The Boston Celtics are surging as they’ve played some of their best basketball in five years during these past couple of weeks. After a disappointing start to the season, while at one point standing at 15-17 following a brutal five-game losing streak, everything suddenly seems to have clicked at just the right time for the Celtics. There are still many non-believers out there who think the Celtics cannot compete in a four game playoff series with the Miami Heat or the Chicago Bulls. For the most part though, it looks as if the Celtics have given their doubters a solid dose of evidence that they are here for real and will be a legitimate Eastern Conference threat come playoff-time.
While the Celtics struggled early on, it was obvious that certain players showed up out of their normal playing shapes. As this became realized rather quickly this season, the question concerning this matter was if this team truly was too old to contend or if they had to play themselves back into playing shape during the season. The latter seems to be true, but there are several notable factors in the equation that have finally allowed me to feel the way I do about this team. Most importantly, Doc’s newly used 8-man rotation.
Basketball is unlike any of the other of the major team sports as there are just twelve players on a team and only five get to share the court at a time. Because of this and the way the game is played, personal on-court relationships between teammates and their styles of play relative to one another have a huge effect on a teams’ success. For instance, does a leftfielder in baseball ever have to think much about his teammates on the field other than maybe quick glances over to centerfield, shortstop, and third base and checking their positioning? While in basketball, every player on the court must not only know each of his teammates’ locations, but their intentions as well. Because of this, team chemistry is extremely important and for the most part, the chances that the better TEAM wins are substantially higher than in any other sport.
Although it has taken some time, these Celtics seem to have adapted to one another and buy into one final cause: winning. Presently, Doc Rivers has been running a consistent 8-man rotation with a ninth added here and there. This differentiates from past years where there was usually a set first and second unit while maybe a starter would play with the bench at times and 9 to 11 would play overall. Within the 8-man rotation, each player receives a reasonable amount of playing time, at the very least about 15 minutes per game.
Because every player on the floor is getting their due time, one through eight seem to be comfortable with their respective roles while nobody is trying to “get his” or “prove coach wrong.” Additionally, the new and Ray Allen improved second unit is not only getting used to playing together, these players are getting plenty of time next to starters as well in this rotation. If you haven’t taken note, for the most part, Doc has been subbing KG out for Greg Steimsma usually 5 to 6 minutes into the first quarter, spelling Bradley with Ray a couple minutes afterward, and then shuffling Sasha Pavlovic in for Pierce by the end of the first. Bradley subs back in to give Rondo a nice breather at the point to begin the second quarter. Based on results and matchups, Doc slides his starters back into the game when fit. Essentially, it really does not matter who is on the floor with whom because each player seems to have found a comfort zone playing with one another.
Avery Bradley’s emergence has given the Celtics a legitimate sixth man. No, he’s not the sixth man, that is Ray (boy times change quickly), but in essence he has given the Celtics just that in another 30 minute per game player starting at SG, and sliding over to the point with ease giving Rondo more needed rest. In this 8-man rotation, six are playing 30+ minutes per game (Pierce, Bass, KG, Rondo, Ray, Bradley), and depending on their performances and matchups, Steimsma and Sasha are getting a very comfortable amount of minutes ranging from the mid-teens to the mid-twenties per night. I don’t know what the general consensus here is in Celtic Nation, but are Steimsma and Sasha not surprising you quite a bit lately with their play?
Call me crazy, but for this team and based on recent performances, I’d take Pavlovic over Pietrus and Steimsma over JO any day of the week. Pavlovic knows his role, makes good decisions with the ball, plays respectable defense, and hits the open three while he isn’t so three-happy a la Pietrus far too often. I’ve heard this somewhere before, but Steimsma’s shot blocking gives the Celtics something that hasn’t really been seen during this era. His mid-range touch and free throw shooting help mask some of his inefficiencies strength-wise while his hustle and decision making make him such a likeable player. When Pietrus comes back, he will surely fight for serious minutes while Ryan Hollins and Keyon Dooling should be able to respectively spell the bigs and guards if needed. From what Steimsma and Pavlovic have displayed stepping it up as 7 and 8, I really love this rotation, and would want nothing more than seeing this exact substitution pattern used in the playoffs.
The Boston Celtics, shockingly, appear to be legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference for the fifth straight year. Even a month ago, 99% of basketball fans could not consider the Celtics a threat, but now it seems like the pieces have fallen into place. To me, precisely, that is what has happened: 8 players falling into the right spots with the right coach making the right moves at the right times. Will Doc continue to use this type of rotation with these players going into the playoffs? I surely hope so because with these 8, I truly believe that these Celtics have what it takes to come out of the Eastern Conference and play for Banner 18 come June.