It was a dreadful night for the Boston Celtics Tuesday night. After finding themselves in an opportune place in the standings, the team fell to a Oklahoma City Thunder team who had basically given up on the season. The Celtics have tried to find a rhythm battling injury and rest but have not been able to heading into the playoffs. They are trying to cling on to the lead outside of a play-in game where anything can happen. However, to do that, the Celtics and head coach Brad Stevens are going to have to find his core lineup that will finish out this regular season and roll into the playoffs.
Last week, CelticsBlog’s own Coach Spins wrote about the different depth options Stevens will have going into the playoffs. It was a great breakdown into each bench player’s attributes which could help into a possible playoff run. It was positive in nature about how much depth the roster had coming off their recent west coast win streak.
However, this article will be a bit of a zag to that opinion. The thesis is that Stevens is going to have to be set on about 7 or 8 players to make the playoff run with. The team really cannot afford to continue to have games where the bench unit sees bulk minutes all together.
Since the win streak, the Celtics have gone conservative on whether to play the roster huge, grueling minutes while navigating the dog days of this season. Unfortunately, it makes things difficult in regards to holding on to playoff seeding. Because of this, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown have been sat due to rest and lingering injuries. Others, such as Robert Williams and Evan Fournier, have been out for longer stretches. With all of this turmoil and roster turnover, it is near impossible to get any kind of consistency headed into the playoff stretch.
One important part is that this gives a glimpse of which players further down the roster have chances to contribute to the playoff rotation once it is trimmed to the most important guys. These minutes now give Stevens and the coaching staff an idea who will be handling the load through playoff stretches when the starting five is not on the floor. From the looks of these last few games, many will not see the floor come playoff time.
The Celtics bench currently ranks dead last in points per game at 30.7 PPG. This becomes a major issue down the stretch of the season. With Tatum, Brown, and/or Walker sitting, the bench unit has not been able to get results to improve their position in the standings. Stevens needs to start trimming the lineup down and play the last few games of the regular season like the team is already the playoffs. He needs to focus on his best seven or eight players and find consistency with them.
The most ideal eight players would be the starting five with Walker, Marcus Smart, Brown, Tatum, and Robert Williams and then have Tristan Thompson, Evan Fournier, and Payton Pritchard off the bench. Depending on the nature of the game, they could maybe get away with Jabari Parker as an offense-only ninth man, but outside of that, ride your main guys and let the chips fall where they may.
It is understandable that having the other depth options is good for catching rest, but it has been seen that everything is going wrong in the bulk minutes with these guys not listed. In make-or-break time, the Celtics can not lose these important minutes while Jaylen and Jayson are staggered. More can go wrong when you include a super deep bench in those minutes.
Even with all that being said, Stevens knows what he is doing. He has been to the playoffs multiple seasons and understands how to trim the rotation for a long playoff run. It is only a little more concerning this year given the up and down play of this team. They can rattle off six wins in a row and then lose to the tanking Thunder. Shortening up a core lineup down the stretch of this season could be very beneficial. It would have everyone understand their role heading into the playoffs.