For the Boston Celtics to get past the Miami Heat, no one is expecting them to need a superhero-like performance from their team.
But for the Green Team to play their way into the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010, they’re going to need their “X-Men” to step like they have done in the first couple rounds of postseason play.
Boston’s “X-Men” of course are their role players off the bench who have become major X-factors in the Celtics making yet another deep playoff run with them being in the conference finals for the third time in the last four seasons.
Boston’s bench rotation has been limited primarily to three backups - Brad Wanamaker, Robert Williams III and Grant Williams.
The Celtics’ second unit has averaged 24.4 points per game in the playoffs, which ranks 14th among the 16 teams that made the postseason. Meanwhile, Miami’s backups are averaging 29.7 points per game which, according to Hoopssstats.com, ranks ninth among playoff teams.
Wanamaker has been the best scorer off the bench, dropping a playoff career-high 15 points in Boston’s Game 5 victory over the Raptors. His role going forward is uncertain with the impending return of Gordon Hayward, who will either re-enter the starting lineup with Marcus Smart being the team’s sixth man, or Hayward comes back as a reserve and serve as one of the team’s top reserves.
For the postseason, Wanamaker is averaging 5.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 44.7 percent from the field and 47.6 percent from 3-point range.
Williams III made an impact early on in the Toronto series, averaging 10.5 points through Games 1 and 2, both of which were won by the Celtics.
For Williams III, it was the first time he has had back-to-back double digit scoring games in the playoffs.
And like Wanamaker, Williams III has delivered a number of solid performances in the playoffs.
His minutes have been limited to just 12.2 per game, but those numbers per 36 minutes rate out to a double-double of 11.8 points and 12.1 rebounds.
And then you have Grant Williams' defense and physical banging in Game 7 against Pascal Siakam, whose struggles against Williams and the rest of Boston’s roster played a key part in the Celtics escaping with a Game 7 victory to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
Williams’ play was indicative of what has been the strength of Boston’s bench this season.
While points have been hard to come by for Boston's backups, it doesn’t hurt Boston too much because the Celtics bench typically gives up very few points anyway.
According to Hoopsstats.com, Boston’s bench allows 24.2 points per game, which is the fifth-fewest points allowed among the 16 playoff teams.
And while Miami’s bench limits opponents to even fewer points per game (21.2 points, ranked second among playoff teams), it becomes a moot point for Boston because of how little the Celtics lean on their bench to generate offense.
More than anything else, Boston’s bench has done a solid job of making sure whenever head coach Brad Stevens gives them an opportunity to get on the floor to contribute, they’re ready, willing and able to do whatever tasks they're assigned.
“It was a moment I’m always supposed to stay ready for, prepare for, especially with that (Toronto) team and all the different lineups they could use,” said Grant Williams whose defensive rating in Game 7 was 69.2 -- tops among all players who saw action in Game 7.
One of the factors that makes Williams and the rest of the Celtics reserves such wild cards in this series is how fluid their role is from one game to another.
“I didn’t know if I was playing that night, honestly,” Williams said. “I just try to do my job and not make mistakes especially in pivotal moments like that. It’s not about being a superstar or hero, it’s about doing anything for the team to win.”
Which is what you expect to hear from the Celtics’ X-Men.