I think we all know the Celtics chances of winning a championship begin and end with the muscle that runs behind Kevin Garnett’s right knee. The signs there seem positive–he’s likely practicing Monday, along with Leon Powe–and Tony Allen is playing again, and Stephon Marbury, even with a hideous offensive rating (92) and field-goal percentage (32%) and free throw rate (non-existent), seems to be settling into his role as Eddie House’s personal waiter off the bench. And Eddie–he’s answered all the questions. Glen Davis and Leon Powe have answered most of them.
So all of a sudden, the Celtics have what might be termed a “good problem”: at least 11 guys appear to be guaranteed some sort of post-season playing time. (All of the above and Mikki Moore; I’m still assuming Scalabrine won’t see much time, if any).
Distributing post-season minutes to 11 guys is a challenge, and it won’t happen without someone–at least one person–having their minutes cut substantially.
I spent some quality time with all 26 game flows from last year’s playoffs at the invaluable PopcornMachine and found one obvious conclusion: The days of five subs being on the floor together end when the playoffs start–or at least they did last year.
In 19 of those 26 games, at least one member of the Big Three was on the floor for all 48 minutes. The exceptions were the ends of seven blowouts–Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 against Atlanta; Game 3 at Cleveland, Game 4 at Detroit and the glorious last 4:02 of Game 6 against Los Angeles.
So if last year is any indication, we’ve seen the last of the all bench line-ups in meaningful minutes. (Though I wouldn’t be shocked if Doc fiddled with an all-bench group once or twice in the first round). During the post-season, the typical C’s “bench” lineup looked like this:
Paul Pierce/Ray Allen
And Doc timed it so that Pierce and Allen were out there for every second with the bench. The second quarter of Game 2 against Detroit is a perfect example. Pierce played the first 2:34 of the quarter with House, Brown, Posey and Powe. Doc replaced Pierce with Ray Allen, who played just 45 seconds before picking up two fouls. Rather than rest Pierce for the length he’d planned and risk having five subs in the game, Doc sent Pierce–and KG–back onto the floor.
The Celtics rarely went small, because they really had only two “small” rotation players (Rondo and whichever of the House/Cassell tandem Doc preferred on that day), and Doc rarely played them together.
All of this meant a substantial contraction in minutes for the back-ups:
07-08 Regular Season Mins Playoff Mins (Games)
Davis 13.6 8.0 (17)
Powe 14.4 11.7 (23)
Tony Allen 18.3 4.3 (15)
House 19.0 7.8 (21)
(P.J. Brown played 13.6 minutes per game, Posey about 22 and Cassell about 12.5 in 21 games).
So what does Doc do this year?
I’m assuming House has earned his 15-20 minutes a game, and I suspect that Tony Allen, if he’s ready, is going to play at least 12-15 minutes in close games. He’s the only wing-type defender on the second unit, and his ability to attack the rim and draw fouls is an important weapon off the bench.
It sounds like Marbury has earned his way into the guard rotation, and we know Powe and Davis will get minutes (if Powe is healthy). Moore’s been up and down in Boston (his game log is here), but he’s played well in three of his last four games, his offensive rating is up to 119 with the C’s and he’s basically been a wash in raw plus/minus. (The offense scores 2.5 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and the defense gives up about six more, but, in fairness, he’s out there mostly with back-ups).
My best guess is that all six of these guys will see meaningful playing time in the post-season, and probably in some line-up combinations we haven’t seen much of yet. Doc will be able to play match-ups, mix starters and bench players, and use small line-ups more often than we saw last season.
There won’t be as many minutes out there for a few of these guys, but how Doc uses those minutes will be critical.