The energy never shifts with the Celtics’ bench mob

The moment Max Strus began to stumble, Malik Fitts springed into action.

A small crossover move by Marcus Smart sent Strus staggering to the ground during the Eastern Conference Finals, and before Smart could top off the highlight sequence with a pull-up jumper over Strus’s vulnerable frame, Fitts’ mind was racing through his encyclopedia of sideline celebrations .

There are few players in the league having as much fun as Fitts, a 24-year-old undrafted forward who’d spent the last two years bouncing around the NBA on 10-day contracts in hopes of making a to find home. Boston came forward with several open positions in late February after maneuvering the trading deadline.

Fitts didn’t score a single point in two trash-time appearances while on two 10-day contracts, but he excelled with his bench energy. And the Boston Brass soon realized there was value in having a collection of players at the back of the roster whose biggest role was to support the core of the team as Boston rose in the second half of the season.

Fitts felt the magnitude of the moment as Strus pulled himself off the floor and leaped into action.

“If you’ve ever played Mortal Kombat, there’s Scorpion and he’s got this move that he’s bringing her back with,” Fitts said, declaring the famous “Come over here!” Rope dart movement that roared in arcades in the early ’90s. Fitts crouched and lassoed repeatedly, to the delight of Boston’s bench. “I used this when a guy gets run over or trips.”

You could easily put together an entire highlight reel of Fitts’ reaction this season. When a player heats up, they start dancing in front of the bench. Or he’ll dive into his seemingly endless collection of air guitars and strum a tune.

“Malik is creative. You have to give him that and he’s also very physical,” said tall backup man Luke Kornet. “He’s a very physical performer. Like comedians, he has different types of things. He explores the room.”

The Celtics have six players – Fitts, Kornet, Juwan Morgan, Matt Ryan, Nik Stauskas, Brodric Thomas and Sam Hauser – who either emerged from two-sided deals or popped up on this wild 2021-22 journey to fill open roster spots.

The sextet does not take this opportunity for granted. Ryan rode for Door Dash a year ago and was working at a cemetery to earn some extra money while he pondered the next step on his NBA journey. Now this ragtag group is traversing the country in private planes with a chance to secure a championship ring.

“To be in the final is just a dream,” said Ryan. “From where I was a year ago to where I am now – I mean, no one would believe it. And I can’t even believe it. I just enjoy every second of it. I’m sure people can see that from the way we celebrate on the bench. But this is incredible.”

Ryan had caught the attention of the Celtics in the G-League with his 3-point shooting skills, and Brad Stevens called after Ryan received an invitation to join the 2022 FIBA ​​World Cup qualifying team in February. Ryan signed one of the open two-way spots in Boston in late February after Hauser was added to the parent list.

Malik was the liveliest. But I think we all bring great energy. We’re all just trying to play a part in it.

Matt Ryan on the Celtics bench celebration

Ryan’s signature moment may have been after Jayson played Tatum’s summer beat layup to win Game 1 against the Brooklyn Nets. Despite not dressing for the game, Ryan, who was celebrating his 25th birthday, was one of the first to jump off the Boston bench. He, Fitts and Aaron Nesmith were the first to reach Tatum for a celebratory flying body bump.

The key for these benchers is to stay engaged. They have a particular fondness for Derrick White highlights — “his recent fatherhood is great,” Kornet said — and love when certain elements of the game plan manifest during play. But their greatest joy could come when 36-year-old Al Horford has a big moment.

The bench lost their collective sanity after a loud tip-dunk by Horford against the Bucks in East Semis. Ryan started making a plane at the baseline while Fitts playfully pretended to faint and it took Nesmith and Morgan to stop him from standing upright.

“Malik was the liveliest,” Ryan admitted. “But I think we all bring great energy. We’re all just trying to play a part in it.”

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What you don’t see is the sextet playing 3v3 matches with assistant coaches on the pitch before each game, trying to develop their skills. The one-sided nature of these playoff games has given the group an opportunity to see the action of the game, even in the finals. And it’s enlightening to see how the veterans get excited for the younger players in those moments and return the favor by celebrating their accomplishments.

The Celtics veterans actually got a technical bench earlier in the season when Payton Pritchard picked up a 3-point suspension in Portland late in the game. The mood has only gotten better from there as the current group at the bottom of the list remains positive throughout this roller coaster ride.

And they will keep dancing – even if not everyone likes to watch them.

“[Daniel] Theis is the one telling me to sit down. It’s a big thing in our relationship that he’s trying to stifle my joy,” Kornet joked. “I feel bad for it [fans] behind the bench…but then there are certain moments in the game where it’s like your team’s support is taking over.”

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