BOSTON — The Boston Celtics looked to be in total control Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but when the bench came in late things started to change.
The Celtics held a 25-point lead, but with just over 10 seconds remaining saw that lead sitting at just five which forced Boston head coach Ime Udoka to get the starters back in to finish the game off.
Boston did just that and took down the Thunder, 111-105, in the second night of a back-to-back. But when the bench saw an increased opportunity late, they weren’t able to take advantage of it.
To put it context, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart each finished with a plus/minus above 20 on Saturday. Bruno Fernando, Sam Hauser, Payton Pritchard and Brodric Thomas all saw one minute of action in garbage time and all finished with a minus-seven rating. Aaron Nesmith lead the way with a minus-14 rating in just 10 minutes.
This isn’t the first time the Boston bench has blown a lead this season and after the game Celtics head coach Ime Udoka discussed what he’s seeing out of the group right now.
“We’re looking for that right lineup. Guys didn’t shoot it well off the bench tonight. (Josh Richardson) has kind of been a constant there and as we’ve mentioned Dennis (Schröder) being in the starting lineup is taking away our bench scoring of course,” Udoka said. “It’s somewhat expected with the people we have out, shifting guys into different roles. But you have to come in and be aggressive anyway. We’d like to keep Jayson and Dennis on the court for most of the time and initiate offense with those guys. We’re looking for guys to step up and be consistent and we need to find them.”
Although there certainly was frustration with the bench play after the win, Udoka did have praise and respect for what the Thunder were able to do late Saturday.
“We know that team was going to continue to play. They’ve had some massive comeback wins this year, talked about that before. They beat the Lakers down 20. Beat the Lakers again down 26 and last night even against Milwaukee got down 20 and fought their way back into the game in the fourth quarter,” Udoka said. “We know they’re going to keep playing. They’re a young scrappy group that plays aggressive and we got a little sloppy and took our foot off the gas a little bit but credit to them. They kept playing hard. Just a learning experience for the young guys.”
All in all everything worked out in Boston’s favor Saturday night but the bench struggling has become something to really keep an eye on. The Celtics have been without Jaylen Brown and now Robert Williams so the rotation is being stretched thinner than Udoka most likely would like, but once they return there won’t be much of an excuse anymore.
Bench struggles were a thing that plagued the squad last year and although there definitely is somewhat of an excuse for it right now, some things may need to be done in the near future to plug the holes.