Despite predictions to the contrary, the Boston Celtics have not completely imploded since trading away Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green.
There’s no denying, however, that with Rondo and Green now playing their ball elsewhere, Boston’s starting five has been nothing short of a mess.
The Celtics have employed one of two starting lineups for 12 of the 13 games since the Green trade: one consisting of Evan Turner, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller, and another that swapped out Zeller for Brandon Bass. Both have been among the worst in the NBA.
The Zeller lineup has been outscored by an average of 16.1 points per 100 possessions this season. The Bass version is just a tick better at minus-15.8. That’s not a knock on either big man — both have been among the Celtics’ most consistent players this season — but rather clear evidence that the combinations head coach Brad Stevens has come up with simply are not working.
That’s been more apparent than ever since Boston returned home last week from its surprisingly successful Western Conference swing. The Celtics sleepwalked out of the gate Friday in an eventual loss to the Houston Rockets, then did the same two days later against the Miami Heat.
With Zeller replacing Sullinger in the starting lineup for the latter after Sullinger arrived late to walkthrough, Boston posted its lowest halftime (31) and final (75) point totals of the season and failed to crack 20 points in three of the four quarters. (Again, not Zeller’s fault; he tied Bradley for the team high with 17 points.)
The Miami loss — the Celtics’ third straight — left Stevens searching for answers.
“I don’t know that there’s a clear-cut answer from a starting lineup standpoint,” the coach said Sunday. “We’ve talked about that. Because it’s not fair to assess, necessarily, the starters versus their starters, and then if we say the second unit is being more effective. I think we need to view it, see it, really analyze it and see if we can make a tweak or small change that can maybe change it.”
The time to make that change might be Tuesday night, when the Celtics visit the suddenly surging New York Knicks. Stevens told reporters at morning shootaround that he’s “considering changing one spot,” though he wouldn’t divulge which one.
Is there a chance the change is simply inserting Sullinger back into his usual spot after a one-game demotion? Sure. But with the lengths Stevens went to Sunday to stress that the forward’s benching was not a big deal, that seems unlikely.
A more plausible option — and one many Celtics fans would welcome — would be plugging in rookie point guard Marcus Smart to replace Turner.
Turner has started 19 of the 23 games since the C’s shipped Rondo out of town, and he’s had his moments — a game-winning 3-pointer in Portland chief among them — but he’s also struggled mightily with his shot of late. He’s gone 2-for-16 from the floor over the last two games, including an oh-fer against the Heat, while handing out just three total assists.
Smart, meanwhile, played 30 minutes to Turner’s 19 against Miami and took the floor with the starting lineup to begin the second half. Throw Turner’s sprained thumb into the mix, and this could be the time to give Smart some run with the starters.
Thumbnail photo via Russell Isabella/USA TODAY Sports Images
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