There's been a good amount of talk about who should be in the starting lineup. That's important for sure. You have to get off to a good start, establish tempo, momentum, and all that. You are matching up your best against the other team's best (in theory) while everyone is fresh and prepared.
With all that said, they don't give out wins after the first quarter. The majority of NBA games are still anyone's game headed into the final quarter and often enough in the final few minutes.
So why not use your starting five as your finishing five? Well, for one thing, as Red Auerbach pioneered back in the day, having a great 6th man is a wonderful way to keep momentum going past the first quarter. So your 4th or 5th best player might be the first guy off the bench. Also, you might be 2 quality players deep at one position and pretty shallow at others.
Finally, there might be some skillsets that translate better in the final moments of the game than others. For example, in Rondo's early years, he might have been subbed out at times in the 4th quarter for his lack of shooting ability. Of course he's become so good and so critical to the team's success that they run him out there in the closing minutes anyway.
This year we have about as deep a team as we've had in the Kevin Garnett era. So, who closes out games? What lineup works best?
For the first time in a long time, the Rivers has some decisions to make on his closing lineup. The big men are in question, but to me the more intriguing competition is at the guard spot. Rondo is a lock, and Terry's experience and shooting ability make him the likely two-guard on the floor to end games. But it's not hard to see a scenario in which Avery Bradley or Courtney Lee earn that role instead. While Terry is the instant offense Rivers may need to close, Bradley can be instant defense. Lee may be the best 3-point shooter of the group. There's certainly room to mix and match and sub offense for defense, but with Ray Allen the Celtics had a no-brainer backcourt to end games. Figuring out what the new closing lineup will be might be the most interesting storyline of the entire season.
That 2 guard spot is interesting. I think Terry is the natural choice for his clutch experiences but (assuming he fits in well) there's a case for Courtney Lee. He might be a better shooter than Terry and he's a better defender too. Bradley does seem like a situational defensive sub in the 4th, but not as good an option on offense as the other two.
It is interesting that most are assuming that Jeff Green will be playing the 4 to close out games. I agree that he's likely to be deserving based on his flexible skillset. I just know that his time at the power forward spot hasn't played to his strengths in the past - in particular on defense. I suppose it might just come down to matchups. Playing against a smaller lineup he's a no brainer. But if we really need a rebound, you could make the case for Sullinger. Or perhaps even putting Darko and KG on the court together for a big lineup. It isn't like Brandon Bass is a pushover either - and he can pop those jumpers in from the top of the key all day long.
As far as I'm concerned the only givens are Rondo, Pierce, and Garnett. Who slots into the other two positions is anyone's guess. This team (at least as it looks right now) is very deep. Isn't it nice to have problems like this?