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Figuring out the Boston Celtics in-game rotations

Living inside the mind of Coach Brad Stevens

Boston Celtics Media Day Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

There’s a lot of ongoing discussion regarding the Celtics lineup and for good reason. There are four returning players and a whole lot of wing depth and versatility that wasn’t available to the Celtics last year. To help myself see what this rotation can consist of throughout a game, I put on my coaching hat and simulated how I thought the lineups were going to go. Here’s what I came up with:

1st Quarter



There’s been a lot of discussion regarding who should start between Smart or Brown, but we’ll just go with Smart for now since he’s the older player, and he’s better equipped to defend quicker guards than Brown is. Outside of that, the lineup is just about what has been reported as the Celtics’ preferred lineup.

Sub 1: in Brown, Baynes (Smart,Morris OUT)

The first substitution would be about mid-way through the quarter. The lineup allows Horford to patrol around the perimeter and also gives Brown a chance to play with the best players on the court, which was when he played at his best last year.


Sub 2: Smart,Rozier, Tatum (Irving,Hayward,Horford OUT)

This next rotation happens near the end of the first quarter. Though Smart started, he got the quick hook so that he can lead the second unit with Rozier. Either Brown or Tatum could defend the bigger wing, and Baynes will continue to protect the rim. Shooting could be a question, but the hope is that Rozier, Brown, and Tatum can hit spot-up looks and that Smart can use his newfound speed to get penetration and draw extra defenders in the paint.


2nd quarter

*Sub 3: Morris (Tatum, OUT)

This one has an asterisk because it will be based on whether Tatum can stay on the court or not. It’s possible that with a limited role, Stevens might keep him on the floor even with foul trouble. However, if he’s blowing assignments or is just simply outmatched by his man, Stevens won’t hesitate to take him out for a more veteran player.

Sub 4: Irving,Morris (Smart,Tatum)

This sub will happen about at about the mid-way point of the quarter. Of course if Morris is in, then it would just be Irving coming in, but assuming Tatum can hold his own he would come out with Smart as the team prepares to get it’s stars back in to close the half.

*Irving, Rozier, Brown, Morris, Baynes

Sub 5: Hayward, Horford (Brown,Baynes OUT)

The stars are back in, and the starting lineup is essentially back together, with the exception of Rozier who would be replacing Smart. This unit would close out the half with the goal of getting Irving moving off-ball so that he can focus on being a scorer to close the half.

*Irving, Rozier, Hayward, Morris, Horford

3rd Quarter

The second half will begin with the starters taking the court like it always traditionally has. If the Celtics are having one of those games where they just desperately need size, then Baynes could end up starting this half.

Sub 6: Brown, Tatum (Smart, Morris OUT)

This first sub would be at around the halfway mark of the quarter. The lineup is a bit of a new wrinkle with the Celtics giving a glimpse of what their lineup of the future may be. The length and wing depth on the floor will give Irving plenty of help on the back end, and could lead to stellar rebounding. On the offensive end, the Celtics will have another creator who can excel as a pick-and-roll player (imagine the options of a Hayward-Tatum pick and roll) and another wing who can space the floor and make timely cuts. Versatility on steroids.

*Irving, Brown,Tatum,Hayward, Horford

Sub 7: Rozier, Morris, Baynes (Irving, Hayward, Horford OUT)

Next sub will happen with two minutes left in the third. This is to primarily get the stars some rest before the 4th quarter, but it’s also a dicey time where Terry Rozier will be asked to run the the team to close out the quarter. Hopefully at this point Boston will have a big lead so that there will be minimal pressure, but there could be times when this lineup will desperately need to hold the line while the stars rest. A key to this lineup will be that they’re also super big and stretchy, so at the least they need to be able to defend at a high-level.

*Rozier, Brown, Tatum, Morris, Baynes

4th Quarter

Sub 8: Ojeleye (Morris OUT)

The 4th will start with that same unit with one exception: Semi Ojeleye checks in for Marcus Morris. The move is ultimately to get Morris a breather before he closes out the game, but it’ll be Ojeleye’s chance to show off his defense and spacing ability

Sub 9: Smart (Rozier OUT)

And with that Rozier’s night is done: solid minutes, play during crucial junctions, and chances to play on and off ball. Now it’s time to integrate the closing unit back in.

*Smart, Brown, Tatum, Ojeleye, Baynes

Sub 10: Irving, Hayward, Morris, Horford (Brown,Tatum, Baynes OUT)

The closing lineup is officially done, and the young pups plus Baynes are officially gone for tonight at the 6-minute mark of the fourth. The stars were able to get a good chunk of rest during the end of the third and half of the fourth, and they are now ready to close it out.

*Irving, Smart, Hayward, Morris, Horford


  • The Celtics may have to rely on some youth, but outside of Tatum and some spot minutes from either Ojeleye, Yabu, or Theis, the team is primarily using veteran players who are more knowledgeable and could have an easier time of meshing together on the court.
  • This Celtics team has a lot of different lineups that can allow them to adjust to and attack the way a team tries to play them. They can counter size with size or more finesse, and they have the type of switchable wing depth that maybe no other team in the league has.
  • Despite my reservations of Rozier, he actually seems to be someone that could have a really big role this season. He’ll get a chance to play in a combination of different lineups that range from running the offense to spacing the floor. A breakout performance can go a long way for the Celtics.
  • In this experiment, we pretended that foul trouble wasn’t really a thing, but if the Cs got caught up in it, that’s where you could potentially see the likes of Semi Ojeleye, Guerschon Yabusele, Daniel Theis, or even Abdel Nader. However, outside of that I don’t expect either of these guys to carve out bigger roles.
  • What would be your rotation?

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