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Celtics Notebook

It may be the biggest question

Rivers is not quite sure on his defensive lineup

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / May 21, 2012
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WALTHAM - There was a reason for the Celtics’ defensive struggles in the second half of Game 4 against the 76ers Friday night. Coach Doc Rivers stuck with his small lineup down the stretch, hoping to boost the offense. The result was an offensive boon for the 76ers, especially forward Andre Iguodala, who scored 8 points in the final 3:11 of the Philadelphia win.

Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Avery Bradley, and Rajon Rondo could do little to stop Philadelphia in the fourth quarter. In the final 12 minutes, the 76ers shot 50 percent and tallied 12 points in the paint as the Celtics were unable to prevent dribble penetration.

With no legitimate big man besides Garnett in the paint, the Celtics were helpless against the duo of Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen, who took turns playing volleyball against the backboard for second-chance points. The two combined for 12 points and six rebounds in the final quarter and sparked the Philadelphia rally before Iguodala drained three jumpers, including two monumental 3-pointers.

The question for Monday night’s Game 5 at TD Garden is whether Rivers will stick with that lineup again down the stretch. Brandon Bass played three seconds of the fourth quarter and reserve center Ryan Hollins played 14 seconds. Ray Allen played the entire fourth quarter, but Rivers acknowledged Allen’s defense has suffered because of his ailing right ankle.

“It goes game to game, it really does,’’ Rivers said when asked about the effectiveness of his small lineup. “I think honestly if we made one mistake we should have went back to Bass [and the bigger lineup]. The first three games our small lineup was a better lineup than our big lineup. Statistically in Game 4, the big lineup was better. The big lineup is what got us the lead. The big lineup is what in the beginning of the third got us off to a good start. Both times when we went small, it actually hurt us.

“That’s something as a staff we have to recognize. It is a tough call. We’re going to have to make a call every game it looks like and there’s no right or wrong to it. It’s going to have to be a gut feeling and I hope when we make it, it’s the right one.’’

With that small lineup, either Allen or Pierce was matched against Iguodala and both were torched. Allen went for a dribble fake and Iguodala drained a stepback jumper to put the 76ers ahead, 85-83. And finally, Pierce was slow to cover the 3-point line as Iguodala canned the decisive trey with 36 seconds left.

Allen said it’s difficult to determine whether to cover the 3-point line or the dribble penetration.

“It’s a trickle-down effect because me and Paul were in that situation the last game and it’s funny because Paul was [jumping] on me because I helped and Iguodala got [his first 3-pointer],’’ Allen said. “And then later it was Paul. I wasn’t on him, but I was like, ‘Hey Paul, remember what you told me [about sticking to Iguodala]?’ Sometimes you find yourself in a predicament because when you’re small, Kevin’s the only one down there. If we don’t have the ball under control, then they get to turning around the corner and Kevin has to help and there’s a guy standing underneath the basket and a guy standing at the 3-point line. We’re almost in a no-man’s land and you have to make a decision.’’

Bradley sits out

Bradley did not practice Sunday and his status for Game 5 is uncertain. His left shoulder popped out of its socket for the second time in the series during Game 4, but he finished the game, playing more than 27 minutes. “It’s a tough thing he’s going through. A lot of players would not be playing. I am concerned at some point that he may not be able to anymore,’’ Rivers said . . . Rivers said there is only so much he can do to protect Allen on defense. “It’s hard,’’ he said. “It’s better when we have the bigger lineup in, harder when we have the smaller lineup in.’’ Allen was a minus-24 in Game 4.

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe

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