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In Praise Of A New Second Unit

When Kendrick Perkins was traded last season, the hole that his departure left was more representative than literal. The almighty starting five that had never lost a playoff series was gone forever, undefeated record intact. But as valuable as Perkins was, his stature in Boston wasn’t that of a culture changing future Hall of Famer.

When Ray Allen was moved to the bench in favor of the ever-blazing Avery Bradley last week, something more significant than a simple basketball scheme happened. It was the second monumental move signifying a natural transition from the Big 3 to the franchise’s next phase of competitive play. Since 2008, Boston’s trademark of excellence has been Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett opening and closing each game. On a pure level of sentimentality, to have one of them (ironically, their most durable) be relegated to the bench is sad. However, when we begin to speak in terms of tactics and strategy, so far this move has been fantastic.

About a week ago, our Hayes Davenport presented a wonderful case as to why the Celtics should be starting Avery Bradley in every game moving forward. The team listened, and right now the sun couldn’t be shining any brighter. Both Bradley and Allen look comfortable in their new roles, and the defense is playing at a historically brilliant level, giving up a league best .948 points per possession and 28.4% shooting from beyond the arc in their last five games.

But what might be the most important and overlooked aspect of the move is how it’s allowed considerable lineup flexibility. Doc Rivers now has the ability to create different groups that the once solidified starting five had either prevented, or made difficult to see. One in particular has been nothing short of dominant.

On paper, it makes absolute sense for a unit of Bradley, Allen, Sasha Pavlovic, Garnett, and Greg Stiemsma to be an absolute torture rack. They have five individual defenders who range from solid to phenomenal, five guys who can knock down a shot, two Hall of Famers, and two guys who can create their own shot if a play breaks down. In 29 minutes together, this group is scoring 1.28 PPP while allowing an inconceivable 0.61 PPP. Wow.

Here’s an offensive shot performance chart courtesy of NBA.com.

And now one that details how this unit is doing defensively.

Last Saturday against the Pacers, the Celtics broke out this lineup at the beginning of the second quarter for the first time this season. They played the first 5:36 and finished with a +10. They then started the fourth quarter, played 4:40, and finished +4. Then on Sunday against the Sixers, the Celtics again started the second quarter with this lineup. They played together for 6:46 and were a +13. Then in the fourth quarter they played 4:45 and finished with a +6. That’s a +33 playing just under a half of basketball together. (As if it couldn’t get any better, Mickael Pietrus‘ probable replacement of Pavlovic makes this unit even more fierce and resourceful on both ends of the court.) Two night ago, against the Miami Heat, Doc Rivers went to this group to start the second quarter and they managed to stretch an 11 point lead to 16.

I’ll admit this sample size is microscopic, and it’s impossible for the numbers to stay as great as they’ve been, but looking at from larger point of view, I can’t think of one reason why this group wouldn’t see success for the rest of the season. On both ends of the court, they match up well with almost every team in the league, and every group that will matter once the playoffs begin. What this also does is allow Rajon Rondo and Pierce to get crucial rest without fear of the opposition taking advantage of the team’s two best players sitting on the sideline.

This is why Ray Allen’s relegation to the bench isn’t just about the secondary unit getting a scorer’s punch. So far it’s been much deeper than that, with several waves reverberating throughout the team. Before, a unit like the one I’ve detailed above would either have Brandon Bass on the court instead of Garnett, Keyon Dooling on the court instead of Allen, or Rondo on the court instead of Bradley. The Celtics have key players in the back ends of their career, yes, but classifying them as an “old” group right now may not be accurate. Three members of their starting lineup are 26, 25, and 21-years-old—either in the prime of their careers or have yet to enter it—and the bench’s main contributors aren’t exactly ancient. Pavlovic is 28, Stiemsma is 26, and Pietrus is 29.

Bradley’s elasticity as someone who can play big minutes at either guard position has allowed the coaching staff to get incredibly creative with creating mismatches against opposing second units, and it’s helped make the Celtics something they haven’t been since Dwyane Wade broke Rondo’s arm: a championship contender.

Twitter: @ShakyAnkles

  • -jp

    I will always hate Wade for that, he is forever a dirty player in my mind. Hope he never wins anything again

    • zebulion

      100% agreed. And it definitely didn't get spoken of enough – horrible, dirty, unacceptable play.

      • sightline75

        Wade and LeBron are children. They have been coddled by everyone their whole lives. MJ was great because he suffered, they expect success and cheat when they dont get it. They are the NBA's equivalent of silver spoon kids.

        Learn from a great team LBJ. You could have been the greatest player EVER! But you haven't got the humility to learn how to play the game. Your all X's and O's and no heart. Congratulations Captain Pea Heart. May you rest in pieces.

  • Josh

    Complayne Wade used to be a fav player of mine. Now hes garbage.

    • Anthony

      He ranks a close 3rd after Kobe and the entire Fakers team (not including World Peace) as the players I hate most.

      • Jay

        how do you hate Wade's dirty tactics and not RON ARTEST?

        • Anthony

          LOL… main reason is because I'm from Queens, NY. Secondly, Artest doesn't deny his antics. We all know he's a bit of a headcase and are never surprised by what he does. DWade, however, is a bit contradictory to his clean image. He gets away with alot of dirty plays.

          Odom, although he's from NY also, is on the hate list. He's just too Hollywood. DHoward, for all his talent, is also on the hate list. The guy only cares only about himself and his brand. He could care less about winning a championship. That shouldn't be a problem since he likely won't win anything in his career. Unless he rides the coat tail of another superstar.

  • lakershater13

    Wade…. Didnt he say before the Cs game the other night that the Heat lost on April 1st because it was April fools day. Oops. Thats probably something you say after you beat the Cs not something you say to fuel the fire to help the Cs hold a solid lead they whole game.

  • CsFanInArkansas

    Good post – I love how much consistent production we're getting out of guys like Bass, Bradley and The Stiemah this season. In my mind, those are guys that were a little on the "I don't know how much we'll get from him" side. Because of their production, it seems like we've really been able to play some consistent D – which has given our team a huge confidence boost…we got our spark back.

    There sure were a lot of people talking about how terrible of a GM Ainge was after he let the trade deadline pass without making any moves to "improve" the team…I haven't heard much about that lately…

  • Pauper

    Wade is definitely dirt scum. Broke Rondo's arm, gave a cheap shot to Ray in the chest when Ray was screening, and broke Kobe's nose in a freak'n All-Star game. Complete crap!

  • Eric

    Great post. Love the charts. Also love how you threw in a passing reference to Wade at the end and all anyone wants to talk about is what an asshole Wade is.

  • yeah

    So… so we don't need to go after a certain Eric Gordon if we can have Ray and Avery, do we?
    I'm still all for Austin Rivers though

  • CG12

    Bradley will make All-Defense this year. I cannot name one NBA guard who affects games more with his defense.

    • TJC

      A Mr Tony Allen could be that other guard….but I agree Bradley should be on the list!