BOSTON - In their opening game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Celtics starters Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward showed the rust that comes with sitting out several months due to injury, as the two combined to shoot just 6-for-26.
Yet the Celtics still ran away with a 105-87 victory on Tuesday, thanks in large part to their bench players, who outscored their Sixers counterparts 44-26 as both teams' starters cancelled each other out in the scoring column.
Brad Stevens always expects his players to step up when others are struggling, and while the Celtics' deep rosters makes it easier for them to do this, it also means asking players who would otherwise be starters elsewhere to play fewer minutes and take on reduced roles.
It worked against the Sixers, who hung around for three quarters before the Celtics finally pulled away late thanks to key contributions from the bench led by Marcus Morris.
"We never really got into a rhythm," Stevens said. "Our strength has to be in our depth. One guy doesn't have it going, the rest of the team has to pick him up. Everybody has to play with great effort because the guy behind him is chomping at the bit to get in. I thought that all of them did their jobs hard and had great focus to do it well and we'll clean up the offensive stuff. If we guard like that we have a chance to be decent."
Stevens was all praises for Morris, who put up 16 points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench.
"When you look at our roster, everybody brings great strengths to the table. Everybody has to do their roles exceptionally well. But we're asking more of Marcus Morris than we are of a lot of guys because he's a guy who could be playing 32, 34 minutes a night and starting and playing a lot for a lot of places," he said. "But for us, we need him to come in and do exactly what he did tonight. There will be games where he plays more. I couldn't appreciate a guy more than I appreciate him because right from the get-go he's played like he's unaffected by role. He's just going to play really well when he goes into the game."
Told of his coach's comments, Morris smiled before deflecting the praise.
"I just got a couple of tip-ins, a couple of open shots. The guys did a good job of finding me. I'm a veteran. I've been around the league. This is my eighth year. I see that we have a special team. Minutes are going to change. The only thing I can do is to go out there and be effective with the minutes I've been given. That's my whole motto during the season."
Aside from Morris, fellow reserves Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes all had major contributions as the three combined for 26 points.
"We've got guys who can start on a lot of teams in this league," Morris said. "At the same time, everybody's going to buy into their roles as the season goes forward."