Potential changes to the starting lineup
Tyler Zeller will start in place of Kelly Olynyk today, though Brad Stevens says the change is just "temporary." The Celtics have excelled when Zeller has been paired with starting power forward Jared Sullinger, with a Net Rating of +10.6, though the sample size is small. At the least, those two will be able to get more time together, giving Stevens more film to analyze and Boston's front office more numbers to analyze.
Olynyk's recent offensive struggles have been well documented, but it's his tendency of getting into early foul trouble that keeps him off the floor. Coming off the bench, I hope a larger bulk of the offense runs through him, considering he is one of the team's most unique playmakers.
I have tooted the horn of a Sullinger/Zeller starting frontcourt since preseason -- some CelticsBlog readers might say that I am beating a dead horse -- so I hope it works as well as I expect it to. Zeller's presence inside will be of value against San Antonio's offense and his size should help Boston win the battle on the boards. And if Olynyk performs well off the bench, I wouldn't be too surprised if we see these changes stick.
How Boston reacts to adversity
The Celtics have faced a number of adverse situations this season, most notably against Western Conference opponents. Sometimes they have curled up into a fetal position, seemingly overwhelmed "in the moment," but other times they have "played up" to the competition.
Led by Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, and Tony Parker, San Antonio is obviously the cream of the crop in the NBA, so how will Boston react? Will they start the game off guns blazing? If they do, can they sustain the lead? If they start off slow, will they play freely when they have nothing to lose?
Not to overrate the importance of just one game, but after losing three games in a row and six of their last seven, it'll be crucial for them to stay competitive today. I do hope to see them get a lead, as I want to see stylistically if they make any changes compared to past games when they blew leads. They need to continue running their offense, but if the looks are there, I would hope they have learned to target preferred go-to players, like Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley.
Win or lose, it's a learning experience
After Memphis crushed Boston earlier this year, Stevens spoke of how he'd like his young bigs to take notes on how Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph worked off of each other, not so much their dominance, but their ability to complement each other and make the team better as a whole.
Against San Antonio, the song remains the same, as they play the most beautiful brand of basketball there is. The way they operate as a unit, no matter the lineup on the floor, is something Stevens will need his players to learn from. Whether it's their ability to go from "good to great" with their shot attempts by making the extra pass or their perfect communication on the defensive end, the Celtics need to be taking mental notes each and every play.