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Topic Tuesday: Are the Celtics starters playing too many minutes?

The win streak was great, but let’s remember to focus on the long term for this Celtics team

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Miami Heat Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

The winning streak was all kinds of fun. It was wonderful to see the team thriving despite the preseason turmoil and seemingly a rotating cast of players in and out of the lineup. Joe Mazzulla deserves all the praise and credit he’s getting for piloting the team to a 13-4 record and (until last night) the top rated offense in the league.

However, losses tend to unearth issues that get papered over in wins. The defense has been a concern all year long, but that’s another topic. What I wanted to focus on was the amount of minutes our starters are playing.

Here are the averages for our normal starting lineup.

  • Jayson Tatum: 37.2 min
  • Jaylen Brown: 36.0 min
  • Marcus Smart: 32.9 min
  • Al Horford: 31.6 min
  • Derrick White: 26.1 min

Note that Grant Williams actually plays more than White at 29.0 min a game, but that may have to do with playing more minutes on the games that Horford sits out.

You don’t have to look back too far to see the impact of our stars wearing down. The 2nd half of last season was a flat-out sprint (made necessary by the team’s poor start to the season). By the end of the Finals, Tatum, Brown, and most of the team looked exhausted.

The players have collectively looked fantastic at the start of this season, but bumps and bruises have started to creep up already and Tatum in particular has looked ...less fantastic lately. Hard to tell if that is just a cold streak, the effects of an injured thumb, or some early signs of fatigue.

Tatum has actually played the 2nd most minutes in the entire league (633.1 minutes) trailing only Kyle Lowry (655.9).

I know Tatum loves to play, and stars end up playing lots of minutes because they are so critical to a team’s success. I just want him to have enough battery charge available for a deep June run.

And what about our resident elder stateman? As Brian Robb points out on MassLive, Al Horford played 35 minutes in a game last night that wasn’t particularly close for much of the night. Backup big Luke Kornet was effectively benched for the 2nd half.

This is a risky bet for Mazzulla and the Celtics when it comes to the long term and it’s one that has continued for much of the year so far. Horford is averaging 31.6 minutes per game, his highest total since the 2017-18 season when he was an All-Star 31-year-old.

Right now, the Celtics have one of the deeper benches in the league and even though their backup bigs are flawed with Rob Williams out, they should be trying to protect and preserve Horford at all costs. Resting him in back-to-backs has been a good start but playing him heavy minutes in long shot scenarios shouldn’t happen. Mazzulla pulled Horford with five minutes left in the Bulls game but he had already played 35 minutes by that point.

As Robb points out, the Celtics have a very good bench. They’ve proven that they are capable of contributing to wins. Why not give them a little more run and get them some more experience and reps in the process?

So what do you think? Should Mazzulla dial back the minutes for the starters, even if it ends up costing us a game here or there? Discuss in the comments below.

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