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The Celtics’ potential “Meat Grinder” lineup

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Death by defense

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Boston Celtics Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors have their unconventional “Lineup of Death” which now has Kevin Durant, so it is being dubbed the “Megadeath” lineup. What allows them to utilize this lineup without getting killed in mismatches is the ability of Draymond Green to defend centers and run them off the court on the other end.

I was thinking about the Celtics’ unique blend of players, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Brad Stevens could use an unconventional lineup of his own. We’ve already seen him utilize Jae Crowder in smallball lineups, but what if we took it one step further?

How about a three-guard lineup with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart all on the court together with Jae at the 4 and Al Horford locking down the paint? I call it the “Meat Grinder” lineup. Our own Keith Smith prefers “IT & D.”

In most cases, an ultra-small lineup like this would get killed in mismatches. However, Marcus Smart has proven that he can guard 3s for stretches at a time. He’s certainly strong enough, and he’s quick and tenacious enough to give most guys fits.

This lineup would feature four of the best defensive talents in the leauge in Bradley, Smart, Crowder, and Horford. Can you imagine teams trying to score on that group? I can just picture two guys trapping some poor point guard into making an ill-advised pass that got picked off and turned into a fast break going the other direction. And in the half court, Thomas and Al would provide just enough scoring punch to make things work offensively.

The potentially fatal flaw of this lineup is that it won’t rebound particularly well. Then again, that might be a team-wide issue all year. That’s something that Brad Stevens is going to need to work around and plan for regardless of who’s on the court.

So is there any chance that we’ll see this Meat Grinder lineup? Tough to say. Obviously the Celtics didn’t employ Al Horford last year, so the closest approximation to this lineup featured Jared Sullinger with the three guards and Jae. That lineup was used for just 66 minutes. That was the 9th-most-used lineup by Stevens. The most common one was a very traditional-looking unit of Thomas, Bradley, Crowder, Sullinger, and Johnson (played for 722 minutes).

The Celtics have depth at just about every position, and Coach Stevens has the luxury of sticking to traditional lineups or experimenting with creative solutions. He’s shown a willingness to experiment early in the season (sometimes to the frustration of his players) so I wouldn’t rule it out.

Provided that Smart continues his progression, I think you could make a strong case that he’s one of the five best players on the team. So it would only make sense for Stevens to look for ways to get all five of his best players on the court at the same time—perhaps even to close out games.

The first preseason game is coming up on Tuesday night, so this would be the time to break out the chemistry set and start with the experiments.