Reinforcements for an overworked veteran starting five was priority number one for Danny Ainge and company this offseason, but you wouldn’t have known it through the C’s first five games. Rajon Rondo was leading the NBA in minutes, Paul Pierce had played 40+ minutes twice, including a game against the lowly Wizards, and the reliance on Kevin Garnett in the second half was heavier than ever.
It was expected that there needed to be some patience here for the newcomers to click, but after an underwhelming 2-3 start, Doc Rivers was poised to face a real dilemma. With an improved Eastern Conference in place, falling into an early hole in the standings as Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, Leandro Barbosa and company went through growing pains with the team was not an appealing option. Neither was leaning heavily on Big Three, especially Rondo more so than ever to help C’s not slump in the standings as much as they did in the first half last season.
It was fair to worry about just how long the learning curve would last for the newcomers, but let’s fast forward to the C’s past three wins, all three over quality, likely playoff teams in Milwaukee, Chicago and Utah. Not contenders by any means, but certainly the kind of contest the C’s would have trouble closing out in past years, especially on the road.
Minutes over those three games:
Pierce: 35, 32, 29
Garnett: 30, 28, 29
Rondo: 37, 37, 25 (w/injury)
Perhaps the most encouraging part of those numbers is the fact in a back and forth affair last night against Utah, Brandon Bass for the C’s that played over 30 minutes. Every member of the bench played 15 minutes or more. The group combined for a season-high 45 points, and survived both an injury to Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett playing just 18 of the first 36 minutes of the game, which allowed him to be fresh for a nip-and-tuck forth quarter.
Rondo has suffered countless sprained ankles over the past few seasons and despite Rondo’s willingness to return to the game last night, Rivers was able to play it cautious with his All-Star and feel confident about going for the win. That’s a scenario that Doc has not had the luxury of during The Big Three era. It took a few extra games for it to become a reality this season, but for once, the onus is falling off the starters, and that is a very promising development for this squad in both the short and long term.