Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 1/12/13
BOSTON — Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had gotten used to running damage control. Their task, during the first two months of the season, often was to hand the Celtics’ bench a workable lead and pray that the score stayed manageable while they sat, so they could reclaim the lead later. The approach did not always work, as their dreadful December and five-game losing streak entering the new year attest. When Celtics coach Doc Rivers insisted the problems could be fixed, he was met mostly with blank, incredulous stares. Now the Celtics are doing everything their coach predicted they could, and more. The second unit that was such a drain has been reborn, as the return of Avery Bradley to the starting lineup has secured the lineup rotations. The “scary deep” squad Pierce tweeted about in preseason truly has been frightening for opponents to face. “They’ve been huge for us during this winning streak,” Pierce said after the bench combined for 40 points in 93 minutes in a 103-91 victory over the Rockets to run their streak to five straight wins. “They’ve been coming in and been able to not only sustain leads, but come in and push leads. I come out of the game and we’re down three or four, and I come back in and we’re up 10. That’s a lot of pressure off me and the rest of the starters when you’ve got a bench playing so confident, playing great defense and moving the ball.” Once again, led by the bench, the Celtics out-hustled an opponent en route to a win. In a stirring second-quarter flurry, the unit of Jared Sullinger, Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, Jeff Green and Garnett seemed to grab every rebound and track down every loose ball. Terry and Green got floor burns gobbling up loose balls that turned into Celtics baskets, while Sullinger piled up eight points and five of his game-high 11 rebounds. When Pierce  exited the game with a little over three minutes to go in the first quarter, the Celtics trailed by five. When he re-entered with four minutes remaining in the second quarter, they led by 11 points. Not even Pierce’s 23 points were as telling as that statistic. The key aspect to the bench’s performance of late is more than pure adrenaline, however. Boston’s reserves now appear to trust each other as much as the starters, who teamed up to play all the major minutes in the Celtics’ run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. For a solid 12 minutes of game action, the backups moved in even greater unison than Rajon Rondo, Brandon Bass, Garnett, Pierce and Bradley had to begin the game. “We’ve decided to defend as a group full-time,” Rivers said, “and stay committed to it. That team-wide effort held James Harden to 24 points, marking the first time in 14 games that he has failed to reach at least 25 — the longest such streak in franchise history. But the defense did more than halt a relatively meaningless individual statistical streak. If not for the second unit’s performance, certainly Harden might have gotten his 25 points, but more importantly the Celtics might not have come out with a victory. Pierce and Garnett may not have had the juice to carry them down the stretch. The Rockets should have been finished early in the fourth quarter when Garnett completed a three-point play to put Boston ahead by 14 points. Instead, the Rockets continued to chip away. Once Chandler Parsons converted a bad pass by Rondo into a breakaway dunk, Houston trailed by only two points with more than seven minutes remaining. The fans at the TD Garden were justifiably concerned. As it turned out, those fans had little reason to worry, because Pierce and Garnett were present and fresh. Pierce came out of the Boston timeout to hit a step-back jump shot. Two possessions later, after two free throws by Rondo and a putback dunk by Bass, Pierce picked off a pass by Harden and barreled down the court for an and-one layup to extend the lead to double-digits again. Garnett then put the game out of reach with a personal 6-2 run, which he punctuated with a hop-step slam that brought to mind his days as a vicious dunker with the Minnesota Timberwolves. It is possible that none of those big shots would have happened, however, if not for the bench’s spurt earlier in the game. Thanks to the run and the extended rest it afforded several of the starters, Pierce was able to stay fresh and ready to take over in crunch time. Extra time on the bench is invaluable for a star who is only 35 in human years, but is pushing Social Security eligibility in NBA years. “They’re saving us,” Garnett said. “Let’s all be real. The bench is saving us. Everybody that’s coming off the bench is giving us great minutes.” The reserves saved the starters early, so the starters could save the game late. This sort of division of labor is much easier for Pierce and Garnett to handle, and has led to an exponential improvement in workplace morale. Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Report: Chancellor officially holding out of training camp

Cardinals' Jen Welter is 'tired of hearing about Tom Brady's balls'

Sandoval downplays talk about weight, conditioning, defense

Astros acquire Carlos Gomez from Brewers

Richardson charged for resisting arrest after high-speed chase

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Yankees finally get Dustin Ackley

Five most overrated teams in the CFB preseason coaches’ poll

Padres manager pulled players to give media ‘something to think about’

Robert Kraft signs fan’s ‘Free Brady’ poster

Jerry Jones supports Joseph Randle as Cowboys’ starting RB

Dallas Cowboys place Darren McFadden on PUP list

Is Julius Randle a star?

Projecting the prospects in the David Price trade

'Miracle on Ice' goalie selling Olympic gear for $5.7 million

Josh Smith addresses ‘harder on me’ comment in essay

Examining the state of the NFL

Steelers players: Who is Jimmy Garoppolo?

Tigers’ reboot continues, Joakim Soria traded to Pirates

Matthews ‘felt disrespected’ Blazers didn’t try to re-sign him

Cardinals ink billion dollar TV deal from Fox Sports Midwest

Spurs Jesus catches burglar, holds him down for police

Will the San Francisco Giants end up standing pat?

Puig: Broke out of slump by playing baseball video games

NBA News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Examining the state of the NFL

Will the Giants end up standing pat?

Puig: Broke out of slump by playing baseball video games

Braves dump risk, exchange it for risk

David Price traded to Blue Jays

The indefensible Hulk Hogan

Cole Hamels chose Rangers over Astros

Can Preller fix the mess in San Diego?

Next summer's top 10 NBA free agents

Who is the NL's new top shortstop?

Cardinals HC Bruce Arians calls Jen Welter a 'trailblazer'

Mets still act like a small-market team

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker