Deep bench depth is usually not a big deal for teams in the NBA postseason. Head coaches tighten rotations up and elite players play heavier minutes, which decreases the impact a potential 11th-15th man might have on a team’s fate.
The Celtics are different from most NBA playoff teams this season, however. Boston will enter the postseason with only 11 healthy players on the 15-man roster with Kyrie Irving, Daniel Theis and Gordon Hayward out with season-ending injuries, while Marcus Smart is likely to be sidelined for Round 1. Every player on the roster is going to matter.
“The bench play is going to be huge for us,” Stevens said Sunday. “And I think that that’s something – whether it’s two deep, three deep, four deep, whatever it is – it’s going to be big for us.”
Once the postseason begins, the Celtics will no longer have access to the hardship exception (i.e. a 16th roster spot) they have been granted for the past couple weeks (they have signed Xavier Silas and Jonathan Gibson with it). Additionally, two-way players are not eligible for the postseason, which takes Jabari Bird and Kadeem Allen out of the mix, or so it would appear. The Celtics would need to cut a player on a 15-man roster to add Bird, Allen or Gibson to the 15-man playoff roster.
With those players seemingly out of the picture for the postseason, one might expect none of them to see any significant time with the Celtics regulars as the team tunes up for a playoff run. However, after a standout performance on Friday night, Jabari Bird saw regular minutes with the second unit on Sunday night ahead of Abdel Nader in the first half. Bird played well yet again (nine points in 22 minutes) and the decision by Stevens understandably caused some eyebrows to be raised.
Why would the Celtics be playing one wing (Bird) who isn’t playoff eligible over one who is (Nader) within the regular rotation? It’s fair to wonder if the Celtics are at least considering the possibility of adding a player like Bird to their postseason roster, which would require Nader be cut before the end of the regular season. What are the odds of something like that happening though?