MINNEAPOLIS – At the start of this season, there was optimism that the Celtics’ surge towards the postseason this year would be fueled by a triumvirate of talented, high-impact players.
But this isn’t quite what they had in mind.
The Celtics (46-20) enter the home stretch playing some of their best basketball, a run that has been fueled in part by an unexpected Big Three off the bench - Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier.
They may not be on the floor at the start of games, but there is no escaping the fact that Boston’s success of late – the Celtics have won six of seven since the All-Star break - with the lone loss a three-point defeat on the road at Houston – has been heavily aided by the trio’s ability to impact the game at both ends of the floor.
Since the break, the trio has led the bench's strong play and has catapulted them to being one of the NBA's most impactful second units.
Boston’s bench has averaged 52.4 points since the break, which is tops in the Eastern Conference and second in the NBA to the Los Angeles Clippers (53.0).
“We’re coming to get what’s ours,” Rozier told NBC Sports Boston. “We know coming off the bench, we have to bring energy whether we’re up by a lot or down by a lot. Whatever the score is, we’re coming in and get what’s ours and that’s the main thing; we’re coming in to make a statement.”
And they each do so in their own unique, difference-making way.
Rozier’s speed at both ends of the floor stands out.
Defensively, his on-the-ball pressure has a way of wearing down opponents over time, which opens the door for potential turnovers.
And on offense, he has become a more consistent shooter since he earned his first starts of the season as a fill-in for a then-injured Kyrie Irving.
Morris has become a matchup that the Celtics have looked to exploit...a lot.
For the season, Morris has averaged 12.4 points per game while shooting 42.2 percent from the field and 37.4 percent on 3’s.
Since returning from the break, Morris has become an even bigger contributor for Boston off the bench with 13.3 points per game to go with 5.6 rebounds while shooting 44.6 percent from the field and 38.9 percent on 3’s – all better than his numbers before the break.
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“Marcus is a hard guy to guard at the 3 [small forward] because he can use his size, but at the 4 [power forward] he spaces the floor so well,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “So, this has been a little bit of a change for him. He hasn’t played it in a while. He played mostly 3 in Detroit so playing mostly 4 here probably took him a little bit more time to get used to. He’s in a good groove right now.”
Morris’ improved play comes after a less-than-ideal start to the season.
“If you miss the first two weeks of the season and move to a new city and your knee isn’t feeling too good...There’s a lot going on there,” Stevens said. “It’s probably really tough to deal with.”
Still, Morris is past that.
Instead, he’s focused on continuing to be counted on in whatever capacity is required to win.
“Coach [Stevens] does a great job of putting me in position, playing me at the 4...I’m always going to have a mismatch,” Morris said.
And then there’s Smart, the longest-tenured Celtic on the roster.
Now in his fourth season, Smart continues to evolve into one of the NBA’s best defenders, not to mention his steady improvement as a play-maker.
“We know what we have to do when we get in there,” Smart said. “That’s kind of our mentality in that second nit.”
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