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Celtics take advantage of depth with nine-man rotation vs. Sixers

Do the Celtics have too many good players?

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

It’s just the first game. So much is subject to change. Aron Baynes is starting second halves while Gordon Hayward gets up to speed. Brad Stevens will tinker with match ups before games and in games. We could see blips of playing time for Daniel Theis and Semi Ojeleye as injury replacements or defensive specialists. However, Game #1 did give us a glimpse of what could be to come when it comes to Boston’s rotation and how Brad Stevens plans to utilize the depth of his roster.

Here’s plus/minus tracking and more importantly, the substitution patterns from the home opener against the 76ers courtesy of

Plus/Minus Sixers @ Celtics 10/16/18

Some things of note:

Even though Death Lineup East were starters for the game, they played less than 8 minutes together with really little fanfare. After the tip, the game was sloppy and disjointed (for both teams) and in no way indicative of what they’ll be like in December or February or May.

This was probably match up specific, but the dynamic against the Sixers was using Jayson Tatum (vs. Joel Embiid) and Kyrie Irving as points of attack. Check out where Hayward starts in most of the half court sets: in the corners. In Utah, he played much more of a playmaker role, but with him still trying to find his sea legs and Irving, Tatum, and Horford on the floor, he can find his rhythm in the early part of the year as a swing man and spot up shooter.

But that doesn’t mean that Hayward didn’t see minutes at point forward. Marcus Morris took his spot at the four with Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart assuming point duties on the second unit, but when he returned to start the second quarter, he got some reps running PnR with Baynes. That simple two man game opened up Hayward’s mid-range jumper.

Another interesting wrinkle was playing both Irving and Rozier together. To start the fourth quarter, Stevens ran out a lineup with the pair of point guards with Brown, Morris, and Baynes. Conceptually, it’s simple basketball: use Baynes as a pick setter to separate Irving and Rozier from their defenders and space the floor with two shooters on both wings.

The spacing, ball movement, and attacking mismatches is what Boston is trying to achieve with their read-and-react offense. By spreading the floor, it created attack angles for the crafty Irving and aggressive Rozier. It seems like an unorthodox pairing, but because of the versatility of all the players in the nine man rotation, anything could work.

Consider the lineup that closed out the third quarter. With Boston nursing a five-point lead with three minutes to go, the Celtics had Rozier, Smart, Hayward, Morris, and Theis (and later Baynes) on the floor. For most of the evening, Stevens opted to have at least two starters mixed in with BWA, but that unit pushed a single-digit lead to 11.

There’s some conventional wisdom in thinking that players need to know their roles and have familiarity with the teammates that they will be playing with. For example, Craig Kimbrel is your closer in any and all situations; you don’t need to warm up David Price in the bullpen. But maybe with these Celtics, this roster isn’t so much a scattered puzzle that needs to be carefully pieced together, but a 15-piece band where everybody plays with everybody and everybody gets a chance to solo on any given night.

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