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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Christened the "Boston Bench Mob" by Shaquille O'Neal at the onset of training camp, the Celtics' reserves took great pride in the potential to be the best second unit in the league.
But through five games, the mob designation just didn't seem fitting, particularly if you go by Webster's definition:
mob | |mäb | noun a large crowd of people, especially one that is disorderly and intent on causing trouble
|Semih Erden and the rest of the Celtics' bench made life difficult for the Thunder, outscoring the Oklahoma City subs 33-12.|
Because of injuries and suspensions, the Celtics' reserves were limited in number and certainly didn't seem to be causing too much of a ruckus (save maybe for Glen Davis, who totaled nearly half of the bench's total point production over the first five games, thanks in large part to extended minutes with the starting unit).
But even as Boston waits for the return of O'Neal, the unofficial ringleader of this posse who has missed the past four games with a bruised right knee, and Delonte West, who proved to be the glue of the second unit during the preseason but is serving a 10-game suspension, the Celtics' bench is starting to bond.
For the first time this season, Boston received balanced output from a four-man bench of Davis (8 points), Nate Robinson (9), Semih Erden (9) and Marquis Daniels (7). The unit combined for 33 points -- the bench's second-biggest outburst of the season -- while lifting Boston to a 92-83 triumph over Oklahoma City on Sunday night at the Ford Center.
"That's our whole thing: the bench mob," said Daniels, who had a pair of layups late in the first quarter to spark a 12-4 burst that rallied Boston out of a three-point hole -- the Thunder's largest lead of the night -- that ultimately became a 21-point halftime advantage.
"We want to be the best bench, regardless of whether the starters are playing great or not. We want to pick them up. Like Nate was saying earlier [this year], we're a tag team. He helps [Rajon] Rondo; I help Paul [Pierce] and Ray [Allen], and so on. We've got each other's backs."
Boston's bench had been outscored 159-126 through the first five games of the season, forcing the Celtics to lean heavily on their starters to pull out wins. But that production has spiked the past two games. Boston's reserves outscored their Chicago counterparts 37-19 in Friday's overtime win, while Oklahoma City's bench mustered a mere 12 points Sunday.
What's more, it was the Celtics' second unit (playing alongside Allen) that was on the floor at the start of the fourth quarter and stretched a tenuous six-point lead to a 17-point cushion in a mere four-minute span.
"[The bench] saved us," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who has said since the preseason that for Boston to be successful in the playoffs, its bench had to win games and aid the starters throughout the season.
"[A third-quarter lapse] forced me to put our bench in at a point when it was a six-point game," said Rivers. "Semih, Nate and Baby, that whole group, was absolutely terrific. They won the game for us. It went from a six- to a -point lead with our bench on the floor."
The community effort resulted in a glowing locker room with praise being heaped on each bench player like salsa on the chips in the Mexican-themed postgame spread.
"It was fun, we've got to continue to give our starters a lift, continue to do what we've been doing [the last two games] by playing together and having fun," said Robinson. "We're trying to kick the other team's butt -- the other team's bench. That's our mission."
The key stretch for Boston's bench came after James Harden drilled a 3-pointer with 11:17 remaining to cut the Celtics' lead to 73-67. Davis responded with back-to-back 20-foot jumpers to push that advantage back up to double digits, forcing Oklahoma City to call timeout.
It did little to stop the mob.
Erden sandwiched two sets of free throws around a Robinson layup, and Davis added a 17-foot jumper. With little more than seven minutes to go, Davis hauled in an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Allen (team-high 19 points), who splashed one of his three trifectas on the night for an 88-71 cushion that again forced the hosts to call timeout.
Boston's bench wouldn't score again, checking out two minutes later and turning the game over to the starters.
"I think Coach really has confidence in [the bench]," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. "It was big for them to come in and step up. They gave us some confidence to start this road trip."
The bench's play also helped limit the starters' minutes, something crucial with the second night of a back-to-back looming in Dallas on Monday. Allen did finish with a team-high 40 minutes, 14 seconds of play, but he seemed more than willing to hold down that second guard spot until West's suspension ends (he is set to return Nov. 17).
West -- along with a healthy pair of O'Neals (Jermaine and Shaq) -- would give the bench an even deeper look and potentially mess with some of the chemistry being forged now. But a mob is always better with numbers.
"It's interesting thinking about it: When Delonte comes back, it changes the dynamic all over again," said Allen. "It almost gives Doc more problems having to think about the rotation more.
"It's a great problem to have."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter