With injured starters Ray Allen (ankle), Rajon Rondo (wrist), and Jermaine O’Neal (knee) in street clothes last night, it was imperative for the reserves on the Celtics’ bench to fill the void.
Led by Chris Wilcox’s 14 points and six rebounds, both season highs, the Celtics got a huge lift from their bench in a 94-87 victory at TD Garden, outscoring Indiana’s reserves, 24-17.
Noting how the Celtics were without three starters, Pacers coach Frank Vogel made an astute observation about the composition of the Celtics’ roster, saying afterward, “Their bench is kind of their starters right now.’’
After not appearing in six consecutive games with a sore left calf, Wilcox returned to action Thursday in the Celtics’ 91-83 come-from-behind win in Orlando, scoring 4 points and grabbing three rebounds in 18:50 of playing time.
Last night, Wilcox followed it up with a breakout performance, coming off the bench to score 10 points in the first half to help the Celtics take a 42-34 lead.
“I just wanted to come out and play hard,’’ said Wilcox, who recorded a season-high 21:51 of action. “Last couple of games, I wasn’t able to play and [Thursday] got me a little more comfortable, and tonight I just went out there and played hard.’’
It left Wilcox breathing hard after the first quarter.
“I was a little winded,’’ he said, “but it was a good one.’’
Said Celtics coach Doc Rivers: “The last two games, Chris has been - you know, if he could play with an oxygen tank, he’d be phenomenal. He was absolutely dying out there. But he’s still giving us the time and he’s doing everything for us, which is terrific.’’
When he was apprised about Rivers’s playful oxygen-tank remark, Wilcox replied, “Yeah, next time I’m going to go out there with one on my back.’’
Wilcox was simply breathtaking in the first quarter, scoring 6 points during a 15-6 run at the end of the period. It enabled the Celtics to take a 23-17 lead at the end of 12 minutes.
“I’m definitely starting to feel like I’m getting back,’’ Wilcox said. “I’m still kind of sore, but at the same time we’re all grinding, we’re all sore right now. We are all working together and good things are happening for us.’’
Of course, with three injured starters on the bench, there was no discounting the contributions of Boston’s bench.
After the team wearily returned home in the wee hours yesterday after its emotional win over the Magic, Wilcox and Co. helped give the Celtics the spark they needed to win these grueling back-to-back games.
“They are tough minded,’’ Vogel said of the Celtics’ bench. “Chris Wilcox came in and had a heck of a game.’’
Paul Pierce had one as well. He led the Celtics with 28 points, including 17 in the third quarter to expand Boston’s halftime lead to 71-61.
But the Celtics’ captain knew the team was going to need more energy from its bench.
“That’s what we’re here for,’’ Wilcox said. “The bench, we know what our game plan is, coming into a game, we’ve got to bring energy and go out and play hard and that’s what we’ve been doing the last two games.’’
But did last night feel like a personal breakthrough for him?
“It definitely built my confidence up a little more,’’ Wilcox said.
“Injuries held me back a little bit and know I’m starting to get back into a rhythm, and hopefully we can just move forward from here.’’
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.