By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Jayson Tatum was the star once again in the Celtics’ Game 2 blowout over the 76ers. Jaylen Brown was pretty darn good too, and Kemba Walker looked like the Kemba Walker of old.
But it was the Boston bench that received barrels of praise following the C’s 128-101 victory on Wednesday night, and rightfully so. When it looked like Philadelphia was ready to blow out Boston, it was the Celtics reserves who flipped the script and changed the complexion of the game.
Boston was down 27-14 late in the first quarter when Brad Stevens sent in a trio of his bench players. Tatum and Brown remained on the floor, but they were joined by Brad Wanamaker, Grant Williams and Enes Kanter. The defensive intensity picked up for the Celtics, resulting in easier looks for everyone. By the end of the quarter, Boston had whittled its deficit to eight points, with Tatum and Brown scoring all 13 points over the final 3:21 of the quarter.
That’s when the reserves really took charge. Stevens kept Tatum on the floor, but put in rookie Romeo Langford in place of Brown. With a supreme talent like Tatum garnering most of Philly’s attention, the other four players on the floor did their part — and then some.
Boston opened the second quarter on a 15-5 run, including 12 straight, flipping the game on it’s head and giving Boston an eight-point advantage. Tatum continued to do his thing, hitting a pair of threes, but Boston also got a pair of big baskets from Kanter, including a rare three from the big man. Kanter won nearly every arm-wrestling match with Embiid during the run, holding the Philly star to just five points over a five minutes stretch. That was huge after Embiid dominated the C’s for 15 points in the opening frame.
Kanter’s defense (yes, his defense) forced Embiid to settle for jumpers, throwing him off of his game. Kanter had five rebounds during the Boston run, including an offensive board that ended with an easy tip-in. Williams took over as Boston’s “seal” in the paint, creating some easy lanes for anyone driving to the bucket. Wanamaker went back to the bench with five points during the run, and finished his night a perfect 3-for-3 from the floor (for seven points) while dishing out four assists.
Boston’s run stretched out to 25-8 and the Celtics were up by 13 points. It was stunning and completely took Philadelphia out of the game, with the 76ers essentially sleepwalking through a nightmare the rest of the way.
After the game, the Boston bench received all the credit for turning what looked like a surefire loss into a blowout win.
“The bench took a game that wasn’t going our way and changed it,” Stevens said. “Those guys did what they do, and we need them to keep doing what they do.”
“The way the bench played at the end of the first and throughout the second quarter, it brought the physical toughness back to our game,” said Tatum. “That’s why we got back into the game and eventually took the lead.”
“Our whole disposition changed when we went to the bench. Every possession was more challenged,” explained Stevens. “I never thought we would have stayed with that group that long, and I didn’t want to take them out.”
The Celtics bench was good-not-great during the regular season, and it has always been seen as one of the squad’s few weaknesses. With Gordon Hayward lost for the next four weeks with an ankle sprain, the spotlight is going to be even brighter on the Boston reserves.
They didn’t look phased on Wednesday.
“We’re going to need everybody with Gordon out. We’re going to replace him by committee and tonight, everyone did that,” said Stevens.
The second quarter run led to some truly ridiculous plus/minus numbers for Boston’s bench guys. Wanamaker finished a plus-28 in his 23 minutes while Kanter was plus-24. Wanamaker, Langford, Kanter and Williams hit 11 of their 16 shots on the night. Boston reserves were also deadly from downtown, hitting seven of their nine attempts from behind the arc. Both of those misses came in garbage time.
For comparison, the 76ers had grand total of five makes from three-point land on 21 attempts.
Minus the first few minutes of the game, nearly everything went right for Boston on Wednesday, and they now own a 2-0 series lead because of it. While Tatum is becoming a superstar before our eyes and Brown isn’t far behind, it was the Boston bench that will get credit for Wednesday night’s victory.
That praise, of course, will be short-lived in the Boston locker room. Game 3 is Friday night, and they have more work to do in order to advance.
“We’re going to need that again,” said Stevens. “Two wins in a playoff series doesn’t mean a whole lot.”