Late in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s 92-91 loss to the Hawks at TD Garden, starting Celtics forwards Jeff Green and Brandon Bass engaged in a verbal altercation on the bench, where both remained while coach Brad Stevens elected to play his second unit.
Stevens downplayed the altercation and said it had no influence whatsoever on his decision not to play them in the final quarter. Stevens said he simply felt more comfortable playing members of the second unit because they had been playing well while members of the starting unit were struggling.
“Disagreements are part of the game, it’s part of team basketball, but how quickly you move on from there says a lot,” Stevens added.
All told, the starters had a horrible game, scoring a combined 35 points on 47 shots, while the bench came up big, scoring 56 points on 37 shots.
Reserve forwards Kelly Olynyk and Kris Humphries led the Celtics, with Olynyk scoring a career-high 21 points and Humphries tying his season high with 18. Humphries also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Bass (9 points on 2-for-6 shooting in 24 minutes) and Green (8 points on 4-for-10 shooting in 21 minutes) were quick to exit the locker room. Both played just 6:22 after halftime, all in the third quarter.
Courtney Lee, who scored 11 off the bench and played the entire fourth quarter, said he doesn’t have a problem with Stevens playing those who are playing well.
“That’s part of being a professional,” Lee said. “You keep going to the hot hand, and then, like I said, when somebody has it rolling, you’ve got to keep going to them, and I think Coach realizes that.”
Stevens said it was tempting to put Green in at the end of the game, especially because Green has excelled in scoring on end-of-game plays, but he ultimately decided to keep Green out because he hadn’t played in a while.
“Yes, it’s tempting, but being able to get the ball to guys that have been playing for at least five minutes each, I think nine times out of 10 you’d lean towards that,” Stevens said. “Very rarely would you put a cold person in there in that situation, unless it’s to throw it in.”
Olynyk on targetPrior to Tuesday, Olynyk had averaged just 3.7 points in six games since returning from an ankle sprain. But the 2013 first-round draft pick out of Gonzaga broke out against the Hawks, hitting 8 of 11 shots, including 3 of 5 from 3-point range.
“He came alive,” Lee said. “He was the Gonzaga killer. I think it was because somebody in the stands had a Gonzaga pullover and was calling for him. So it got him back going. I’m happy for the young fella.”
Olynyk reflected on the process of getting back in a rhythm after sitting out 10 games.
“First of all, you don’t feel the same,” he said. “You’re not moving the same. You don’t have the same push or the same power. So your shot is a little bit off, some here, some there — your jumping and stuff, defensively.
“So you’ve kind of got to get back into the swing of things and then get back in that physical presence, too, because with that ankle, you’re not moving for two weeks. It’s kind of tough.”
It’s also tough, he said, because he’s trying to get back to his old self in a new league.
“The level is the top of the mountain, so if you get knocked halfway down, you’ve still got to get back to the top to get back to the level,” he said. “You have to come all the way back up.”
Jared Sullinger aggravated a left hand injury during a first-half fall. He said earlier in the week he had a deep bone bruise and strained ligaments in that hand, which he injured Nov. 25 at Charlotte. Sullinger left the game in the first half but returned to play in the second. Sullinger, who grabbed 10 rebounds, said he planned to play in Thursday’s game at Chicago. When asked how the injury would limit him, Sullinger said, “I don’t know. I could care less.”
Stevens said before the game that while Rajon Rondo would likely join the Celtics’ NBA Development league team, the Maine Red Claws, it would almost certainly be for conditioning purposes. “It’s not really a rehab assignment as much as to get your wind,” Stevens said. “No idea if he plays in a game or not. It may just be practice. That’s all to be determined. And still very much just a talking point more so than a certainty.”