Watch CBS News

The Celtics are going to need a lot more out of its bench unit

BOSTON -- There haven't been too many concerns with the Boston Celtics, as they've raced off to a 5-1 start to the new season. But now that there is a "one" in the loss column, it's safe to point out one aspect of the team that was worrisome even as the Celtics ripped off five straight wins to begin the campaign.

There were a handful of issues that led to Monday night's loss to the Timberwolves. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown played way too much ISO ball late as the ball movement dried up against Minnesota's solid defense. Ball movement has been a bit of an issue since the season tipped off too, with the C's ranking 26th in the NBA with only 23.3 assists per game. 

Boston also shot just 39 percent against the Timberwolves, and it was even worse from downtown, with the C's hitting a woeful 28 percent from 3-point range. Mix in 16 turnovers, and it was a miracle the Celtics were able to get to overtime.

The Celtics were bound to have a bad shooting night, and they did so Monday against a really good defense. Some better ball movement may have helped them snap out of the shooting slump that plagued them for the majority of the first three quarters. But no one is too concerned with Boston's shot-making abilities, not with all the talent in the top half of the roster.

From 1-6, the Celtics are absolutely loaded. But it's fair to be concerned with everyone that slots in on the depth chart after Al Horford, because the Boston bench mob hasn't done much of anything so far this season.

With Derrick White missing his second straight game Monday, Horford was back in the starting lineup. Kristaps Porzingis, Brown, and Horford also battled foul trouble throughout the game, so Joe Mazzulla used Monday night as a chance to get a better look at his guys off the bench. He ended up playing 10 players in Minnesota, with Payton Pritchard, Sam Hauser, Lamar Stevenson, Svi Mykhailiuk, and Luke Kornet each checking in.

Those five players manager a meager 16 points off the pine for Boston, shooting a combined 4-for-14 (28.5 percent). Hauser (11 points off 3-for-8 shooting from deep) and Kornet (five points off 1-for-2 from the floor and three made free throws) were the only two from that group to put the ball through the hoop. The rest of the bench gang was 0-for-4, with Pritchard missing all three of his attempts.

Pritchard was supposed to be the team's firecracker off the bench, but he's had trouble lighting his own fuse. Monday night was the third time this season that he's been held scoreless, with Pritchard 0-for-15 in those games. After giving him a four-year, $30 million extension just before the season, the Celtics have been expecting much bigger things from the backup guard than what he's provided: Just 22 points off 8-for-30 shooting overall and 3-for-18 from 3-point range.

The Boston bench has really struggled to be productive so far this season, aside from its 63-point eruption in a blowout win over the Pacers last week. Celtics reserves currently rank 29th in the NBA at 24.3 points per game (only the Lakers' bench is worse at 22.0 points per game) and 28th in shooting percentage at 39.7 percent. 

The Celtics are going to ultimately win or lose because of the top end of the roster. When things really start to count in the later months of the season, it will be about Tatum, Brown, and Porzingis doing what they do, with Jrue Holiday, White, and Horford contributing in their important roles. (And occasionally doing their own heavy lifting.)

But throughout the regular season, the bench is going to have to live up to their end of the bargain so Boston's stars don't get burned out. There are going to be other nights when the Celtics need their reserves to come off the bench and help win a game.

With a handful of new players added in the offseason, a bumpy start from Boston's bench was to be expected. Players need time to get comfortable in their roles and Mazzulla needs time to figure out how best to use everyone. 

But life would be a lot easier for everyone involved if the C's bench players would start hitting their shots while those details are ironed out. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.