The Celtics’ bench came up big. In other news, the ocean is vast and wet.
Truly, the Celtics’ reserves provide such a powerful scoring punch so often that the bigger story is when Boston’s reserves don’t stuff the stat sheet with points.
However, the latter wasn’t the case in the Celtics’ 107-102 victory over the Hawks in overtime Friday at TD Garden.
Led by 19 points from Jason Terry, the bench contributed 46 points, compared with just 8 for Atlanta’s bench.
“We don’t change the way we play now,” coach Doc Rivers said. “We do it for the entire game; we play the same rhythm. So I think our bench now when they come in, nothing changes.
“A lot of time when benches come in they have specialty guys and they’re trying to change stuff; we’re in the same flow throughout the game now. We rarely make a change in what we’re doing and that helps.”
It also helps that the Celtics’ bench is buoyed by veterans Terry and Jeff Green, who added 12 points, and by a dynamic scorer in Jordan Crawford, who had 9 points in 15 minutes.
“That’s a quality bench,” Paul Pierce said.
But the Celtics have also been hit hard by injuries, which makes it all the more impressive that they actually have depth that is contributing.
“I don’t know if I’m surprised at anything with this group of guys,” Rivers said. “We just put them in there and hope they do well, honestly.
“I don’t look at it that way, I mean you can, but I just think they should. I really do. When they’re in, their job is to do what they do. And we talk about that. Doesn’t matter who’s on the floor.”
It’s not a traditional zone defense, this scheme that the Celtics have been tossing out there.
It’s more a cocktail with zone and man-to-man principles, earning it the quaint sobriquet “manwich” from Rivers, whose team has, in fact, traditionally played more man-to-man.
But regardless, this zone-centric scheme has been working.
The Celtics broke it out March 1 against Golden State in an attempt to throw the perimeter-shooting team for a loop. It worked. The Celtics beat the Warriors, 94-86, and used it for stretches in their next three games, including Friday against Atlanta.
“We confuse them sometimes,” Avery Bradley said the zone’s effectiveness.
Bradley said the key to the zone has been communication.
“Kevin [Garnett] is our defensive leader and he just tells everybody where to go,” Bradley said. “Paul helps me out, personally. He talks the whole time.”
Courtney Lee said the zone “throws teams off, and there’s certain plays for zone and there’s certain plays for man-to-man.”
Specifically, Rivers has said that the team will play man-to-man on any pick and roll and that any time the ball is swung around the perimeter, they play zone.
Rivers said they’ve been running the scheme more out of necessity — that is, they had a player or two in foul trouble and/or just wanted to give their opponent a different look.
“We came into the year running zone,” he said. “We worked on it every day. Every single day since the season started, we do a segment of zone.
“Early on we weren’t running much of it at all; you have to get a comfort level with it as a coach before you start doing it. But I do think, over my career, a lot of things come out of necessity. You see things, injuries, it could be any reason. And you’ve got to have the courage to make a change.”
Will the “manwich” continue to be a weapon for the Celtics?
“I can’t really say that,” Bradley said, “because at the end of the day, especially with how Doc coaches, I feel like we’ll end up being man-to-man, especially with the players that we have.
“We’ll be fine playing man. Every now and then it’s good to switch it up.”
The Celtics are 1½ games behind Brooklyn for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, which comes with home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
And even though teams often say they don’t pay attention to the standings, a couple of Celtics admitted to stealing a peek now and then.
“It’s surprising,” Lee said. “But by the way we’ve been playing and some of the games that we’ve been winning, we’re positioning ourselves to be able to make that jump.”
On Jan. 25, the Celtics were three games under .500, but now they’re in contention for a top-four seed.
“That’s great,” Rivers said. “That’s what I said I liked about the way we did the All-Star break — we’ve been doing that lately anyways — I just like it when you come out of the break, it’s a sprint. And everybody kind of is in it, and it’s good.”
D.J. White’s 10-day contract expires at midnight Saturday and Shavlik Randolph’s 10-day contract expires midnight Sunday.
“I think they belong,” Rivers added. “They work hard at it, they are great in the locker room, but other than that, honestly, I haven’t really given it a lot of thought.”
White has played just four scoreless minutes against Golden State and Randolph has yet to play.
A son is sidelined
While the Celtics have had their share of injuries, Rivers dealt with more bad news this week when it was announced that his son Austin, a rookie guard for the New Orleans Hornets, would likely miss 4-6 weeks with a broken right (shooting) hand.
Austin was injured Wednesday against the Lakers, and the injury could end his season. He was averaging 6.2 points and 2.1 assists in 23.2 minutes.
“It’s a bummer,” the coach said. “I thought he was playing great over the last six weeks. He was playing terrific. They were keeping him on the floor. The good part about it is now he knows he can play. He knows he can play well.”
Rivers added, “He [was shooting] 5 for 5 before he got injured. Then he took one shot with a broken hand, which tells you his mentality right there.”