|Irish Coffee: Celtics rotating rotations||04.04.11 at 11:48 am ET|
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Unlike the last three years, when Celtics head coach Doc Rivers has had his rotation locked into place heading into the playoffs — whether Kevin Garnett was healthy (2008, 2010) or not (2009) — this postseasonseason will be a guessing game, at least for the first round.
As he said postgame — and Paul Flannery detailed when he nailed his Three-Pointer column — Rivers knows exactly what he wants it to be, and what he’s always wanted it to be this season.
“We’re not getting that set. That’s going to be just tough. What we have to do is get everyone on the same page, rhythm-wise. As far as rotations, I know it. It’s set. But we just got to get it together. We’ll be ready. If everyone’s healthy, I can tell you, I know it. I just haven’t seen it.”
On paper, it’s written. On the court? Rivers doesn’t know what it’s actually going to be. Therein lies the problem. The Celtics will be relying on the unkown — on chemistry, rhythm, whatever you want to call it — more during this playoff run than any other over the past three seasons.
It’s not the first half of the rotation that’s a problem. The Big Four were always going to be relied on for 30-40 minutes a game in the playoffs, and that hasn’t changed. It’s the uncertainty at center, Jeff Green‘s role and the expectations for Delonte West that cause problems.
The fact remains that Rivers is relying on a rotation that’s never actually been put into action on the court. Here’s what the Celtics coach told the Chicago Sun-Times:
“We haven’t played one second this year with our entire team intact and healthy. Either [Shaquille O’Neal] has been out [39 games], or Jermaine [O’Neal, 57 games] or Rajon [Rondo] has been out [12 games].”
Or West, Glen Davis, Nenad Krstic, Troy Murphy and Von Wafer, although the Celtics have to hope the latter two guys don’t end up in any nine-man playoff rotation. Despite that, Rivers remained confident in his discussion with the Sun-Times:
“I don’t know if there’s anything wrong with us. We’re not upset at all. When you consider all the stuff we’ve been through, I’m thrilled to death to be where we’re at. We’ll be ready when the time comes.”
But the same questions remain. Will Shaquille O’Neal be ready when the time comes?
Doc Rivers thinks so: “I don’t know, is the answer. I don’t think very long honestly. That’s what [team doctor Brian] McKeon and [the medical staff] thought, that it’s very minor. Scary, more than anything. We’ll see.”
Jermaine O’Neal thinks so: “He told me he’s Ok.. He seemed to be in good spirits when he left, and I think he may be out there on Tuesday, but we’ll see. He was laughing and joking, I think it was more of a scare for the guys on the team and the fans of the Celtics.”
Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski doesn’t necessarily think so. An Eastern Conference scout told him, “They need the O’Neals to add up to one complete player in the playoffs.” And he seemed to be leaning towards that equation not computing.
Will Green find a consistent role off the Celtics bench before it’s too late? He thinks so.
“It’s tough especially when you had to break up a team that just came from 7 in the NBA finals,” Green told HoopsWorld. “It’s tough to do that and it’s tough to bring in five guys to fill in late in the season like that. It’s been great. We had our slumps, but that’s what you have to do to get better especially when you have five new guys. We’re making strides and we’re getting healthier. Jermaine O’Neal is back, Shaq will hopefully be back soon. We’re making strides to be the top team again.”
Can the Celtics rely on West for as much as 20 minutes a night in the playoffs? Despite concerns over a chipped bone in his ankle, he seems to be answering that question over the last couple weeks. He’s scored in double digits in his last two appearances, and more importantly he’s dished out three or more assists in seven of his 11 games since returning March 16. At least the Celtics have one role player they can rely on going forward.
The same can’t be said for either O’Neal or for either of the two guys that came over in the Kendrick Perkins trade. I still believe the Celtics can get 30-plus minutes a night from some combination of the O’Neal “brothers” and Krstic — and rely on Davis for the remaining 15-20 minutes at center in addition to giving Kevin Garnett the occasional breather.
And I still believe Green can be a consistent contributor off the bench for the Celtics come playoff time. But just like Rivers, that opinions is based more on paper than on hardwood.
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