Last night, we saw just how important Evan Turner is to this basketball team. Despite having only 4 points, his 9 assists and ability to push the tempo, helped Boston blowout the Milwaukee Bucks. Players such as Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Jonas Jerebko, and Marcus Smart benefited from Turner’s presence on the floor, as the second unit changed the complexion of the ball game, as they dictated the style and pace both teams were going to run. With the Celtics finally healthy, Turner’s return as being the sixth man now gives Brad Stevens more depth, while also having a reliable bench who can extend leads while the starters aren’t playing.
During Jae Crowder’s absence, Evan Turner had to start, which had a negative impact on Marcus Smart and the bench as a whole. While Turner was making his presence felt as a starter, Boston’s depth was very thin, forcing players to play out of position in most cases. Last night, for the first time in months, Jerebko and Zeller looked comfortable and confident in their roles off the bench, and their energy and production proved that. Zeller’s 26 points snapped Isaiah Thomas’ 17 game streak of leading the Celtics in scoring. Those 26 points wouldn’t have been possible without Turner’s connection with Zeller, as Tyler is the beneficiary of Turner’s court vision.
Marcus Smart was also more effective last night, and Turner’s return to the bench could be why. Also finishing with 4 points and 9 assists, Smart didn’t force the issue, and instead looked for open teammates in transition. Marcus plays better with Evan on the floor, as he plays with more control, not forcing shots, or trying to make a difficult play. It’s almost fair to say that without Turner, Smart plays as if he has to score, and as a result, he takes bad shots and focuses less on his defensive prowess, and more on being the hero of the second unit.
Turner’s versatility spreads the floor, which creates lanes to the basket for Zeller, gives Kelly Olynyk wide open shots on the perimeter, and gives Smart room to operate in the half-court. The bench as a unit plays freely when healthy, and provides the energy and points needed to create distance on the scoreboard between them and their opponents. Evan’s impact goes beyond the stat sheet, and last night was a prime example of that.
For the Celtics, they’ll need the bench to produce to have a chance of closing the season out with victories against Atlanta, Charlotte, and Miami. With Turner as the sixth man, Celtics fans should have more confidence heading into all three games and in the first round of the playoffs. Boston is finally starting to get a rhythm after struggling in March, and what better way to get on a roll before the postseason than to beat the Hawks, Hornets, and Heat who could all be first round opponents next week.