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Celtics’ reserves start to lend hand

Subpar play against Knicks didn’t sit well

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 28, 2011

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WALTHAM — They finally emerged in Game 4 against the Knicks, the Celtics bench players allowing the starters not to worry quite so much when they took a seat. And now, they have confidence. Perhaps too much.

As he pondered the team’s next series yesterday, Glen Davis sounded like a man who believed in himself and his fellow reserves, comparing the Celtics bench to that of Miami, their opponent in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“I feel like our bench is way stronger than theirs,’’ Davis said. “We’re way deeper than them. We’ve just got to make sure that we use our depth.’’

Primarily, that comes in the form of Davis, Jeff Green, Delonte West, and Nenad Krstic. The Heat, meanwhile, have been using a bench rotation of Joel Anthony, Mario Chalmers, and James Jones, with the potential for a boost if forward Udonis Haslem can return from November foot surgery in time.

If the Boston bench can continue the improvement it showed in Game 4, especially in the first half, Davis’s statement might prove to be more than bulletin-board material. If it can’t, the Celtics could have trouble slowing the Heat. Not that Davis sounded all that worried.

“You have confidence if you feel like you’re better than a team,’’ he said. “That’s just the way we feel.’’

There has been concern, however, about the problems the second unit faced against the Knicks. It was unable to provide much support behind starters Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo, with Davis the worst offender.

That changed as the Celtics built a 20-point lead over the Knicks in Sunday’s Game 4, with Davis leading the second unit after the starters struggled from the field. The reserves need to do that more consistently if the Celtics are to have a deep playoff run.

“You knew what the starters could do,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “You weren’t sure what the fifth guy with the starters could do and you had no idea going into a playoff series what the bench not only was going to give you, but what worked for them.

“That was a difficult position. And as the playoffs went on, we figured out more and more what they’re comfortable with, what they can’t run more than what they can run.’’

They learned. They adapted. They looked a heck of a lot better in Game 4.

“I think over everything now at least we know certain things we absolutely need to stay away from with that group,’’ Rivers continued. “They just don’t have the ability to do some of the things the starters do with some of our motion stuff.

“One thing they do well is post. That second group is a great post group, Jeff Green, Delonte, and Baby. So we have to try to run a package more suited for them.’’

That’s not normally what the Celtics do. But it will be interesting to see how much they alter what they do to try to get more success from the bench.

For now, Davis said, the reserves are “just staying focused on what we need to stay focused on.’’ That means being there when needed. That means Davis showing up and looking more like the contender for the Sixth Man Award he was all season than like the lost soul who showed up at the beginning of the New York series.

“Can’t worry about the past,’’ Davis said. “We’ve just got to play each game, one game at a time, and that’s the mentality we’re trying to take.

“We’ve been out of synch, but at the same time we’ve been playing hard and that’s what it’s all about, playing hard.

“It’ll fall for us. We’ll get it going and be there in the playoffs where we can make that push to help.’’

The Celtics have relied on Davis and the bench throughout the season, and they’ll need to continue to do so, especially if Davis is correct and the Celtics bench is stronger and deeper than Miami’s. The signs were there Sunday, heartening the team and the fans in search of another title.

“We just took it upon ourselves that we all had to play better,’’ Davis said. “Each and every day we’ve got to play better, get better for our team.’’

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmalieBenjamin.

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