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Why Keeping Jeff Green In The Starting Lineup Makes The Celtics More Dangerous

 

Doc Rivers was sitting at the podium Wednesday night, deep into his press conference after the Celtics escaped with a win over the Detroit Pistons when the starting lineup question came to me. The questions were coming fast and furious after another Jeff Green outburst, helping the Celtics overcome 25 offensive rebounds by the Pistons and secure the victory.

With the return of Kevin Garnett just days away, the possibility of a new-look starting lineup presented itself. Green had been playing out of his mind of late, and had arguably been the best and perhaps more importantly. the most consistent Celtic for going on a few weeks now. With the majority of that success coming with him in the starting lineup, I asked Doc a simple question.

“When KG comes back, would Green still be in the starting five?”

“Yes…it’s very possible,” Rivers replied.

Not satisfied, I probed for more information. Had Doc seen enough of it to be comfortable with Paul and Jeff at the two and three moving forward?

“I like it,” Rivers said. “I think it will be better when Kevin comes back quite honestly.”

And there’s the rub. The injury to Garnett may have opened the door to one of the most potent lineups the Celtics can roll out during the postseason, which will be a matchup nightmare for most opponents. Going big. Really big. It’s a lineup I had actually been begging (okay asking) Rivers to go to for a good amount of time.

Let’s flashback to my March 27th column entitled “Go Big or Go Home” which weighed the Celtics’ options without KG in the starting five.

One possibility, is sliding Green over to the two spot, so the team can go big against opponents with Bradley/Green/Pierce/Bass/Randolph, Wilcox or White. Rivers admitted this was a possibility when I asked him about it Monday at practice.

“I can tell you that’s a lineup we will use in this stretch. If we think we have an advantage offensively at the two, we’re going to do it, because of size,” Rivers said.

Rivers stayed away from that lineup last night against a smaller Knicks team, but still got burned for it. Pierce, for one appears to be tired of it. He’s had an unhealthy burden placed on him to rebound without KG, and the team is better off with him using his energy on the offensive end.

Thankfully, Rivers changed his mind about it after that Knicks game, since he’s gone big ever since.

Rivers openly admits he doesn’t know who is at what position when Pierce and Green are playing the 2 and 3 alongside Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass and Garnett.

“I don’t know who’s at [shooting guard], but I’m comfortable with that lineup. We’re playing a 2, two 3s, and two 4s, if you want to really be honest. I’m comfortable with that,” Rivers said.

Definition doesn’t matter though when it comes to starting lineups anymore. As we’ve seen with the Miami Heat, if you have a group of players that work well together, however big or small they might be, it’s something worth trotting out.

Rivers has seen that in the past few weeks with his starting core. Not only has Green been playing incredibly well in the starting lineup (22.5 points per game, 56% FG, 54% from 3-point range) the team’s numbers with him, Pierce and the rest of the starting core has been spectacular.

According to NBA.com, the four-man lineup of Bradley, Green, Pierce and Bass the past seven games without Garnett has been incredible. They have posted an offensive rating of 109.9 (well above-average) and a more than respectable defensive rating of 97.8 in 124 minutes played together. Both of those figures would be top-3 in the entire NBA in their respective categories.

The even more incredible thing about this? They’ve posted those numbers together while being weighed down by Chris Wilcox at the starting center spot. Add Garnett to the equation over the replacement-level (I’m being generous) Wilcox, and there’s little doubt that four-man lineup will be a better group overall. That reality is not lost on Rivers and company.

In fact, if you look back further at the numbers, they are even more impressive. Since Rajon Rondo went down on January 27th, the four-man lineup of Green, Pierce, Bradley, and Bass have been unbelievable together, posting an offensive rating of 115.5 (which would be 1st in NBA) and a defensive rating of 97.7 in 280 minutes together.

Pierce for one, sees the possibilities with him and Green out there together at the 2 and 3.

“You have to make a decision on whether you’re going to switch or trap the ball, or if you’re going to sag off the ball,” Pierce explained. “Many teams put their best players in a pick-and-roll because of the decision you have to make. And with him becoming a better pick-and-roll player, it’s tough to make a decision, especially come playoff time when you’re trying to figure out who to put your better defenders on.”

The addition of Green to the lineup also makes life easier for Pierce on the offensive end.

“The thing is, most twos, it’s going to be difficult for them to match up with me on most nights, especially in the Eastern Conference. You’re not talking about having to guard Kobe or guys like Harden. So, other than Wade and maybe a couple other guys like Monta Ellis, who can really put the ball in the hole, I think that’s a complete nightmare for a 2-guard to have to match up to me,” Pierce said.

Doc knows those speedy guards will be an issue some games, but has a simple solution for it.

“On those nights, we can go back to the normal lineup,” Rivers said simply.

And he’s right. The Celtics have an answer on their bench in Courtney Lee, whenever they need an extra guard defender. The problem for Celtics’ opponents is that they probably don’t have an easy answer for Pierce and Green together at those positions. With Bass playing much better basketball as of late, and Bradley finding his stroke on the offensive end as well, it’s a lineup no one will want to see come playoff time. Give credit to Green though for making the lineup a reality. He’s earned it, as Doc explained at practice yesterday.

“I wasn’t going to give it to him. Starters have to be more consistent. Bench players are inconsistent guys who have gone up and down. Jeff has earned that, and I’m really happy, because he makes everyone better,” Rivers said.

Now the Celtics wait anxiously for Garnett to return and see the big five-man lineup in action. The Bradley/Green/Pierce/Bass/Garnett lineup has only played 13 minutes together this year, since Rivers had wanted to stay away from it until Green came into his own.
 
“Early in the season it was bad,” said Rivers. “We started camp with that lineup and it wasn’t very good. It was more (a issue) in the defensive end, but even in the offensive end when they would both run into the post. It just took time. Jeff needed to get more comfortable. I didn’t want to throw him into the same spot as when he first got here, where we were trying to throw him at the 3 and the 4 at the same time. Now we’re saying 2, 3 and 4. We made a conscious effort to stay away from that lineup until we thought Jeff was right.”

He’s right now though…and everything about the Celtics will be better for it. Is the perfect solution for finding the group that can hold their own both offensively and defensively down the stretch of playoff games?

We don’t know yet, but all signs are pointing to it being a distinct possibility.

  • GymRat

    We may never see it as who knows what DA will do in the offseason, but man I wish we had this team at full strength. As good as the Avery/Pierce/Green/Bass and potentially KG line up will be, a line up of:

    Rondo/Pierce/Green/Sullinger/KG would crush it. Even Miami would struggle against that lineup (assuming you got playoff Rondo who is committed on the defensive end) and the rebounding and interior defense would improve dramatically.

    • Josh_5

      I was just pondering that exact thing. I wish so badly we could have a healthy Rondo and healthy Sully. We would DEEEEEEEESTROY teams with those guys healthy. Rondo-Bradley-Pierce-Green-KG or Rondo-Pierce-Green-Sully-KG. #wouldntbefair.

    • hydrofluoric

      No Avery-free lineup faces Miami under my watch IMO. We can't underestimate Wade; he'd go off for 30 a game on Pierce. And if we doubled him like we did last year, LeBron would go off for 35 a game just like last year.

      Rondo has to play for offense, and Avery has to play for defense. Sully's limited quickness probably makes him odd man out against Miami, though with him we'd WRECK the Knicks/Pacers.

      • GymRat

        I can see your point and Josh_5's lineup of Rondo/Bradley/Pierce/Green/KG may be the better line up, against them. But I disagree on Sully's effectiveness and Pierce getting lit up by 30 every game and here is why —

        The last time we beat Miami, Sullinger and KG started together with Pierce and AB and Lee in the backcourt and Green played over 40 minutes with Bass only playing 13 minutes. (Rondo was injured).
        http://www.nba.com/celtics/stats/boxscore_reader….

        The advantage of having Sully in the line up (assuming Miami plays a line-up of Chalmers/Wade/LeBron/Bosch/Haslem) is rebounding and interior defense. Sadly we didn't get to see a lot of it, but when Sully was made a starter beside KG the lane really tightened up, the rebounding improved considerably, we got lots of deflections and steals in the paint and it forced teams into jump shots – which is exactly how you beat Miami. You also take away the advantage LeBron gains in switches where he tries to back down smaller guys and score in the paint.

        Green has proven to be a solid cover against LeBron (better than Pierce IMO). Sully can hang with Bosch who doesn't really attack the rim and mostly shoots jumpers. KG demolishes Haslem and gets to roam and double and challenge drives. Pierce might struggle in one on one isos against Wade, but Green, Sully, and KG can help in any other situation. We can play them straight up and even if Wade and LeBron each go for 30 that's only 60 points with the rest of the team not really having any clear advantages they would have to live and die by role players knocking down contested 3's and whatever Bosch can get.

        Meanwhile Rondo slices them up, Sully snatches boards, Green slashes and fires at will, and Pierce gets to be a distributor/scorer which keeps him fresher and lets him pick his moments instead of shouldering the load. Offensively we would have a serious advantage.

        Unfortunately with Bradley you loose a lot of those advantages as either Green or Pierce would have to guard Bosch. Bradley and Rondo in the backcourt doesn't stretch or spread the floor (I'm sure Miami would invite them both to shoot) and you lose out on the rebounding edge and lose interior toughness with Green at the 4 forcing KG to do all the work.

        I do love Avery coming in off the bench fresh to wreak havoc against a tired Chalmers or Wade.

        Fingers crossed hopefully we get to see any of those line-ups next season.

        • hydrofluoric

          You've made your whole case assuming Haslem is in the Heat's lineup. During the most important parts of the game, we'll 100% likely see Shane Battier there instead, meaning we'll be facing 4 guys who can shoot the 3, 3 guys who can penetrate, and 3 guys who can post up in iso.

          You've also projected Sully to defend Bosh, but pulling Sully out to the perimeter is a great way to waste his rebounding ability.

          • GymRat

            I made my case based on the projected starting line up of Miami versus the starting line up I would love to see. It's impossible to guess all the variables for in-game line up changes and the chess game of match up adjustments. Should Battier come in there are various ways to combat that which may or may not include Sully.

            You also seem to be ignoring the offensive half of the floor. If Sully is guarding Bosh or even Battier and is drawn away from the basket he isn't in ideal position to get defensive boards, but that's not where this team really struggles, and this doesn't effect him on the offensive end where he is the best offensive rebounder on the floor in any of those line ups. Easy put backs and extra possessions win games.

  • High Rollers

    I have really enjoyed seeing Paul take to Jeff over the last couple of months. Vets are usual pretty stingy about embracing new young teammates as go-to guys and for good reason. Like Doc said, you have to earn it.

    • emg

      this is true. i was at the game with good seats near the bench and Pierce's demeanor and pleasure in Green's game was in full display, he kept laughing and being happy.

  • High Rollers

    Man, I wish I could see tonight's game against the Kyrie Irving Show… I mean the Cavs. With that kid back in action, somebody's going to be reminding Avery B. about his short-lived tweet a while back. If Kyrie is going to get 40, it better be on 40 shots, Zero Tolerance!

  • elroz

    So, Terry and Lee off the bench. Perhaps Lee can actually play some small forward time if the small forward off the bench is not too big? Lee is 6'5. The it would leave Wilcox-Randolph to pick up some KG and Bass minutes.
    Of course, Doc might work in some Terrence Williams-Crawford minutes in as well, just enough to give the starters and Terry a little breather.

  • tbunny

    Unless KG is hurting I have to think he comes back for another year with this roster.

  • IBleedGreen

    Green needs to start. Bradley should come off the bench only when an opponent guard shoots lights out.

    • Josh_5

      Dude, you can start both. We roll with Bradley-Pierce-Green-Bass-Garnett. You don't bench Avery.

      • IBleedGreen

        I'll take Courtney Lee over Bradley any day of the week.

        • jman

          I second that

  • Richard,Bay View,WI

    Sometimes your sixth man should be your second or third best player. If not at least a defensive stopper to put on an opponent’s player with the hot hand.

  • DANNY

    AVERY BRADLEY IS GOING TO HAVE TO IMPROVE HIS SHOOTING!!!!!!!

  • Tos

    I’m not sure why this hasn’t been mentioned, but Avery is a much better player alongside Rondo than he is without Rondo in the lineup. He’s an off the ball slasher which he gets to utilize less without Rondo.

    Green has come into his own, but I have no doubt he can play extremely well alongside Rondo in a more prominent role than he had early on in the season when he played minutes with Rondo.

    Wilcox, ah another player who is lost out there without Rondo. Isn’t it clear that slashers end up so bad without Rondo? I’m suprised no one has drawn this conclusion yet.

    This post season will be interesting, but to me next season could be way more interesting

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