11 of their 12 three-point attempts in the first half. “That’s what Jaylen and Gordon both coming off the bench can get to the line and do physical attacks to the basket.”
Terry Rozier and Aron Baynes are a couple of holdovers from the BWA group, each having been up and down this season for different reasons.
Rozier’s topsy-turvy season has been in large part due to being inconsistent in his role coming off the bench and the reduction in minutes courtesy of Kyrie Irving being relatively healthy most of this season.
When Irving has been out, there is a considerably different vibe in Rozier’s play that speaks to how much better a player he has been when afforded an opportunity to start.
In the 11 games Rozier has started this season (Boston defeated Detroit on Feb. 13 without Irving and Rozier), Boston has an impressive 9-2 record.
Rozier is averaging 13.5 points, 5.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 44.2 percent form the field and 40.9 percent on 3’s while playing 30.9 minutes per game.
When coming off the bench, Rozier has averaged 8.3 points, 2.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds while connecting on 37.5 percent of his shots from the floor and 34.1 percent of his shot attempts from 3-point range, doing so in 21.4 minutes per game.
As for Baynes, the NBA’s leader in defensive rating a year ago, his biggest issue is staying healthy enough to be available.
This has been an atypical season for Baynes who has missed a total of 29 games this season due to injuries which has him on pace to appear in 53 games - the fewest number of games he has played in since his second year in the NBA.
He doesn’t play a ton of minutes (he’s averaging 14.7 minutes this season), there is no mistaking the impact his presence has for this team when he’s on the floor.
And now that he’s a more active 3-point shooter (he’s making 30.2 percent of his 3’s this season), Baynes has the potential to impact the game more offensively as well.
But when all is said and done, BWA as we knew them is no longer around.
And while this group doesn’t have nearly as catchy a name, there’s only one name that they should be consumed with being called, and that’s effective.
No talk or t-shirt required to rock that look.
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