Celtics’ subs torpedo Nets
NEWARK — The Celtics were unexpectedly thin with Rajon Rondo sitting out with a bad hamstring, their lead over the Nets was a slim 2 points going into the second quarter yesterday, and Doc Rivers already had made the decision that he wasn’t going to burn out his starters for a Sunday afternoon game against one of the league’s worst teams.
“I told our coaches, ‘Put your seatbelt on, because we’re resting guys,’ ’’ Rivers said. “Really, no matter what the score was, we had to give our guys a blow.’’
He left the game — and the Celtics’ six-game winning streak — in the hands of his bench. Not the normal cast of reserves, though. He grouped regulars Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis, and Shaquille O’Neal with little-used Avery Bradley and Von Wafer, and let the chips fall where they may.
“We didn’t have a lot of scoring on the floor,’’ Rivers said. “And I was just going to look at the scoreboard as far as substitutions.’’
The offense was irrelevant, because the defense was impossible to crack. Bradley set the tone, hounding Devin Harris into two offensive fouls.
“That was the main thing for the second unit,’’ Bradley said. “Just to come in and pick up the defensive intensity.’’
And even though they didn’t muster many points (just 6 in 4 minutes 27 seconds), they pulled the plug on New Jersey’s offense. And when the Celtics’ starters returned, they had a field day, pounding the Nets, 100-75, for the Celtics’ seventh straight win.
The Celtics came in at the break up, 57-37, and all Rivers could do was rave about their defense.
“The second unit, in the second quarter, changed the whole game,’’ he said. “They went five possessions and they couldn’t score, but the other team couldn’t score, and it was really good for them to see that. You don’t have to score. If you keep getting stops, eventually the dam will break and you’ll start scoring, and it happened for them. That’s a good thing for all those young guys.’’
Rondo’s late scratch (his fourth absence of the season) put a greater burden on the second unit, which has been in a state of flux without Delonte West (broken wrist) and Jermaine O’Neal (sore knee).
“It doesn’t matter who’s on the court, we’re all held accountable to do our job,’’ said Daniels, who scored 8 of his 10 points in the second quarter.
Davis also scored 8 points (of his 16) in the second, fueling a 17-4 run that put the Nets in an inescapable hole.
Davis and Daniels played 30 minutes apiece, letting the starters take a load off, but at the same time letting the second unit find a rhythm.
“The second team got a lot of reps being out there, being able to make mistakes and to learn,’’ Davis said. “We don’t practice a lot, so we try to take every opportunity — every game opportunity — to build. That’s what the second team needs. We need repetition. We’re young players, we need to get out there and get reps.
“We didn’t make shots with that group. We played defense. That’s what it’s about, defense creates offense. Von and Avery came in and did what they were supposed to do. They came in for five minutes, we didn’t score, but the score was still the same because we were playing D.’’
Nate Robinson, who started in place of Rondo, scored a game-high 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting with six assists and six rebounds, also was impressed by the reserves’ effort.
“We’re up 30, guys are diving on the ground,’’ Robinson said. “That just shows how deep our team is.’’
No starter played more than Robinson’s 31 minutes. Kevin Garnett put up his 10th double-double of the season, 13 points and 14 rebounds, in 27 minutes. Paul Pierce had a low-key 8-point outing, going 2 for 7 from the floor in 24 minutes. Ray Allen scored 13 points in 26 minutes, and Shaquille O’Neal, hampered by a sore right knee, played 12 minutes before sitting out the second half.
For the bench players, getting rest for the starters is a sign that they’re doing their jobs.
“Those guys have been playing their butts off, they’ve been working their butts off,’’ Wafer said. “They need to rest sometimes. They’ve got to know that they can trust us, and I think we moved a step closer to that. But it’s a long battle. We’ve got to earn their trust, we’ve got to keep doing that not only against the Nets, but even better teams around the league.’’