Bench makes difference for Celtics

CLEVELAND -- Marquis Daniels is still learning the intricacies of the Celtics' system, but even from the start of the preseason he knew just how important the team's second unit would be.

It's part of the reason the Celtics were able to lure him to Boston in a reserve role. Daniels noted earlier this month that the second unit had to bring intensity each night, particularly when the Celtics needed their bench to steady an uneven ship left behind by the starters.

Daniels, however, probably wasn't expecting that type of rescue mission to come on opening night.

Fortunately for the Green, the reserves were ready Tuesday in Cleveland. The starters found themselves over-energized at the onset and were unable to harness it like the host Cavaliers, who scored 13 of the game's first 15 points and twice led by 14 points in the first quarter.

But it was the reserves -- Daniels, Rasheed Wallace, Shelden Williams and Eddie House -- who prevented the game from slipping away, trimming that 14-point deficit in half over the final five minutes of the first quarter, then helping the Green pull even when Wallace knocked down a 3-pointer with 7:48 to go in the half.

Feeding off the defensive intensity established by the second team, the starters took control late in the second quarter. Paul Pierce's 3-pointer with 4:54 to go in the half gave Boston its first lead (39-38) and the Green carried a 51-45 advantage into the intermission, then hung on from there in a 95-89 victory.

"We talked before the game about trying to handle their intensity early because we knew [the Cavaliers would] come out jacked up," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We didn't know it'd be 13-2, but we never really panicked. We only used one timeout in that stretch and we just kinda chipped away. During that timeout all we said is that we wanted the lead by halftime.

"I like what happened tonight. Everyone contributed. That's as much of a team win as you're going to see. The second unit saved the game for us ... then the first unit, down the stretch, won the game for us."

While the Celtics admitted there was room for improvement, Tuesday's win showed exactly why they might be the most dangerous team in the NBA.

Even when Boston dug itself a 14-point hole and seemed ready to get run out of the building on opening night, a bench that might better resemble a starting lineup in other cities rescued the Green.

Wallace and Daniels are still learning the playbook, which makes the potential all the more frightening.

"The way I feel, our bench is better than theirs," Wallace said of Cleveland's reserves, who mustered 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting over more than 58 combined minutes of floor time. By comparison, the Celtics' bench scored 26 points on 8-of-18 shooting over about 66½ minutes of action. Both teams utilized four-man benches.

"Even though [Cleveland] played a hell of a game, we just wanted it a little more tonight," added Wallace. "They got off to a good start, but we didn't panic. We knew we were capable of closing that lead and getting that lead, which we did."

Wallace, who described his first regular-season game with Boston as "cool," finished with 12 points, which included a trio of 3-pointers, and 3 rebounds.

What's more, he stretched the floor for Boston's offense, pulling Cleveland's big men away from the basket. And when Garnett wasn't on the floor barking commands on defense, it was Wallace assuming that role in his absence.

"It was good to see the guys out there," said Garnett, who noted he looks forward to actually sharing the court with Wallace. "I'm telling you, man, our second unit got us back in the game. The onus was on the starters, a lot of responsibility was on the starters [in previous years], but now we have that common ground with the second unit ... Everyone made their contributions tonight."

What made the effort all the more impressive was the fact that the Celtics' bench stepped up on the same day the team suspended Glen "Big Baby" Davis indefinitely for an off-the-court incident Sunday in which he fractured his right hand. He will miss at least six weeks after having surgery Tuesday.

Davis figured to be a key player off the bench, but it was newcomer Shelden Williams logging 12½ minutes in the frontcourt and chipping in with 4 points and 3 rebounds.

"The [bench is] going to be big for us all season," said Pierce. "We think we have one of the best benches, if not the best bench, in the NBA. They're getting their role done. We saw it in training camp, the preseason, and now."

Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.