For more than two-thirds of the season, Garnett carried the Celtics' second unit. The veteran big man — don't call him a "center" within earshot — anchored the team on both ends of the floor when his strict substitution pattern called for him to play extended minutes with the Celtics reserves.
Since mid-February, Garnett's burden has lessened. Greg Stiemsma and Sasha Pavlovic have seen their roles and minutes increase, and in the past three games Garnett has enjoyed the aid of another "Big Three" member in Ray Allen.
Allen was expected to give the Celtics an offensive boost off the bench, yet it is doubtful even Celtics coach Doc Rivers foresaw the move having this much success. By bringing the most productive 3-point shooter in NBA history off the bench, the Celtics were sure to see an uptick in offensive production by their second unit. But with Allen, considered a limited defender, logging more than eight minutes in the second quarter, the C's held the Sixers to 6-for-22 shooting in a quarter that turned out to be disastrous for Philadelphia during a 103-79 Celtics win Sunday at TD Garden.
"That was the second-unit guys," Rivers said. "You know, Avery [Bradley] is with that second unit, Sasha, Ray, Kevin and Stiemer. I mean, it's just great. Defensively, when you play like that, you're going to win a lot of games."
The members of that lineup had a crispness about them on both ends of the floor. In 12 minutes together, they were the Celtics' second-best rebounding group (behind the starters) with 11 rebounds in 12 minutes of action, according to the NBA's stats tool. They assisted seven of the eight baskets they scored together and outscored the Sixers by 19 points while they were on the floor.
When Bradley initially shifted into the starting lineup, one theory was that the Celtics would utilize an "offensive" and a "defensive" unit. Groupings that include Bradley have kept scoring, though, and lineups with Allen have kept defending.
Bradley scored 18 points in 35 minutes as the starter on Sunday, while Allen scored 10 points in 27 minutes off the bench.
"I think what you see is, this is all coming together," Garnett said. "I don't want to say we haven't been shooting the ball fairly well. We have been making some shots, but we have had some terrible nights shooting the ball. As far as consistency, our defense has been there. Effort, strategy, everybody understands what we're doing. It's all coming together."
Given more time, it is likely that Allen and Bradley will become who we thought they were. Bradley and the starters will play hounding defense, and Allen and the reserves will blitz the opponent with scoring off the bench.
For now, though, each unit is doing a little bit of both. If that was the plan, then it truly is all coming together.
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