BOSTON – In the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics’ bench had been outscored 41-21 by the Miami Heat bench.
Before Game 3 on Friday, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said that he didn’t necessarily need offense from his reserves.
“Our defense from our second unit has to be great,” Rivers said. “The offense is whatever happens. But our second unit is a defensive unit.”
Well, it wasn’t a defensive unit in those first two games. The Heat scored 105 points per 100 possessions against the Celtics’ starting lineup in Games 1 and 2, and 120 against all other Boston lineups.
Marquis Daniels, maybe the Celtics’ best perimeter defender on the bench (with Mickael Pietrus slowed by a knee injury) had played just two minutes in the first two games. And he played just eight minutes in the conference semifinals.
But on Friday, Daniels checked in with 1:36 to go in the first quarter and earned an extended stay on the floor, as the Heat went scoreless over a stretch of 12 possessions. The Celtics went on a 15-0 run to turn a six-point deficit into a nine-point lead.
Daniels contributed to the run with a bucket off a feed from Paul Pierce and a nice high-low assist to Kevin Garnett. And after James Jones ended the Miami drought, Daniels responded with an and-one off an offensive rebound.
Daniels finished with nine points, four boards, an assist and a steal. Most important, the Celtics outscored the Heat by 14 points in his 17 minutes on the floor.
With Brandon Bass in foul trouble, the Celtics played small most of the night, and it worked. They outscored the Heat by 18 points in the 31:14 in which Bass was on the bench.
“They came in with a defensive energy that changed the game,” Rivers said of his second unit. “And they scored off the defense. They got stops, they ran the floor. Marquis cut and got to the basket. Marquis made great passes, and then we posted him up a couple of times as well.”
Daniels said afterward that Rivers told him to “be ready” before Games 1 and 2, but didn’t say anything on Friday. Daniels was ready anyway.
“Just imagine not playing much throughout this whole playoffs [and then] having to play against some of the best offense we have in our league,” Keyon Dooling said of Daniels. “And to be able to excel. I tip my hat to him.”