Commentary

Celtics' bench still wobbly

While acknowledging a slow start, Jason Terry promises backups will deliver

Updated: November 6, 2012, 1:25 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When Jason Terry arrived in Boston this summer, a member of the Celtics' staff pulled aside the former Sixth Man of the Year to note that the Boston bench had scored a mere two points in the season-ending, Game 7 loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

Terry promised that wouldn't happen on his watch. And while the bench production hasn't been nearly that anemic over the first three games of the 2012-13 season, Boston's reserves have still been outscored 131-87 by opposing second units.

And, maybe not surprisingly, that doesn't sit particularly well with Terry.

[+] EnlargeTerry/Lee
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesJason Terry and Courtney Lee are fired up after a score against the Milwaukee Bucks, but Terry admits the start of the season has been shaky for the Celtics bench.

"Oh, that's frustrating," he said. "But again, I take that squarely upon my shoulders, and this is a new week. I'm looking to go this week and hopefully we can get three consecutive games of outscoring [the opponent's] bench, and we'll see what happens. But that's the goal, and we try to take it game-by-game, but hopefully we'll take it week-by-week, and last week was a disappointing one for us, but this is another opportunity and that's the beauty of it."

Much of the optimism surrounding the Celtics entering the new season stemmed from a revamped and reloaded bench that included two former Sixth Men of the Year (Terry and Leandro Barbosa), the return of both Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox from heart surgeries last season, and a restocked frontcourt with veterans Jason Collins and Darko Milicic, and rookies Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo.

But through the first three games of the season, Boston's bench hasn't offered a consistent support system for the Big Three core of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Much of the bench's output has come in the fourth quarter of losses to Miami and Milwaukee, then Washington's reserve group accounted for a whopping 62 points (72 percent of the Wizards' total output) during Saturday's shouldn't-have-been-a-nail-biter win in the nation's capital.

For Terry, the man they call JET, this was unexpected turbulence.

"No question, we thought it would be a lot smoother, but, again, it's not as easy as you think a lot of the time," said Terry. "It's good. It's good that we're going through it, and what we're going to do is look back upon this journey and say that we had to go through something. This is definitely challenging. I know for me, myself, I got higher expectations for my performance, but I'll get there."

Dobbs I just think everyone is starting to figure out that, to be a good team, you have to actually work at it. And it's hard work. You just don't show up because you have good names on a piece of paper and become good. -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers

The early bench woes might be easier to swallow if not for familiar names from benches past being so prominent over the NBA's first full weekend of the new season. There was Ray Allen, fresh off helping best his former squad in the opener, producing a game-winning four-point play against the Nuggets. E'Twaun Moore and Glen Davis started together in Orlando during a dominant win over Phoenix on Sunday. Up in Minnesota, Greg Stiemsma has eight blocks in limited minutes over two games. You know the old line: Why can't we get guys like that?

Celtics coach Doc Rivers continues to preach patience. Talking both about the bench and his team in general, Rivers admitted it's going to take time for everything to come together. But he seems supremely confident that will happen.

"They gotta become a team," Rivers said of his bench. "I keep telling [reporters], just because you bring guys together, doesn't mean they are going to play well together. It's just going to take time. The bench is nowhere near where they need to be, or where they hopefully will be. That's not a concern, that's being realistic. I think we knew that when we came in here."

Rivers admitted his team is behind in terms of early-season progress, even after informal September workouts, a team-bonding experience in Los Angeles, a preseason trip overseas to Europe, and a full exhibition slate to ramp up to regular-season play.

Rivers said his players are learning the hard way that chemistry and continuity won't occur just by showing up in the gym.

"I just think everyone is starting to figure out that, to be a good team, you have to actually work at it," said Rivers. "And it's hard work. You just don't show up because you have good names on a piece of paper and become good. You have to work at it, and you have to work hard at it. And it's exhausting."

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bass
Geoff Burke/US PresswireBrandon Bass, who had started the first two games, was moved to the second unit on Saturday with the hope he'd give it some firepower. Afterward, he said he's willing to do whatever is best for the team.

Not in a rush to settle on an iron-clad rotation, Rivers said he's simply concerned with trying to figure out what pairings work best early in the season.

Heck, the Celtics are flirting with a transitional starting lineup, having moved Sullinger onto the first unit Saturday and shuffling Brandon Bass to the bench. Not only do Sullinger's strengths (particularly his rebounding) mesh well with the first unit, but Bass has potential to add that missing firepower to the second-teamers.

It all comes down to buying in. Bass reiterated Monday that he's willing to do whatever is best for the team, and said he sees potential for him to thrive once his role is defined.

"We've got so much going on," said Bass. "Like, if it's going to be my role to come off the bench, and I think that once we get the bench chemistry down and get the ball in the right players' hands, I think it will benefit us as a unit, as a team."

The Celtics will get a boost when Avery Bradley is able to return (mid-to-late December has been the projection). If Bradley, who is recovering from double shoulder surgery, can regain his spot at starting shooting guard, it moves Courtney Lee to a reserve role, adding even more depth off the pine.

Rivers admitted that Lee was frustrated after missing multiple open looks in Washington. But, again, Rivers likes the potential if those shots start falling and said Lee simply isn't used to having such quality opportunities.

Rivers said he needs all his players to keep working and he's confident those results will come.

Terry won't have it any other way. He's more frustrated than anyone with the bench struggles, and he's putting it on himself.

"Again, it's a work in progress," said Terry. "I'm going to stay optimistic. I'm a scorer. I'm going to figure it out. Believe me when I tell you, I'm going to continue to shoot the ball and I'm going to take advantage of every opportunity."

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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