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Boston’s inconsistent minutes distribution

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Brad Stevens likes to mix up who comes off the bench each night. Does this unlock new lineups for the Celtics to catch their opponents off guard or does it keep their own players from finding any rhythm?

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Boston’s inconsistent bench rotation once again has me asking questions I don’t think I’ll ever have answers to. Grant Williams played approximately one minute in Game 4 after doing what I would consider a commendable job trying to restrain Bam Adebayo in Game 3. The reality is nobody on the Celtics is equipped to handle Bam, and so I’m not concerned about whether or not Brad Stevens’ substitutions address him specifically. So long as nobody fouls out, I think Boston is getting the most out of their front court.

Generally, I think we all agree that Boston’s year-long defensive dominance come from how easily they can switch on nearly every assignment. This is why Grant Williams got the call over Robert Williams to close out Game 7 against Toronto after Daniel Theis fouled out. It also explains why Grant had played in bursts throughout the series while Enes Kanter played a total of four minutes. How is it possible that Grant is trustworthy in a Game 7 against Toronto, but not a Game 4 against Miami? Is he so uniquely equipped for that particular matchup that he’s rendered useless in another?

I’m not sure if the answer lies specifically in what Grant does or in how Stevens uses his bench. At different times, I’ve described it as genius, experimental, and confused. Even when the Celtics are winning, I’ve been confused more often that not.

Below is a snapshot of how many minutes each of the remaining teams have given their most-used lineups. I’m focused only on minutes because I’m not trying to figure out what lineups are good, rather I’d like to see how much each coach is willing to deviate from their five best players.

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Lineup GP Minutes
Lineup GP Minutes
Miami
Adebayo, Robinson, Dragic, Butler, Crowder 13 170
Adebayo, Herro, Dragic, Butler, Crowder 10 59
Adebayo, Robinson, Herro, Butler, Crowder 13 52
Adebayo, Herro, Dragic, Butler, Iguodala 7 42
Jones Jr., Herro, Dragic, Olynyk, Iguodala 6 35
Denver
Murray, Millsap, Harris, Grant, Jokic 10 190
Murray, Morris, Millsap, Grant, Jokic 6 65
Murray, Morris, Craig, Porter Jr., Plumlee 8 43
Murray, Craig, Porter Jr., Grant, Jokic 13 38
Murray, Craig, Porter Jr., Millsap, Jokic 4 34
LA
McGee, Green, Davis, Caldwell-Pope, James 11 112
Caruso, Kuzma, Rondo, Morris, James 7 40
Caruso, Kuzma, Rondo, Davis, Caldwell-Pope 8 32
Green, Morris, Davis, Caldwell-Pope, James 3 30
Caruso, Kuzma, Rondo, Davis, James 7 29
Boston
Brown, Tatum, Theis, Walker, Smart 15 233
Brown, Tatum, Williams III, Walker, Smart 6 25
Brown, Tatum, Williams, Walker, Smart 8 21
Brown, Tatum, Kanter, Walker, Smart 5 20
Brown, Tatum, Theis, Wanamaker, Smart 7 19
Brown, Tatum, Theis, Hayward, Walker 3 19

Obviously, there are qualifiers like injuries and teams playing differing amounts of games, but it still shows a trend that confirms my suspicion about the Celtics: they don’t trust many lineups outside of their best one. The contrast with the Lakers’ top lineup is the same. Boston has only played two more games than LA, and each team has exactly seven players to have played in all their games. Boston’s most used lineup has more than double the total minutes of LA’s. Neither team is known for their depth, and yet the Lakers have gotten quality minutes from Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo while Boston struggled to find consistency out of anyone outside of their top five players before Hayward’s return.

Does the Celtics bench play irregular minutes because they’re inconsistent, or are they inconsistent because they don’t have a consistent rotation? The expectation is for everyone to be ready to see the court at any time, but you can’t tell me the uncertainty of their role doesn’t weight on them.

Grant Williams played two minutes in Boston’s first playoff game and then 20 in the next. He played 45 seconds in Game 4 against Miami after averaging around ten in the first three games. Robert Williams played 35 combined minutes in Boston’s first two games against Toronto even when there were glaring issues with how he covered Serge Ibaka. He hasn’t played in two out of Boston’s four games against the Heat. Semi Ojeleye did not see the court in Game 3 of this series and then played four minutes in Game 4.

Brad Wanamaker deserves a lot of credit as the one constant off Boston’s bench. He’s played 259 playoff minutes, which is sixth most on the team. The next most are Grant Williams (151), Robert Williams (145), Semi Ojeleye (122), and Gordon Hayward (94). Hayward’s minutes have obviously been reduced by injury while the rest got a little boost from playing at the end of Boston’s blowouts.

Anybody who’s read my stuff on here knows I’m going to circle back to my usual shtick where I say more Grant Williams would solve Boston’s problems. I stand by this, but it’s not the point I’m making this time.

I mean, alright, it is the point I’m making, but it’s not the only point. Brad Stevens, for all that he talks about finding ways to win, is struggling to do so. I don’t blame him. Miami punishes Boston for every single mistake that they make. All I can say is that Boston’s inconsistent use of their bench hasn’t proven to give them any tangible benefit that I can see.