Bench players must stand, be counted

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / April 21, 2011

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WALTHAM — If coach Doc Rivers is right about the Celtics’ bench, his team should be optimistic about its upcoming playoff games. The starters led the way in the first two games against the Knicks, but sometime soon it will be the reserves’ turn to make the difference.

“That’s why it’s such a team game,’’ said Rivers. “Sometimes your bench plays well and your starters don’t. It’s never going to be perfect, we know that.’’

The Celtics’ second unit mostly failed to hold up its end of the bargain in the 96-93 win Tuesday night, squandering leads instead of protecting or extending them.

“And when that happens, it puts more pressure on your starters and then they just have to come through for you,’’ Rivers said. “There will be a game in this series where a couple of our starters don’t play well and then somebody on the bench will step up. It’s just the nature of the beast.’’

The percentages, then, could be on the Celtics’ side, maybe by tomorrow for Game 3 in New York. In fact, the second-stringers might have been mostly off-target, but they were more accurate than their Knicks counterparts.

In Game 2, the Celtics bench produced 14 points on 5-for-15 shooting (33.3 percent) and 11 rebounds; the Knicks reserves had 23 points (8 for 28, 28.6 percent) and 21 rebounds. Boston’s starters were also outrebounded, 32-26, but their superior offensive execution and resourcefulness made the difference.

Rivers and his assistants spent about an hour yesterday reviewing video of the game with the players.

“You just keep showing them what they can do, showing them what we’re not doing,’’ Rivers said. “Then show a lot of positives to them, that they can do it and how we do it. And then just hope they do it. I’m going to play our bench. They will play well. It’s only two games. They’ll come through.’’

Glen Davis, the self-designated leader of the second unit, has played 52 minutes in the two games, fifth on the team and more than all but three Knicks. He was in on the action during crunch time Tuesday night, his putback down the stretch one of the Celtic’ few second-chance conversions.

“We’ve just got to do a better job helping the first team, do our part,’’ Davis said. “That’s been our Achilles’ heel all year, as far as getting rebounds and [the opposition] getting extra possessions, and we’ve just got to do a better job.’’

Davis averaged 11.7 points during the regular season and has totaled only 6 points in the series.

“We haven’t played our best,’’ Davis said. “When this team plays at our best, it’s hard to beat. When we put our game together, we’ll be all right.’’

Jeff Green averaged 9.8 points on 48.5 percent shooting in 26 games with the Celtics during the regular season, and has 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting in 28 minutes in the playoffs. Rivers said Green’s attitude has been misinterpreted.

“No. 1, he has a poker face, so that’s misread, you know, like he’s not interested,’’ Rivers said. “He is interested. No. 2, he’s playing extremely hard, he’s just not getting enough done right now. And the third thing, we’ve got to get him, he’s got to get himself, in the right places with our execution. That will allow him to be successful on both ends, and that’s why you watch tape and go over things.’’

Then there is Nenad Krstic, who scored 32 points in 73 minutes of regular-season playing time against the Knicks for the Celtics and Thunder. He is scoreless in eight minutes in the series.

“We’ll get something out of Nenad,’’ said Rivers. “Maybe he’ll play in the third, fourth quarter of a game.’’

Even if the reserves start finding their offensive touch, there remains work to be done on the defensive end.

“We gave [the Knicks] so many extra chances,’’ Rivers said. “A lot of it was our rotations that we have to get better at, be smarter at.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at

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