The challenge is now that most of them have gorged on starting playoff minutes, how do players like Terry Rozier, Marcus Morris, Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes remain sated.
Morris, who helps set the edge for this group, recently christened the Celtics bench BWA, or Bench With Attitude.
Throw in Daniel Theis, maybe even Guerschon Yabusele and Semi Ojeleye, and this group could start in some NBA cities. Or so the theory goes.
Yeah, for sure. You tell me,” Morris said before Wednesday’s practice. “Second unit that we have played a lot of minutes last year and got really far in the playoffs.”
The nature of practice this week has certainly borne out this sense of pride.
The Celtics are dealing with a quirk in the league’s exhibition schedule. They played their only four exhibition games over the first 12 days of training camp, with a particularly soggy 1-3 result.
They were left with nine days of practice until their Oct. 16 season opener against Philadelphia in the Garden, and each other.
For an NBA Finals contender that has looked surprisingly stale, that competitive boost now has to come from within. It helps that the so-called white team of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford is getting pushed every day by a bench unit that is probably even better defensively.
“There’s not any difference, as far as when they get out here in scrimmages,” said Brad Stevens. “Those have all been pretty tight games, whenever we’ve done that. We’ll play more today than we have in any practice thus far, almost treat it like — we went hard yesterday — almost treat it like the second of a back-to-back and go hard again.”
Tuesday’s practice, the first since the team’s disappointing loss in Cleveland last Saturday, featured a particularly tight opening scrimmage between the white and green teams. The latter finally prevailed on a Yabusele game winner.
“They push us a lot,” Horford said of the reserves. “Like, (Tuesday) for example, we had the first game we played tied after I think it was like five minutes. And then coach added another five or 10 minutes on the clock, whatever it was. Guerschon hits a game winner, the bench beats us.
“It’s just very competitive. Every day we’re going at it. And those guys are competitors,” he said. “They’re pushing us every day. I feel like it’s making us better, and it’s not like the game but I feel like it was very productive yesterday. And we plan for it to be at that level all week. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
It used to be said of the Celtics’ 1986 championship team that the bench, with players like Bill Walton, Scott Wedman and Jerry Sichting, were good enough to be a playoff team unto themselves.
At the very least, the current Celtics bench should rank among the best in the league this season.
“Big for us, big situation,” said Morris. “I don’t think there’s another backup five that’s actually that good. By far as guys that have been around the league, guys that have won.”
Guys, too, on a mission to beat the Celtics starting five.
“I think it’s the point with everybody because it makes our team better,” said Morris. “It makes (the starters) better. It’s not easy in practice, which makes the games kind of easier. That’s what I’ve been taught.
“Anytime you have a second unit similar to us, not as good as the first unit, but similar — in Phoenix our backup five was pretty good,” he said. “Me, my brother (Markeiff) and Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas, that type of team. We didn’t make the playoffs, but we had the most wins ever to not make the playoffs. That was pretty good for us.”
And now, with the Celtics trying to blend Hayward and Irving back into the fabric of the white team, the starting five gets pushed by a starting-quality bench unit every day.
“Before the season started that’s the way that I looked at it,” said Horford. “And they’ve proven that to us all preseason. They’ve been giving us a lot of problems. So yeah, no question.”