THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Bench press: Celts' back-up boys make the difference

Thanks to the bench, they just might.Flickr/Chris Devers

As my tomatoes grow on the vines and the yard needs mowing what seems like every other day, I face no shortage of work to occupy my time as summer hits its stride. 

Likewise, there's no shortage of sports to hold my attention. UVA is trying to make it out of the Super Regional, the World Cup (as un-American as it may seem) is not going as badly as anyone thought, local high school teams are competing for state championships, and baseball races are starting to take shape (and the Cubs stink, as usual). 

But it's the most unpredictable of sports that has captured my attention: the NBA finals.

Any reader of this column is well aware, there's no love lost between me and professional basketball. I've weighed in on the attitudes, the flagrant flouting of the rules (just the traveling makes me shudder), the preferential treatment of star players. Much of the game is a farce– and even the most die-hard fans know it. But I've noticed something during this year's finals that has piqued my interest.

It isn't the Is-Kobe-as-good-as-Jordan? talk. (Who cares? We know no player, no matter how good, could ever compete with Jordan's ego.) 

It isn't the re-emergence of Ron Artest as a solid, non-polarizing player– Artest is to Bryant what Rodman was to Jordan. 

It isn't the establishment of the "Paul Pierce Celtics" as a dynasty worthy of a place in the history of that storied franchise. 

It's an aspect of the games that has gone overlooked until just recently: the bench.

Bench players are unheralded and unassuming. They rarely show any flair or penchant for the spotlight (the ones who do somehow make it into a starting lineup somewhere). Their skills fall between good and very good, and they know their role on the team. But they, and only they, are the ones who make the difference.  

Kobe and Pau Gasol can combine for 60 points, but Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett can easily duplicate that. Throw in 8 to 15 from the other starters from each team, and you have a tie game. 

But where Doc Rivers can look down his bench and call on Nate Robinson or Glen (Big Baby) Davis, Phil Jackson looks at the likes of Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic. Vujacic may be serviceable, but he can't put up 20 the way Robinson can. Walton can stand in the paint, but he's no Big Baby.

In Game 4, the Lakers' bench scored 18 points. 

The Celtics? Thirty-six– with 30 of them from Robinson and Davis. In Game 3, a Lakers win, the Celtics bench still outscored their rivals on the other side by 4 points. In Game 2, the Celtics bench scored 24 to the Lakers' 15.

Not since Game 1 of this series has the Celtics' bench posted fewer than 20 points. In the four games Boston's bench has come through, the team is 3-1. You can bet that if the Celtics win one of the next two games, the bench will be what gives them the edge.

After a Game 5 win, the Celtics look like they have the upper hand in the series. If they win, it will be their 18th title, an NBA record. And while they may be Paul Pierce's Celtics, they won on the backs of the bench.  

I'm not trying to ignore UVA baseball, and I certainly haven't let Pete Carroll and Reggie Bush off the hook (they should be fired, fined, and banned from all football for at least five years. Right– Carroll didn't give Bush money, or know anything about anyone who did– can't we shame them at least?).

And while I'm not a soccer fan by any stretch (see earlier column), Saturday's game was on in my house, and I even allowed myself to get a little bit excited when we didn't lose to England.

But if even the smallest detail of an NBA game interests me, I figure I'd better acknowledge it.


Juanita Giles lives in Keysville where she makes videos and updates her Sports Doctor site.


1 comment

Juanita's basketball acumen rivals her soccer expertise.

Why is this column published? Keep your day job.