The Boston Celtics headed into Saturday afternoon’s game against the Toronto Raptors without Jayson Tatum and then managed to lose both Marcus Smart and Robert Williams. Still, they managed to pull off an 11-point comeback and notch their ninth straight victory. It’s been like this all season long: the Celtics keep experiencing injury setbacks and yet their depth continues to ensure that it doesn’t matter.
Granted, it wasn’t smooth sailing yesterday—it took a last-second Al Horford steal to seal the deal—but Boston’s bench helped them secure a victory in a game they had no business winning. Tatum was having a maintenance day for his ailing left wrist, Williams was lifted after a collision with Jaylen Brown and Smart suffered a right ankle injury that forced him out of the game. Factoring in all that, the Celtics deserved to savor their 106-104 win over the Raptors.
Of the three injuries, Williams’s is the most concerning. Over the offseason, Williams had a second surgery on his left knee—the same knee he injured during the game—which caused him to miss the beginning of the season. He hasn’t been a regular fixture in the starting lineup since his return on December 17. Last year’s playoffs proved that the Celtics’ ideal lineup is one featuring Williams at center, but the team has been understandably reluctant to hand him the permanent starting position until they know he's fully recovered.
That hasn’t been the only issue. Jaylen Brown missed a few games recently with adductor tightness, while the Celtics have made the wise decision not to play the 36-year-old Horford on back-to-back nights during the regular season. Only Derrick White has played in every Celtics game this year and even he got banged up against the Raptors. Despite all this, the Celtics currently have a five-game lead in the Eastern Conference over the Philadelphia 76ers after Saturday’s victory.
A big reason has been the bench. Against the Raptors, Grant Williams had 25 points and Malcolm Brogdon scored 23. Payton Pritchard, who has seen his minutes decline, was an unlikely fourth-quarter savior with his 12-point performance off the bench, going 4-for-7 from beyond the three-point line.
Pritchard might have increased his trade value on Saturday, but he also may have shown why Boston might hesitate to make any moves by the deadline. While it would make sense for the Celtics to see what they could get for a player buried on one of the league’s deepest benches, nights like this reveal what value he has for a team with legitimate title hopes.
In basketball, not everybody is always fully available: key players get hurt, get into foul trouble or merely fall into extended slumps. The Celtics’ lack of depth hurt them in the NBA Finals last year and they made moves in the offseason precisely to address that. Judging from the evidence at hand, it’s hard to argue that the organization hasn’t done a good job of finding the right complementary pieces to surround Tatum and Brown. Would it really be worth risking altering that chemistry by making midseason moves?
Maybe the team should listen to Brogdon’s comments after his 30-point performance against the Charlotte Hornets. “We’ve got a lot of great players on this team,” he said back on January 14. “It’s a next-man-up mentality when someone goes down. I think that’s what we’ve been experiencing when JB’s been out, when I’ve been out, when whoever’s out, someone else steps up.” Is that a mentality the Celtics can afford to mess with?