Last night the Atlanta Hawks did a very cool thing. Not only did they beat the top seeded Bulls, but they did so by sticking to their game plan, outworking the Bulls to looseballs and rebounds, and trusting in their roster from top to bottom.
The Kirk Hinrich injury looked devastating for the Hawks. After Indiana showed some success in slowing down Derrick Rose by bombarding him with defensive minded length (Paul George) or size (Dontae Jones), it looked like Atlanta was poised to be over-matched at the point guard position. There are only two players on the Hawks roster capable of playing anything resembling good perimeter defense. One guy is their starting power forward and the other just felt his hamstring snap back like a broken bungee cord. And even with Hinrich being a hard-nosed defensive player, was he quick enough to stay with Rose? Was he strong enough to out-muscle him?
And so it was, the Hawks had no choice but to the put the fate of the series opening game in the hands of an inconsistent second year player whose role had been made obsolete by the aforementioned hamstrung. Larry Drew played Jeff Teague 45 minutes last night after Teague averaged just 14 in the regular season. This substitution also had its share of trickle down effects: the rest of the Hawks marquee players logged well over 30 minutes and Damien Wilkins played 7 minutes and finished with a +3.
The latter proved most interesting. How can a guy go from 11 total minutes in the opening series (most of which came in a blowout loss) to playing first half minutes against the best team in the Easter Conference. This is how we come full circle. The Hawks beat the Bulls last night by sticking to their game plan, outworking the Bulls to looseballs and rebounds, and trusting in their roster from top to bottom. They trusted Wilkens and Teague to come in and play because they knew these players had bought into the Hawks game plan.
Even though that game plan consists of a ton of Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford isolation plays that rely on crazy off-balance shots actually going in, it’s still their game plan. Luckily for the Celtics, they have a few Wilkins-type players and their game plan is better.
It seems foolish for Doc Rivers to change his rotation, just like it would have been foolish for Drew to change his rotation before the Hinrich injury. On Sunday, Rivers’ was forced to change his rotation with Rajon Rondo getting into early foul trouble. The rotational change was expected as Delonte West came in and began sopping up Rondo’s minutes. In a perfect world, this substitution would have been fine but on Sunday the Cs were out of sorts. West showed moments of frustrated petulance while guys better than Damien Wilkens (debatable) languished on the bench.
While the rotation wasn’t nearly the biggest problem for the Cs last Sunday, fans did not get a chance to see if guys like Von Wafer, Sasha Pavlovic, or Carlos Arroyo could have made a difference. I am not saying they would have, but Wafer has been there all season and has shown enough flashes to be a cog in a Celtics’ bench rotation that includes a Paul Pierce or a Kevin Garnett.
Hell, this entire conversation becomes moot if Shaquille O’Neal returns and plays well. But if the Celtics lose this series and guys are still glued to the bench in Boston when players are given a chance to shine in Atlanta, it won’t sit well. I don’t want to see the Cs pack up for the season without giving guys a chance when injury/foul trouble begs for it.