BOSTON -- On the play that lit the fuse for the monster run that the Boston Celtics embarked on early in the fourth quarter of Friday's win over the Orlando Magic, Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko -- the team's two bigs on the floor in a reserve lineup -- were both 20-plus feet from the basket, pulling their defenders out to the 3-point line and leaving the lane practically vacant. Not only did that help create the space that Olynyk would soon rumble through for an easy layup, but it was the threat of Jerebko as a shooter that ensured his man didn't scramble with help.
The Celtics are playing their best basketball of the season at the moment while riding a five-game winning streak after Friday's 113-94 thumping of the visiting Magic. Boston has now won eight out of its past 10 while surging toward the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Isaiah Thomas, the team's offensive catalyst after moving to a starting role this season, was named an All-Star on Thursday, but it might be the way that Boston's bench players have elevated their play without Thomas there to anchor the second unit that has been a key to Boston's recent success.
Playing with a tightened nine-man rotation over the past 10 games, Boston has gotten quality contributions from its four primary reserves in Evan Turner, Marcus Smart, Olynyk, and Jerebko. Turner and Smart give the reserve unit two ball-handlers capable of taking advantage of the space opened by spreading the floor with shooters, including Avery Bradley, the team's starting shooting guard who has logged extended time with the backup group after subbing early in his shifts to start each half.
But it's the unique Olynyk/Jerebko combo that has really opened up the floor for the Celtics. During this 10-game stretch, both Olynynk and Jerebko have been on fire beyond the 3-point arc, combining to connect on 29 of 51 3-pointers (56.9 percent).
Olynyk, who has made 44.4 percent of his 3-point attempts this season, entered Saturday's action ranked sixth in the league in 3-point percentage, just a couple spots behind Steph Curry. Jerebko, his minutes inconsistent earlier in the year, is shooting 44.2 percent beyond the arc. He doesn't have enough attempts to qualify among the league leaders, but, if he did, he would bump Klay Thompson from the top 10 in 3-point percentage.
Yes, call them Splash Brothers International. Olynyk, a Canadian, and Jerebko, a Swede, have given Boston's reserve unit a jolt with their 3-point shooting, but their impact is felt at both ends of the court. In 101 minutes of floor time together in that 10-game span, the Celtics own a net rating of plus-14.2 points per 100 possessions with the Olynyk/Jerebko combo. While the team's offensive rating for that pairing isn't exactly eye-popping at 102.6, it looks particularly glossy when balanced with a defensive rating of 88.4.
And it's an offensive uptick recently that has helped the versatile bench really make an impact. Boston's backup unit has maintained the team's defensive intensity all season, but now they're using that energy to help fuel the offensive end, too. As Smart heats up a bit beyond the 3-point arc -- making eight of his past 18 treys after previously shooting below 20 percent beyond the arc -- the Celtics are frustrating opposing teams with their bench attack.
"Any time anybody is making 3s on our team, it helps," said Olynyk. "Threes are contagious. It’s probably one of the most contagious things, probably next to the common flu. If [Smart is] makings 3s, Jonas is making 3s, whoever -- Jae [Crowder], Avery, Evan, -- when everybody is making 3s, you got to guard people differently. You can’t help as much, you get open lanes, and you get run-outs, and you’re going to get offensive rebounds. It just opens everything up."
Celtics coach Brad Stevens likes how the bench has separated games recently at the start of the fourth quarter, like the 15-0 burst against the Magic.
"They’re playing well together," said Stevens. "Each of those guys is doing a lot right now and really trying to play to their strengths. It’s been good."
Olynyk deserves much of the credit, regardless of who he is paired with. Stating his case for the league's 3-point contest at All-Star weekend in his native Toronto, Olynyk is shooting a ridiculous 61.8 percent (21 of 34) beyond the arc in this 10-game stretch. He's plus-122 overall in plus/minus over 221 minutes of floor time. More impressive: The Celtics own a net rating of plus-21.8 when Olynyk is on the floor in that span. The next closest player is Jared Sullinger at plus-13.6 (and it's no coincidence that the Sullinger/Olynyk combo has been off the charts during these 10 games).
Jerebko is starting to carve out a more defined role, though it's in the same mold as last season when he provided energy as an undersized 4. Jerebko was a perfect 4-for-4 shooting (making the three 3-pointers he took) versus Orlando and grabbed 10 rebounds over 21:39.
"I think the 10 rebounds is something, too -- that’s a really good thing moving forward," said Stevens. "[Jerebko is] active, he feels comfortable. I think he’s pretty set in how he’s going to impact us. And it was good to see him stretch the floor. They put their 5 on him during one stretch because they wanted their 4 to guard Kelly and then they flipped that in the second half, and that’s kind of what those two guys can do together is stretch the floor. It allows some room for our other guys to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim, like Evan and Marcus did."
Leave it to the never bashful Evan Turner to sum up Boston's bench play lately.
"It’s consistent because guys aren’t hurt," said Turner. "I think we’re starting to figure out our rotation a little bit more. Most of the year we’ve been getting it done for the most part, from what I remember. We always cut into leads or push leads up. We do what we need to do. That’s what it is. We’ve been killing [the starters] in practice, too."
Pressed on beating Boston's first unit, Turner scanned the room for starters and playfully raised his voice as if to be heard.
"What’d the UConn girls score like?" joked Turner, either referencing UConn's famous 90-game winning streak or the often lopsided nature of their victories. "We’ve been at that level. It’s been low key. Nobody’s been writing about it, but we’ve been confident."