It was game over in Memphis. With 7:46 left, Boston was down 95-77 to the Grizzlies. Celtics head coach Doc Rivers depleted his bench by substituting Shavlik Randolph for Paul Pierce. Already on the floor were D.J. White, Terrence Williams, Jordan Crawford and Jeff Green.
Almost 7:30 later, Boston was down by just four points.
Great work, guys! Now take a seat and step aside.
Why Rivers pulled the players that slashed the deficit is unknown. The Celtics lost the game, but Boston learned a little more about what the bench is capable of.
Williams, White and Randolph haven’t seen much playing time since arriving in Boston. Crawford, on the other hand, has taken over the injured Leandro Barbosa’s minutes. All four are making a case for next season’s roster and the clock is ticking.
Trade deadline augmentations are nothing new to Danny Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations. Almost every year since trading for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Ainge has added a player or two to the roster, whether through trades or signing free agents, hoping to give the team an additional boost for the playoffs.
Last year was different as Ainge opted for Sean Williams and Ryan Hollins, players with six years of experience each at the time. Before it was always grizzled veterans expected to quickly assimilate with the team and contribute.
Ainge was scouting for the next generation of Celtics then. There’s more urgency in Ainge’s search this year. Chris Wilcox is finishing up a one-year contract. Pierce is 35, and for a while played with a pinched nerve. Garnett announced before February’s NBA All-Star game it would be the last one he plays in, leading many to wonder how soon the Big Ticket will retire.
Now Garnett is expected to miss two weeks with ankle inflammation. If Garnett limps through the rest of the season, will he hang it up as soon as this year?
KG going on the shelf is an opportunity for White and Randolph to make an impression. With only Wilcox as the only other big man on the roster, the two imports should get spot minutes in Garnett’s absence to show what they can do.
So far White has a knack for blocking shots (1.2 blocks per game with four on Saturday) while Randolph is displaying a nose for boards (4.3 rebounds per game in 11 minutes).
Boston has different intentions for Williams. Impressed with his ball handling and passing, the Celtics hope to turn Williams into a point guard. Molding Williams to run the offense will take time.
Crawford has a very simple assignment: score. He can do that, just not efficiently (.398 shooting percentage, and averaging 1.5 assists and 1.3 turnovers per game with Boston). If the Celtics can get Crawford to play under control, he would provide scoring punch off the bench.
Expectations for these four shouldn’t be high. Crawford was benched in Washington for a reason. Williams, White and Randolph haven’t been the dominant players they were in the Chinese Basketball Association.
But if they show enough in practice and in limited playing time, they can become valuable contributors next year. Maybe they make enough of an impression for relevant playing time for the rest of this season and in the playoffs.
In the near seven minutes Pierce was on the bench, Crawford, Williams, White and Randolph combined for 23 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and one turnover. For the four newest Celtics, their future is now.
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