Depth Continues To Carry Celtics Through Adversity

Injuries have piled up in Boston this season, but the Celtics just keep on rolling past opponents behind a surprisingly deep roster

It seems the Boston Celtics just can’t keep a full roster on the floor this season.

By taking on the Utah Jazz on Saturday night without starters Avery Bradley (Achilles) and Jae Crowder (personal reasons), the Celtics have now played 31 of their 54 total games with at least one usual starter sidelined from injury.

Perhaps the only teams that have faced as much – or even more – adversity as Boston are the Dallas Mavericks (sans Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams) and the Los Angeles Clippers (missing Blake Griffin and Chris Paul). Both of those other teams have suffered, with the Mavericks sitting at 22-32, and the Clippers, while at a 33-21 record, having lost seven of their last 11 games.

Yet, unlike those two teams, the Celtics aren’t suffering at all. By beating the Jazz 112-104 Saturday (even after fill-in starter Jaylen Brown exited the game at halftime), Boston comfortably sits in second-place of the Eastern Conference heading into the All-Star break. It’s won nine of its last 10 games and has failed to reach 100 points in a game just once since December 16 (28 games).

So what marks the difference?

Easy; the Celtics have remarkable depth.

If you’ve been closely following each game this season, you’ve seen that there’s always a few bench players ready to step up big in place of a missing starter. Take Saturday’s win over the Jazz for example:

Marcus Smart, filling in for Bradley while he missed his 13th-straight game, posted 10 points and five assists. After Brown came out from a hip injury and Smart sat for a bit from an injury scare, Gerald Green and James Young combined for 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting. That was all part of 50 total points coming from the bench (second-highest bench output of the season), headlined by Kelly Olynyk’s 19 points and seven rebounds.

Did I mention that everyone not named Isaiah Thomas or Al Horford combined to shoot 58.7 percent from the field, while those two combined for 60 percent shooting themselves? How about that the 112 points the Celtics scored came against a team that allows a league-best 96 points per game on 43.9 percent shooting?

Talk about an all-around effort.

Sure, this game showed rare performances from Green, Olynyk and Young. Boston obviously can’t count on them to shoot so well for that many points on a nightly basis, but the whole point is that it hasn’t needed them to because of just how deep its roster is with capable contributors.

Listen; there’s a reason why Boston is 18-13 in the games they’ve played without at least one starter. Under coach Brad Stevens’ system, almost all of the players on the roster can make a significant impact, no matter who is missing.

When Olynyk isn’t grabbing the seven or eight rebounds, Jonas Jerebko or Amir Johnson will. With 12.3 rebounds per game, the Boston bench ranks 12th in the NBA in bench rebounding and is one and a half rebounds per game from ranking in the top-five.

When Olynyk, Green or Young can’t find any rhythm with their shot, Terry Rozier, Brown, Johnson, Smart or Tyler Zeller will. The same goes vice-versa. And in the rare instance that one or more of them don’t have a major impact on offense, Thomas will pick up the slack and post 30-plus points with five-plus assists. Or Horford and Crowder will pick up a significant load.

It just seems like a guaranteed fact at this point of the season because of how many reliable options the Celtics have.

Since Bradley last played on January 16, Boston has faced four teams that rank in the top-10 of points allowed. It won all four of those contests because those players mentioned have stepped up to score more points than those top-notch defenses have allowed on average.

That’s right; the Celtics are making a habit of neutralizing top defenses and surging past them with a barrage of scoring.

Celtics’ Scoring vs. Top-10 Defenses Since Jan. 16

Game Points Allowed Avg Celtics’ Total
1/16 Charlotte Hornets (W) 104.5 108
1/30 Detroit Pistons (W) 101.9 113
2/1 Toronto Raptors (W) 104.7 109
2/11 Utah Jazz (W) 96 112

Thomas is currently on a 38-game streak of scoring 20-plus points. Crowder is averaging 16.3 points in his last 10 contests. Smart and Horford have become key distributors while scoring double-digit points, and Olynyk, Green, Brown and Johnson each have their moments on both ends of the floor to contribute toward a win.

Obviously, the defense has taken a hit without its best defender in Bradley, and its second or third-best defender in Crowder when he misses time. There was even a three-game losing streak because of a lack of defensive tenacity while Bradley sat out. But that’s almost unavoidable when the team has been less than impressive even with its All-NBA Defensive First Team guard healthy and playing.

Yet, the entire team has made up for it with its offensive efforts and by doing just enough on the defensive end behind Horford and Smart. After all, it is 22-8 in its last 30 games, and more than half of those contests have been without at least one starter.

Outside of Thomas’ MVP-caliber scoring efforts, that starts with the depth of the team.

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