How Boston Celtics’ bench wants to improve in offseason after falling short in NBA Finals

When the Celtics’ season finally came to a close in the NBA Finals, it was clear they couldn’t offer their fans one last miracle comeback. The starters were exhausted from long playoff runs and grueling games when fatigue set in in the fourth quarter.

But that was the reality of the situation when Boston coach Ime Udoka reduced the rotation — particularly in the sixth elimination game against the Warriors. The bench just didn’t perform well enough in the Finals, and that was one of the reasons the Celtics lost to a Golden State team that boasted deep rocks.

So, bench and depth will be an area where Area C President Brad Stevens will look to improve this offseason. The Celtics are by no means guaranteed another deep playoff run, but giving Udoka more options off the bench will allow more scope for injury and effectiveness.

Each production begins with the current cast of Celtics bench players – such as Derrick White, Grant Williams, Payton Pritchard and more. This is where the offseason comes in, where a natural improvement should come from continuity. White should benefit most from a training camp with the team. Williams, Pritchard and a guy like Aaron Nesmith will continue to round out their games and pinpoint their weaknesses.

“First off, I’m going to the gym, working on my shooting, getting stronger and all the little things that make the difference between winning and losing,” White said. “You just have to have your mind and body ready to walk out of training camp and understand that we have to take that final hurdle and it can’t be guaranteed, so we’ve got to have the right mindset this whole off-season.”

The Celtics bench had its highlights throughout the playoff run. Williams shot the Cs to a Game 7 win over the Bucks; White’s Game 1 against the Warriors was arguably his highlight as a Celtic. Pritchard’s value as a marksman came in spurts. But the C’s needed more consistency. Williams took a backseat in the East Finals and beyond, while White’s struggles were evident in the last few finals games.

“As a player, I have to continue to improve offensively in order to be able to put a little more pressure on the opposing side,” said Williams. “And also continue to improve the defensive end of the ball, as I have done over the last three years. It really is for me as a player because when you have an opportunity you have to take it and you want to be at that point where you can’t be taken off the field.”

The Celtics may also use some more homegrown talent to move up later in their careers. Pritchard made strides throughout the season and showed he’s not just a shooter at times. But he earned limited minutes where his shot didn’t go down. Nesmith enters a crucial offseason, having barely played as a sophomore. He said he will take a mental break from basketball to improve his game in the future.

Then there are the guys at the back of the bench who have barely had a run throughout the season. Sam Hauser is more of a developmental product having been promoted from two-way to a standard contract at the end of the season. But Juwan Morgan, Malik Fitts, Luke Kornet and more were mostly squad additions who should at least have a chance to stay with the team going forward.

“I’m still very confident in my shot,” Nesmith said. “I’m a phenomenal shooter and I know that, the team knows that, the coaching staff knows that, so I just haven’t been there this season. In practice it is there. It’s there in training. It’s easy once the game starts, it’s just mental to push and think and put a lot more pressure on every shot I take.

It should be an intriguing off-season for the Celtics. Stevens has a few trade exceptions to play with and there is the mid-level exception. Boston could also attract a few veteran free agents because the Celtics are now title contenders.

Stevens wasn’t a big homer hitter like his predecessor in Danny Ainge, opting instead to shore up the depth plays with singles. That may be what the Cs need now as they hope their starters — primarily Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — continue to take the next steps in their basketball careers.

With their run in the finals, the Celtics proved that they are competitors. Now it’s just a matter of getting back to that point, and they’ll need the full power of a deep roster to get back there.

“Just having this training camp, having this foundation that I’m going to be a part of from the start,” White said. “I’m not going to move and try to settle in and all while they sort of have everything set up. Just having that foundation and knowing where I’ll be at the start of the season will definitely help.”

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