After getting blown out by the Magic, Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas voiced their concern over the lack of a set rotation for the team, but over the last three games, Brad Stevens has used the same substitution pattern. For the most part, here's what Stevens has been going with and what he used in Boston's signature win against the Heat:
Turner for Thomas: Without Marcus Smart (and arguably even with a healthy Smart), Evan Turner has become the primary back up ball handler behind Thomas. In the last three games, Thomas has been the first starter to the bench, not because of ineffectiveness, but in order to give him a blow before coming back in shortly after for Avery Bradley. Tonight, it worked brilliantly because it was an Evan Turner night. The starting lineup was a -6 overall, but with Turner in for Thomas, They were a +10. He acted more as a scorer than a playmaker, taking smaller defenders into the paint and finishing with 13 points.
Jerebko for Johnson: Tactically, I think this is Stevens putting defense first, substituting his best rim protector in Amir Johnson for his most versatile defender off the bench in Jonas Jerebko. Jonas has had his difficulties of late getting it going on the offensive end, but defensively, he's able to switch pick and rolls and guard larger and smaller players. Last night, there were moments when he was going toe-to-toe with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.
He didn't see many minutes in the second half, but with the game on the line with under dos minutos left, JJ closed the game and got a key offensive rebound down the stretch. What's scary is that we haven't seen the best of JJ yet. He's suffering from a serious case of the yips, but there's a reason why Danny Ainge signed him to a two-year deal this summer. In addition to his defense and hustle, Jerebko shot 40% from behind the arc and isn't afraid of contact when he's slashing to the rim.
Lee for Sullinger: Recently, David Lee has been good in spurts and you can really see him finding his game and niche with this squad. He's hovered around 17 minutes over the last three and been very effective rolling off of Evan Turner PnR's. He's not the positional defender that Sullinger is, but he's a much more willing passer. The second unit with him, Olynyk, Jerebko, and Turner is a group with mediocre shooting, speed, and strength, but they all are high basketball IQ guys and we've seen them hit each other with savvy cutting and nifty passes. He's been a perfect plug-and-play sub.
Olynyk for Crowder: We're all just waiting for Kelly Olynyk to put it together, right? It's been typical KO so far this season: flashes of aggressiveness, versatility, and sound defense, but it's been inconsistent. You can see why Stevens has opted to play Crowder as long as he can because Crowder has been the team's most consistent player when it comes to effort and attitude. He's the anti-Olynyk, if you will. Last season, Olynyk was also a slow starter, but if Kelly can put together a December like he did in 2014 when he averaged 13.5-5.6-2.4 shooting 53.8% from the field, we could see this substitution happen earlier in the game.
Thomas for Bradley: Last night, Thomas' first blow lasted 5:30 in game time. Thomas is usually sitting by the first TV time out and back in the game for the final two minutes of the first quarter. I think the reasoning is two-fold: 1) it keeps Bradley, Boston's best perimeter defender paired with Crowder in the game and 2) it allows Thomas to take advantage of the opposing team if they're in the penalty.
After that, it's all feel for Stevens. Those nine guys will get their initial chances and if they've got a hot hand or there's a mismatch, you can bet Stevens will go to them more in the second half. Against the Heat, Stevens relied heavily on his starters with each including Turner logging +30 minutes. They'll have two days to rest before travelling for Thursday's tilt in Mexico City against Rajon Rondo and the Sacramento Kings.
Last night, the Celtics didn't look like a team flush with talent on the bench and a willingness to use it, but that will come. Smart's absence can surely be felt on the defensive end, but the ripple effect of his bone bruise can be felt up and down the lineup, too. Because Smart's out then Thomas is thrust into the starting five then shooters like KO and JJ become less effective then more pressure is put on Turner to create and so on and so forth.
These are just the growing pains of a young team, but make no mistake: they are growing. Complaining through the media about playing time might seem immature, but it's also a sign that guys want to contribute.