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How should Doc manage the stretch run?

 

On one of the most enjoyable days of the year for all basketball fans, Celtics fans got an extra bonus with some positive injury news regarding two members of the Big Three joining the team on the charter to San Antonio. This would make it seem the return of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen against the Spurs would be an extremely realistic possibility.

Of course it couldn’t all be good news for the Green with the report coming in before last night’s victory that Leon Powe would be out for two to three weeks with a sprained right knee.

Upon hearing these latest injury updates, it made me reflect on the job Doc Rivers had done the past month. One has to feel for the balancing act that Doc is dealing with on a nightly basis at this point. On one hand, he has overworked Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in the past few weeks to counteract the plethora of injuries this team has faced. Playing both of these guys major minutes was his only real hope in having the C’s keep pace with the Cavs for the top seed in the east.

Though Doc has acknowledged the need to get these guys rest more recently, he has struggled to find 10 healthy bodies on the roster on any given night in the last 2 weeks. It is hard to get anyone in the rotation rest in that predicament, much less giving rest to your two best offensive players.

This overwhelming number of injuries has caught up with the C’s in their recent play as they have gone 2-3 in the past five games. This sequence has crushed any aspirations the team had of catching Cleveland for the top seed. Doc however has been careful to not be too cautious with this team (hence Big Baby returning earlier than expected last night) with Orlando nipping on Boston’s heels for the 2nd seed.

The possibility of the Magic catching the C’s caused me to give some thought to the situation. Upon reflection of this very possibility, I have discovered I am not worried at all about Boston potentially falling to a three seed in the east. Let’s take a look at the potential but mostly minor ramifications of this scenario to explain my thinking on the subject.

Philadelphia and Detroit are the Celtics likely opening round opponents at this juncture. In a first round match up I would rather the C’s match up with Philly rather than an experienced and somewhat rejuvenated (and injured) Detroit squad. That being said those two teams are fighting it out tooth and nail right now for the 6 seed, so the C’s could very well conveniently face Philly upon falling to the three seed. Either way if the Celtics are healthy and rested come May, neither of these teams will be worth worrying about.

Looking ahead to a potential 2nd round series with the Magic, I don’t see home court being a deciding factor in this series. Psychologically speaking, yes it would be nice to have the home court edge over Orlando in the series. Anytime you know you will have a potential game 7 in your building its obviously a good thing.

When healthy though, the Celtics have shown this year they match up very well with this Orlando team, beating the Magic twice handily this year with a full squad. And even though Stan Van Gundy’s squad has been playing much better of late by getting adjusted to playing with Rafer Alston at the point, (winning 11 of their last 15) I don’t see this likely 2nd round series going longer than six games.

Taking these scenarios into consideration, I look at Doc’s options at managing this team down the stretch, after the jump

Looking at this analysis, I would hope to see a couple things happen for the C’s down the stretch. First and foremost, as the Celtics begin to get some bodies back in the next two weeks, I would like to see Doc give Paul Pierce and Ray Allen the Gregg Popovich treatment, i.e. give those guys a couple (strategically picked) games off.

My thinking makes more sense when you look at the C’s schedule down the stretch. After the next two weeks, they have favorable final few weeks with an easy lineup of games in April. In addition to closing out the year with five of seven at home, they have only one back to back set. (their last two games of the year)

With a returning Kevin Garnett and a bench with more than five healthy bodies on it, I hope Doc would feel inclined to give Paul and Ray a game or two off respectively as long as they come on different nights. These nights off would be just for the sake of getting them some meaningful rest during a week where the C’s have only two games anyway. Many of the C’s games after next week also come against inferior opponents (Thunder, Nets, Bobcats, Wizards) These are games the Celts will hopefully only need two of their big three to win anyway.

Gregg Popovich has done it for years now in San Antonio, giving his golden boy Tim Duncan smartly timed nights off while keeping his team competitive. He even did it this past Tuesday night much to the chagrin of Duncan. Sure, it may have cost the team a couple games in the long run, but it has left Duncan feeling refreshed and rejuvenated for the playoffs in the past few years.

I see the same potential benefits in place for Doc’s overworked veterans if he were to follow suit especially in the case of Pierce. The veteran’s play has been stellar in the past couple nights, but before that he had an extremely inconsistent two week stretch of play with poor shooting and a high number of turnovers. He looked flat out disinterested in a couple of these games (Milwaukee being the best example) and I think his lack of stamina was a big reason why.

A couple weeks ago, I was on full board on going hard after the top seed. The last 5 games, injuries have made that dream no longer feasible. To compete in the next week’s tough stretch of road games in San Antonio, Orlando and Atlanta, Doc will obviously have to play Pierce and Ray. (if he is healthy enough) After next Friday though, it will become time for Doc to take the foot off the gas and make sure his overworked stars are recharged and healthy for May and June.

  • Eric W

    If this was an injury-free squad who had played as a full rotation together i'd be inclined to agre with your premise – but this team hasn't played any meaningful time with its full rotation and will need the end of the season to do so.

    Resting any players prevents them from working on the court as a unit and developing/recapturing chemistry – which has clearly been damaged with all the absences and on-the-fly lineups…

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