Scan the Celtics lineup combinations over the winning streak and it seemed like Brad Stevens could have mixed-and-matched just about anybody together and they would have made it work. Irving-Smart-Morris? 31.4 NetRtg. Horford-Irving-Tatum? A plus-18. With a team +22 NetRtg, they could almost do no wrong. Almost.
During the post-season last year, the trio of Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum were the collective revelation of the NBA Playoffs. Nobody thought this young core of players to take the team to a Game 7 against LeBron James, but they did. That performance only elevated expectations for this year.
They don’t play together that much these days. With Kyrie Irving back and Marcus Smart supplanting Brown in the starting lineup, that trio of twenty somethings are rarely on the floor at the same time, but when they are, the results have been less than, well, last year. Since November 26th, they’ve played a total of 36 minutes together and are an abominable -19.4; that’s by far the lowest NetRtg of any three-man lineup (playing more than 35 minutes) during the stretch.
Stevens’ substitution patterns have been fairly consistent since the Marcuses were inserted: Hayward replaces Tatum, Brown and Rozier replace Smart and Irving, and eventually, Tatum joins the young guys somewhere at the start of the 2nd and 4th quarters. Against the Pistons Saturday night, they played nine minutes and were a -27.8.
Many of their issues stem from the fact that neither Brown, Tatum, or Rozier are consistent playmakers. Most of their minutes together are spent with Hayward as the primary ball handler working out of the pick-and-roll, but if that initial action doesn’t bear fruit, the offense often disintegrates into a wild drive or isolation play.
Jaylen hits that shot, but the play lowlights the lack of motion and patience of the offense. Those long-2’s won’t enamor that second unit with their head coach. It was the second night of a back to back, but they should be able to score against a lineup that predominantly featured the Pistons’ second unit of Langston Galloway, Bruce Brown, Stanley Johnson, Jose Calderon, and Jon Leuer.
Here, it’s Rozier with a haphazard rim attack. Not everybody can be as crafty as Irving around the rim, but he doesn’t help himself with that change-of-pace dribble that allows Reggie Jackson to catch up with him. During the nine-minute span that stretched from the end of the first quarter to deep into the second, the Celtics did not attempt a single free throw.
Earlier in the week, Rozier and Brown talked about adjusting to their new roles and playing time and mind set. While their attitudes have changed, their basketball chemistry together still remains a work in progress.