Since Friday night, when Kendrick Perkins returned to their starting lineup for the first time since Game 6 of the Finals, the Celtics have been blessed to have their entire starting five intact. It's that group, C's coach Doc Rivers is fond of saying, that's never lost a playoff series while healthy in their three years together.
Their bench, however, has been a complete mess. This is perhaps the worst shape Rivers' second unit has been in since 2007 when the new-look Celtics came together. The C's had one of the league's deepest teams after reloading this summer. Now, thanks to injuries, they have one of the shallowest.
Their starting five is just fine. Their bench is in shambles, and it's the reason the C's are 1-2 since Friday night when Perk returned to the first unit. The latest loss, a 94-89 road slip-up at the hands of the Charlotte Bobcats was a damning indictment of their lack of depth.
The Celtics suited up 10 guys on Monday night. Nine of them played, with Avery Bradley having just flown in after rejoining the C's from the D-League. Only eight played double-digit minutes. Rivers was forced to make do with no Shaquille O'Neal, no Jermaine O'Neal, no Semih Erden, no Delonte West and of course no Marquis Daniels.
"We didn't have a lot of guys off the bench, obviously," Rivers said "But we knew that going into the game. We didn't get a lot out of our bench. But I don't worry about that stuff. I told our guys, I don't care if we have six guys, the fans are still going to come, the other team's still going to play, and we're still supposed to win the game. So we're not going to use that as an excuse."
But how can they not? The Celtics got absolutely destroyed in bench scoring against the Bobcats, 44 to 15. Shaun Livingston had 18 points off the bench for Charlotte, singlehandedly outscoring Glen Davis, Von Wafer, Luke Harangody and Nate Robinson combined. The Bobcats' Gerald Henderson equaled the C's bench as well.
The C's lack of bigs was painfully evident. They got outrebounded 50 to 37, including 39-5 on their offensive possessions. With three of their four centers missing, the onus was on Perkins and Kevin Garnett to carry the load themselves. The two combined for 21 boards, but it wasn't nearly enough.
But Rivers, who has gone out of his way this season to stress that injuries are never a good excuse, found a different explanation for Monday's loss. It's not about the bench injuries — it's about the entire team playing poorly on the tail ends of back-to-backs.
Not a bad explanation when you consider the numbers. The C's are 5-7 this season when they played the day before.
"We have 13 losses, seven of them have come on back-to-backs, and it's been the same script in five of them," Rivers said. "We win a decent game the day before, and we come out and we kind of just play. You could see it in the first half, we were kind of goofing around. Then all of a sudden you try to win it in the fourth, and you don't have anything left. I thought that was clear tonight. Same script.
"Then all of a sudden, the game gets close, and then [Eduardo] Najera makes a 3 on you, and you lose it. And you should."
The Celtics have had a handful of hard-earned losses this season — games where they've taken wins for granted, lacked focus, and played poorly. But those losses come a lot easier when your bench is in shambles. Doc Rivers won't use injuries as an excuse publicly, but on some level, he has to know it takes more depth than this to be a title contender.
The C's will be back to top form eventually. Until then, they've just got to tread water with the bodies they have. Monday night was a reminder of how difficult that can be.