As the team with the best record in the NBA, the Celtics are on top of the basketball universe right now. With MVP candidate Jayson Tatum and All-Star guard Jaylen Brown leading the way, the Celtics look poised for another deep playoff run. Following their second-half resurgence last year, Boston picked up right where they left off, which propelled them all the way to an NBA finals appearance. They took an early hold of the Eastern Conference and haven’t looked back since, posting a 44-18 record to this point with an astounding 19-8 record versus teams with a .500 record or better. The NBA in its current standing is a star-driven league, and there’s no doubt about it. The Celtics couldn’t possibly be in the position they are now without the dominant scoring efforts of Brown and Tatum and the steady play and defensive fortitude of complementary pieces such as Al Horford and Marcus Smart, as we know. But something that shouldn’t go unnoticed is the fact that a really good team turns into a great team when the depth of your roster is your biggest strength. Yes, it is the Boston bench that allows the Celtics to not only be flexible with their lineups but also have confidence in their team when the starting lineup needs assistance or isn’t pulling its weight.
The Celtics bench as a group is excelling both defensively and offensively, a rare achievement for playoff contending teams that stack most of their payroll into starting lineups and pay little attention to the 7th, 8th, or 9th guys on the bench. The Celtics have far and away the best offensive rating of any bench in the NBA, posting a staggering 118.3 rating. Defensively, Boston is more than capable from the bench, with the fifth highest defensive rating at 112.9. Being formidable on both ends of the floor is something that most teams can’t even hope for their starting lineup to achieve, let alone their second unit. So who are the players that make this second unit so difficult to go up against? Let’s start with the biggest Celtics acquisition of the off-season, Malcolm Brogden. Brogden had started his entire career as a member of the Pacers and Bucks, but willfully took a job as Boston’s sixth man and has absolutely flourished in this role. He’s averaging 14.3 points off the bench and is shooting a career-high 49% from 3. Include a stout defensive presence that can guard positions 1–5, and you have the recipe for a sixth man of the year winner. Other key additions include wing Sam Hauser, who has come out of nowhere and has gained a cult following among Celtics fans. His shooting prowess is a much-needed jolt for a bench that has lacked said shooting in recent years. Blake Griffin was signed to provide some veteran leadership, and in the past he has proven he is more than capable of providing productive minutes when his number is called upon. Grant Williams is a player whose tough defense on Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the playoffs last year helped the Celtics reach the finals. With his toughness and versatility, he has distinguished himself as one of the best bench defenders in the league while providing valuable shooting from beyond the arc. Not to mention, key contributor Payton Prichard has seen his playing time drop this year due to Boston’s deep lineup. His team-first mentality allows him to see the floor and make the right play when needed, and his gritty defense mixes well with the likes of similar defenders such as Marcus Smart. Mike Muscala was a key pickup at the trade deadline, and adding a big man with offensive versatility gives the C’s even more scary flexibility with their lineups.
The most important aspect of all of these key pieces is that they are a selfless group of players that just want to win. They are able to play together and flourish within their roles. There is no ego in this group; there is no fighting over playing time, and there are no distractions. The Celtics were so close to a championship last year that they could almost taste it, and every player is on a mission to get it back. If the Celtics are going to bring home Banner 18, it is going to be their bench that leads the way.