In recent weeks much has been made about Jeff Green’s development and newfound level of success. Given the Celtics’ age and injury status, strong play from Green was clearly needed to keep the Celtics out of the dreaded eighth playoff seed and to give them a shot at knocking off either the Knicks, the Pacers, or both in the early rounds of the playoffs. However, in order to pull off one or two upsets in late April and May, the Celtics will need more than just the new Jeff Green, a healthy KG, and a healthy and active Paul Pierce.
Injuries have clearly depleted the Celtics bench this year. Rajon Rondo’s injury thrust Courtney Lee into a starting role while the loss of Jared Sullinger dealt a major blow to the C’s who were already short on skilled, effective bigs. But there is good news for Boston fans; the team has made a few important in-season additions that they believe can help them come playoff time. Despite falling short Friday night in a 97-91 loss to the Cavaliers, three key players off Boston’s bench showed that they have the potential to be important pieces down the stretch and in the playoffs.
Since coming over in a trade from Washington, Crawford has provided some excitement off the Celtics bench. Always known as a capable, if very inefficient scorer, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Crawford’s game in his time as a Celtic has been his highlight-reel passing ability (Danny Ainge has even said that Crawford may be the best passer on the team). In Friday night’s game against the Cavs, Crawford immediately injected the C’s with a burst of energy by coming in and dishing out three assists in five possessions near the end of the first quarter. Although Crawford struggled from the field, going 3-14, his passing and playmaking had a tremendous impact. While Crawford certainly has his deficiencies – namely his defense and shot selection – he will be extremely valuable in the playoffs if he is able to provide some sort of scoring and playmaking punch off the bench.
If the Celtics hope to beat small ball teams like the Knicks and Heat, having versatility in their lineups – especially on the defense end – is going to be critical. Williams is built like a wing (standing 6-foot-6, 220 pounds) but has the ability to play the point. In order to get minutes on a roster filled with capable wings but lacking strong ball-handlers, Williams was asked to play as a pure point guard upon joining the Celtics. Like Crawford, Williams has good court vision and can make plays for others, something few healthy Celtics are capable of. In addition, as he displayed Friday night during his time defending Kyrie Irving, Williams is able to defend point guards as well as wings, a skill that will be needed against teams like Miami or New York who will certainly use lineups featuring multiple guards and versatile wings like LeBron James, Shane Battier, and Carmelo Anthony.
While Crawford and Williams will be able to help with Celtics backcourt depth, their frontcourt remains relatively thin. If they end up drawing a team like Indiana, the C’s will need to get solid frontcourt minutes from someone other than KG and Brandon Bass. While Chris Wilcox has been solid thus far this year, if Friday night was any indication, Shavlik Randolph may very well end up as the third big in Doc Rivers’ playoff rotation.
Although Randolph is not a very skilled offensive player and is extremely foul prone (against the Cavs he fouled out in only 13 minutes), his work on the boards is just what the Celtics are looking for from their third big. For several years the only chink in the Celtics’ defensive armor has been their inability to rebound effectively. In addition, their lack of offensive rebounding has been one of the many contributing factors in their sub-par offense. While it cannot be expected that Randolph will get 16 and 7 every night, his work against the Cavs certainly proved that he can provide them with a rebounding spark and some easy baskets in limited minutes.