Jeff Green will be a key figure in the Celtics' small-ball lineups. (AP)
WALTHAM — With all the attention on who’s starting and who’s going to be on the court when the game ends, it’s important to remember than an NBA game is filled with multiple lineups and each has its own purpose. It’s the starters job to get a lead. It’s the bench’s job to provide support or change the flow of the game if it gets off on the wrong foot.
Some lineups have shooters. Some have defenders. Some strive for balance across the board.
More than most teams, the Celtics have relied on their starters to carry the weight. The potentially wonderful thing about this year’s squad is that Doc Rivers has options, and he’s excited about trying them all out. The reality is that Rivers has eight or nine players who could conceivably start or finish games and he seems far more worried about the middle part of the games than the beginning or the end.
Here’s Rivers on a big lineup with Kevin Garnett at power forward:
“You’re still going to play the same guys. Kevin’s going to play his 30 minutes and then you move around, but it does allow you to be big all the time if you want to be. It allows you to move Kevin to the r at times, which is good. So it gives you more options.”
And on whether Jason Terry or Courtney Lee could start:
“[Terry] could start. Whatever I prefer is whatever I think will be the best fit for our team. We may start Jason Terry and use him like Kevin for the first five minutes, just to get him some minutes and then bring him back in. We may start Courtney, so there’s a lot of ways we can go with it.”
If Rivers is being coy about his starters, he was much more open to talking about an intriguing pairing on the wing where he plans to play Paul Pierce and Jeff Green together.
“You can do it with the same lineup, just one’s a 2 and one’s a 3,” Rivers said. “You wouldn’t want to do it against a Miami with [Dwyane] Wade because one of those guys would have to guard Wade or a Ray Allen, a Reggie Miller type. You wouldn’t want them chasing guys off of screens. They don’t do that very well. It will be definitely a lineup we use, it will probably be a lineup we use every night at some point in games just to create our own matchup.
“There’s teams with big guards. That works offensively and defensively. There’s teams with a small guard, but not a great shooting guard and we can definitely do that because now that gives us an offensive advantage. It can go both ways.”
While Miami might not be the best look for this kind of lineup there are teams in the East who might make this interesting. Take Indiana with 6-foot-8 Paul George and Danny Granger on the wing. Or Brooklyn with Joe Johnson. Green would have played a huge role against Philadelphia in last year’s playoffs with all their funky combinations.
One of Rivers’ tasks this season is finding lineup where Green can be utilized to the best of his abilities. He can soak up minutes when Pierce is on the bench, but that’s at most 16 minutes or so and probably less on a given night. Getting the two of them together on the court would help increase Green’s time.
It’s easy to say now before the season has even started, but the rest of the Celtics seem on board with whatever combinations Rivers decided to use.
“Doc has a lot of options,” Garnett said. “He’s been playing with a lot of them during practice. Jeff Green in the lineup, the lineups that he’s playing with remind me of the 07-08 year when we had four smalls and one big and we had shooters and different dynamics to score the ball.”
If there’s one underlying hint to the coach’s direction, it seems that he’s trying to find ways to maximize their offensive potential and save some of the burden from his veterans. Terry and Jared Sullinger, for example, are more offensively-inclined than Lee and Brandon Bass, which may be why Rivers is thinking about starting them at times.
That seems smart considering the Celtics were once again a top defensive outfit last season, but a woeful offensive one. Along those lines, playing Pierce and Green together may take something away on the defensive end, but could potentially bolster that anemic attack.