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Irish Coffee: The Celtics’ bench struggles

12.21.10 at 12:16 pm ET

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Remember when a lot of people — including me — believed the Celtics had the best bench in the NBA? Well, they don’t. At least not now.

The second unit that C’s head coach Doc Rivers had cultivated to give his veteran starters their much-needed rest throughout the 82-game NBA season was supposed to look like this: Nate Robinson, Delonte West, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis and Shaquille O’Neal.

On paper, that lineup looks good. Very good. Unfortunately, wrists, ankles and knees aren’t made out of paper. As a result, the Celtics’ reserves rank 24th out of 30 NBA teams, according to‘s efficiency differential.

West’s suspension and subsequent broken wrist have kept him out of all but five games. Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal have been a pain in the knee, missing a combined 28 games and vaulting a third-string guy (Semih Erden) into four starts. And Rajon Rondo‘s feet, hamstring and ankle soreness, tweaks and sprains haven’t helped, either, forcing one of the original sencond unit’s go-to scorers (Robinson) into a starting role six times.

Put those injuries to paper, and the Celtics’ bench has produced better than only one team that would be in the postseason if the playoffs started today — the Trail Blazers, who have had more injuries than King Leonidas‘ men in the movie “300.”

Here’s where the C’s reserves rank in the league statistically per game this season:

Minutes: 22nd
Points: 17th
Rebounds: 25th (22nd defensive/30th offensive)
Assists: 26th
Steals: 18th
Blocks: 18th
Turnovers: 10th
Field-goal percentage: 1st
3-point field goal percentage: 23rd
Free-throw percentage: 19th

And here’s where their opponents’ bench’s production against them ranks:

Minutes: 9th
Points: 7th
Rebounds: 11th (13th defensive/10th offensive)
Assists: 18th
Steals: 22nd
Blocks: 23rd
Turnovers: 27th
Field-goal percentage: 6th
3-point field goal percentage: 14th
Free-throw percentage: 6th

Based on these numbers, you can safely jump to a few conclusions:

  • The C’s bench plays fewer minutes than 21 other NBA teams, which results in too much playing time for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen going forward.
  • The Celtics may be a great passing team, but their bench isn’t exactly the “Showtime” Lakers.
  • The Celtics may be a great defensive team, but their bench isn’t exactly the “Bad Boy” Pistons.
  • The C’s may have the best shooting bench in the league, but when you rank top-10 in turnovers and give up more offensive rebounds than anybody else, it doesn’t matter.

When the Celtics could piece together something close to their preseason second unit — Robinson, West, Daniels, Davis and Erden — that group recorded a plus/minus of 12. But they only got on the floor together for a grand total of 19 minutes. No other second unit that has played more than 10 minutes together has a positive plus/minus for the Celtics.

That’s not what the Doc ordered. And as a result, the Celtics’ starting five has had to be phenomenal — which they have been, and then some. Here’s where the C’s starters rank statistically per game this season:

Minutes: 7th
Points: 9th
Rebounds: 15th (2nd defensive/29th offensive)
Assists: 1st
Steals: 5th
Blocks: 24th
Turnovers: 19th
Field-goal percentage: 1st
3-point field goal percentage: 2nd
Free-throw percentage: 16th

And here’s where their opponents’ starters’ production against them ranks:

Minutes: 17th
Points: 30th
Rebounds: 30th (30th defensive/28th offensive)
Assists: 30th
Steals: 17th
Blocks: 28th
Turnovers: 24th
Field-goal percentage: 29th
3-point field goal percentage: 29th
Free-throw percentage: 14th

Based on those numbers, you can safely jump to these conclusions:

  • It’s hard to be a good offensive rebounding team when you shoot 52.8 percent from the field.
  • It’s a good thing they shoot so well from the field, because their middle-of-the-road as a group when it comes to free-throw shooting.
  • The C’s starters play ridiculously good defense, allowing the fewest points, rebounds and assists in the league while ranking second in opponent’s field-goal and 3-point percentages.

The scariest part about all these numbers? There’s room for improvement for a team that’s 22-4 and a few possessions away from being 25-1. If the Celtics can get to full strength — with West, Rondo, Shaq, Jermaine O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins all contributing — they have to be the favorites to win the 2011 NBA title. But that’s one mighty big “IF.”


Remember when Cedric Maxwell compared Dirk Nowitzki to Larry Bird? Well, in at least one statistical category, Nowitzki is about to surpass Larry Legend. After scoring 26 points in the Mavericks’ 98-96 victory against the Heat on Monday night, Nowitzki (21,781 points) trails Bird (21,791 points) by just 10 points for 25th on the all-time scoring list.

Nowitzki’s current coach, Rick Carlisle, was a teammate of Bird’s on the Celtics from 1984-87, and they won the ’86 title together in Boston. Here’s what Carlisle told

“Both are extremely meticulous in their preparation, their dedication. The statistics are staggering, but both guys really were about winning first all the time. Dirk, if it was best for him to average 15 [points] and get eight or nine rebounds, if that was the best way to win he’d be all for that. Fortunately, for us he’s an all-time great player like Larry was and we’re trying to get to the top of the mountain.”

Of course, Nowitzki has already played 50 more games than Bird did in his career, and the Celtics Hall of Famer produced about 3,000 more assists and 1,000 more rebounds than Nowitzki has totaled so far in his career. Other than that, they’re pretty much the same.

Speaking of bold comparisons, Nowitzki compared the Mavericks’ addition of Tyson Chandler this season to the Celtics’ acquisition of Garnett in 2007 — at least, in terms of their impact on the defensive end. Here’s what Nowitzki told

“I don’t think Ray [Allen] or Paul Pierce were great defenders before KG got there. But, KG, with his energy, his defense, his mentality and his high-octane self, he kind of changed the whole momentum on the defense. I think that’s what Tyson did here.”

Dallas ranked 12th in the NBA defensively last season, and the Mavericks are rated sixth in the league this year with Chandler in the lineup. Conversely, the Celtics went from 16th before Garnett’s arrival to first overall in his debut season in Boston.


The NBA named Pierce the Eastern Conference Player of the Week on Monday. Spurs point guard Tony Parker captured the Western Conference honor. Here’s how Pierce performed in three games over the past week:

  • Celtics 118, Knicks 116 (Dec. 15): 32 points, 10 rebounds & 4 assists
  • Celtics 102, Hawks 90 (Dec. 16): 15 points, 10 assists & 5 rebounds
  • Celtics 99, Pacers 88 (Dec. 19): 18 points, 12 assists & 10 rebounds

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

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