Friday night reminded Celtics fans just what they were missing.
Fielding a complete roster for just the second time since March 11, Boston got an impressive performance from its bench that helped the C’s cruise to their fourth consecutive win, a 124-109 triumph over the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden.
The bulk of Boston’s strong bench effort came from an unsuspecting source, as lightly-used big man Tyler Zeller tied a career high with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting while adding nine rebounds. In doing so, he snapped Isaiah Thomas’ franchise-record streak of 17 straight games as the Celtics’ leading scorer.
“I’m so mad at him,” Thomas joked after the game. “Nah, I’m actually proud of him, because he just works so hard. He took advantage of his opportunity (Friday night).”
Zeller certainly was the beneficiary of a lopsided affair that saw Boston own a double-digit lead for the majority of the second half. That allowed Zeller and the Celtics’ reserves to log significant minutes, as five non-starters saw 20-plus minutes of playing time.
Yet the 26-year-old big man also benefited from some incredibly unselfish play from Boston’s bench. Five Celtics backups accounted for 24 of the team’s 35 assists, with Evan Turner and Marcus Smart each racking up nine helpers.
“They were double-teaming Evan (by) blitzing their pick-and-roll guy, so coach (Brad Stevens) just kept saying, ‘Get it out of your hands, get it to the bigs and let us make plays,'” Zeller said. “Somehow I just ended up wide open every time I caught it and just had to make a couple layups.”
Zeller wasn’t the only bench player in double figures, as Kelly Olynyk dropped 16 points on 5-of-5 shooting while adding seven boards. In what was a theme for the night, four of Olynyk’s buckets came via assists, one of which was a highlight-reel alley-oop feed from Smart.
“Everyone was unselfish,” Olynyk said. “On some possessions we were unselfish to a fault, but it’s better that than to have everyone stand still and then someone go one-on-one at the end of the clock.”
Don’t expect the likes of Zeller and Olynyk to have many repeat performances, as Thomas — who still managed 20 points on an efficient 7 for 9 shooting effort — likely will be carrying Boston’s offensive load heading into the postseason. But it never hurts to have depth in a seven-game playoff series, and the Celtics proved Friday they’re well-stocked.
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Celtics center Tyler Zeller (44) laughs with Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson (31) during the second half at TD Garden.