The Celtics will be presenting some varied and versatile lineups as the preseason continues with a game against the 76ers at Philadelphia Monday.
Many of the team’s offseason acquisitions super-sized the Celtics. But the Celtics simultaneously have been streamlining lineups in an attempt to synchronize with Rajon Rondo.
The Celtics went “small” in the third quarter of a 98-95 overtime loss to the New York Knicks in Hartford Saturday night. The tactic failed to produce, though this was actually an ultra-small collection, with Jared Sullinger at center. But the Celtics have not been showing their hand on this nearly as much as they will once the regular season starts.
Against the Knicks, the Celtics squandered a 12-point advantage with what started as a frontcourt of Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, and Paul Pierce — with Bass soon to be replaced by Sullinger — and Rondo and Jason Terry at guards.
“The ‘real’ small lineup with Jeff, Kevin [Garnett], Paul, JT [Terry] or Courtney [Lee], and Rondo is as good as any small lineup we’ll see,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I love that lineup.”
Rivers knows enough about that “real” lineup, so he is experimenting with it, tweaking things, presenting different matchups. The idea is to speed up the pace in transition, create space in the halfcourt game.
“We have guys who can play multiple positions,” Green said after scoring 12 points in 29 minutes against the Knicks. “So, we have to do what we can to create mismatches and with the depth and personnel we’ve got, we have the opportunity. So, we have to take advantage of everything.”
In three exhibition games, Green has totaled 45 points in 80 minutes of playing time.
Green is not considered a starter, but he is tied with Rondo for the team lead in minutes played in the preseason, and is being counted on to spark the Celtics off the bench and change the dynamic.
“No matter who’s on bench, if Jason starts or not, we know what we’ve got to do,” Green said. “We see the game, and we have to bring the energy and defensive presence. We’ve got to do our job.”
The Green-Pierce combination has been especially effective.
“That allows the floor to be a lot more open,” Green said of combining with Pierce, “which allows me to drive a little more. It’s tough to play both of us. We create mismatches, so it works to our advantage.”
Green’s driving ability produced two dunks and earned a goaltending call in the second quarter against the Knicks. He also converted a 3-pointer in the quarter.
“The only way I can help the team is to continue to be aggressive,” Green said. “If I’m aggressive teams have to worry about me and that allows [Pierce] to do what he does. So, I’m going to continue to be aggressive.”
The ability and willingness to penetrate also sets up free throw situations.
“If we can get to the foul line and get set on defense, that makes us really good,” Rivers said after the game. “First quarter, second quarter, we did that. And then we were able to get set on defense.”
The Celtics fell behind early against the Knicks, causing Rivers to be concerned about defensive rebounding, but also providing encouragement regarding his team’s resourcefulness.
“Our rebounding with the guards killed us,” Rivers said. “But, having said that, we still had the lead after the first quarter and that’s a great sign. When you struggle defensively and struggle on the glass and still have the lead — that tells you certain nights your offense can bail you out. And I thought our offense bailed us out first quarter.”
A busy schedule
The Celtics (1-2 in the preseason) are playing six games in eight days, concluding with a game against Philadelphia Oct. 21. That will leave a nine-day break before the season opener in Miami.
“I love it,” Rivers said of the schedule. “I think you get a lot out of the way, then you have practice time. We go on the road, then we have [nine] days before our first game. And I like that, rather than have our last preseason game and having four or five days before the first game.
“We need to get Kevin, Paul, JT, Courtney, Rondo, Brandon, and Sullinger ready. Everyone else, we’re going to give them a fair shot in practice, we’re going to watch them in some games. At the end of the day we’re trying to get ready for the season.”
Rivers had rookies and roster fill-out players on the court at the end of the game against the Knicks. And the Celtics’ regulars were urging them on, standing in front of the bench and on the baseline.
“They like our young guys, you can see that,” Rivers said of the Celtics’ veterans. “I think they had more fun watching the game at the end than playing, at times. They were cheering the guys and that’s always nice.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.