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The Read & React: playoff poise

The Celtics are now 23-7 with their starting lineup intact and 23-19 hurt.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Playoff rotation coming in to focus? (Keith P. Smith): For most of the year, due to injuries, experimentation or both, the Celtics have played ten to eleven players a night. Come the postseason, teams generally cut their rotation down to eight or nine core players and one or two who see spot minutes. It seems like Boston, much like the last two season, is closing in on determining their playoff rotation as the season winds down.

What do we know for sure? The starters, barring something unexpected, will be Al Horford, Amir Johnson, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas. Off the bench will be Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk and Jaylen Brown. The other one or two spots? Those seemed a little more up for grabs until this week.

Now it feels like Tyler Zeller has grabbed the fourth big spot, especially if the Celtics draw a bigger team. If Boston plays a team that goes small like Miami or Milwaukee, they might go back to Jonas Jerebko, as he can defend along the perimeter better than Zeller can. But Zeller has stayed ready all year long, contributed when called upon and seems like Brad Stevens' choice at this point. Jerebko has struggled mightily since taking the hit to his face from James Harden and lost his effectiveness. Zeller, while not amazing, has simply been more consistent and effective recently.

That leaves one more spot at most. Terry Rozier would seem like the obvious choice, as he has played in most of the games this year. But after playing just 12 minutes versus Washington, Rozier logged a DNP-CD against Indiana. Stevens was visibly unhappy with some sloppy play by Rozier on both ends in the Wizards game, and this could be a mental break to get his head right. Or the Celtics could be tightening up the rotation as the playoffs loom. Either way, things are coming in to focus.

Pending playoff seeding, we could see Boston rest some players down the stretch—maybe not for entire games, but for stretches within games. Manufacturing a couple of blowouts against overmatched opponents would be nice, and the schedule affords plenty of opportunities over the next couple of weeks. And that would be a nice luxury for a team that had to play to win the entire way the last two years.

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