BOSTON – There’s typically a disparity of skill between a basketball team’s first unit and second unit, but the Boston Celtics are an exceptional case to that trend.
Boston boasts incredible depth from the top of its rotation to the back of its bench, and there’s been profound evidence of that during its intersquad exhibition matches this preseason.
“There’s not been any difference as far as when they get out here in scrimmages,” C’s coach Brad Stevens told reporters ahead of Wednesday afternoon’s practice. “Those have all been pretty tight games whenever we’ve done that.”
Take Tuesday afternoon’s scrimmage, for instance, which featured a back-and-forth, Green vs. White battle that ultimately carried into overtime. The scrimmage featured such great parity that no one knew who would step up into the hero role as the final seconds ticked away.
Would it be Kyrie Irving to get the job done? Gordon Hayward? Al Horford? Marcus Morris? Terry Rozier?
Nope. None of the above.
It wound up being Guerschon Yabusele, a second year forward with less than 300 NBA minutes under his belt, who hit the game-winner to give the second unit the final edge over the first unit.
Reserves hardly ever come out on top during intersquad scrimmages, but it’s a 50-50 tossup every time Boston’s first and second units square off.
“We’re trying to beat them every day,” backup point guard Terry Rozier said of facing the starters. “We’re trying to compete and we’re trying to make them work. We know every team is going to come after our whole team and every team wants to beat us, so in practice, we want to win every game and we want it to be known that we’ve got the better five.”
The second unit’s success is driven by its collective tenacity. It contains a number of gritty, veteran leaders such as Rozier, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart, who all make sure their teammates play with constant hunger.
“I live for this,” Smart proclaimed. “I love the competitive nature that these guys and this team brings. We’ve got a lot of guys out here that are very talented, so when we get out here, you put them all on the court together, you’ve got a blood bath.”
Strong intersquad competition is a necessity throughout the season, but it’s particularly valuable to the C’s this week. Boston has already gotten its entire preseason slate out of the way, and with nine days in between games, they need a way to stay fresh and competitive.
Having gone 1-3 during the preseason, the C’s also need to improve over the next week, so they are relying on each other to help expedite that process.
“They’re pushing us every day and I feel like it’s making us better,” Horford said of facing the second unit. “It was very productive yesterday and we plan for it to be at that level all week.”
If the Celtics can maintain such a high level of competition amongst themselves throughout the next week, they should be more than ready for battle in their season opener Oct. 16 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Based upon their widespread talent and the relentless nature of their second unit, that shouldn’t be a problem at all.