The Boston Celtics will be without one of their key bench players for almost a month, and their performance Friday suggested that could be a bit of an issue.
But Sunday certainly was a different story.
The Celtics struggled against the Utah Jazz in their first game without injured forward Kelly Olynyk, getting just 28 points from their bench. The second unit played a big role Sunday against the Denver Nuggets, though, as Boston’s reserves poured in 44 points en route to a 20-point win.
The catalysts of that effort were Marcus Smart and Evan Turner, who combined for 27 points by themselves. Turner also added five assists off the bench, while Smart was a monster on the defensive end with four steals.
“Evan and Marcus, you feel like you’re putting two starters in when you put them in,” head coach Brad Stevens said in a postgame interview on CSN New England. “We put them in together almost every time, and so you feel like they’re a little different than whoever they come in for. But you feel like you’re just going to keep your level, and maybe because of fatigue and everything else, their fresh legs are coming in ready to go. So you can maybe go on runs when they come in.”
Such was the case Sunday, as Boston went on a 9-1 run right after the duo stepped on the court that included a tough turnaround jumper from Turner and a 3-pointer from Smart. Turner and Smart also were on the court late in the third quarter, when the Celtics responded to Denver’s big surge with their own mini-run to push their lead back to double digits entering the fourth.
“I thought, for the most part, we played 38 minutes about as locked in as we’ve played in a while,” Stevens added. “I mean, you could tell there was a purpose, a good pride about us the whole day with everybody that played.”
Olynyk’s absence will create some issues for the Celtics over the next few weeks, but the C’s will do themselves a lot of favors if the bench can repeat Sunday’s performance instead of Friday.
Let’s hit a few other notes from Celtics-Nuggets:
— Boston got back to what it does best Sunday: forcing turnovers and pushing the tempo.
The Celtics’ aggressive defense swarmed Denver all afternoon, forcing the Nuggets into 24 turnovers. Boston made the most of those opportunities, too, converting them into 29 points thanks to amazing hustle plays like this one Smart made in the fourth quarter. The C’s also racked up 24 fast-break points.
“We defended, we played with a lot of energy, and that’s the definition of this team,” point guard Isaiah Thomas said in a postgame interview with CSN New England’s A. Sherrod Blakely. “When we defend and play with energy, man, it’s hard to beat us, and we give ourselves a great chance to win ballgames. We just have to do that on a more consistent basis.”
— The Celtics racked up 32 assists, five of which came from Turner off the bench. That’s nothing new for the C’s guard, who entered Sunday’s game leading all NBA bench players in assists with 4.4 per game.
— Turner also might lead the NBA in awesome quotes. Here’s what he had to say after going 1-for-2 from beyond the arc to improve his woeful 3-point shooting percentage to 16.9 percent:
— Sunday was a good day for current and former Celtics alike. Ex-C’s forward Luigi Datome, who was a fan favorite last season in Boston, now plays for Turkish club team Fenerbahçe, which captured the 2016 Turkish Cup with a win.
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