By Brian Robb, CBS Boston
BOSTON — Slow starts have been a staple of the Celtics’ postseason, no matter the opponent. Brad Stevens found ways to adjust against the Bulls (starting Gerald Green) and Wizards (turning back to Amir Johnson) but results overall were mixed against Washington, particularly on the offensive end.
The original starting five that was a juggernaut throughout the regular season has simply not translated well to the postseason. That’s an issue that the C’s simply can not afford to have against the defending champions.
“They hit us first. They were more physical on both ends of the floor,” Isaiah Thomas said after Game 1. “And that was the difference. With a team like that, the defending champions, you can’t let them hit first. We’ll make sure it’s different on Game 2.”
Since Johnson was a non-factor through the regular season against Cleveland as well, Stevens must find a solution to his team’s early game struggles and he must do so now. The Celtics are obviously a long shot to win this series anyway, but that turns into no shot if they can’t win Game 2 at home before heading back to Cleveland. It’s time for the head coach to mix things up — and that begins with finding a better mix to keep pace with the Cavs right out of the gate.
So what’s the solution in the starting five? Let’s look at some potential options for the Green for tonight.
The reserve shooting guard has ranked fifth in minutes this postseason, so he’s essentially the team’s fifth starter already. Smart’s ability to switch onto multiple positions is a huge plus in his corner against Cleveland’s athletic starting five, but his offensive limitations are a bit worrisome when it comes to Boston’s spacing.
He’s scored in double figures just twice this postseason and his inconsistent shooting could help the Cavs get away with more trapping against Isaiah Thomas. Stevens also likes to have Smart run the second-team offense, so starting the 6-foot-4 guard could have a fairly strong ripple effect on his bench rotations. For that reason, I’d lean away from starting with Smart, knowing he could always be an option at halftime. If he does start, I wouldn’t be shocked if he spends some time guarding Tristan Thompson, since he’s one of the only guys on the roster who had success on that front in Game 1.
The postseason has been a roller-coaster ride already for the 20-year-old in his rookie season, but he was one of the team’s few silver linings in Game 1. He grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and showed the athleticism that made him look like he truly belongs on the floor. The 3-point shooting (21 percent in postseason) remains a little too inconsistent for Stevens to confidently use him to spread the floor, but Brown did an admirable job hanging with LeBron in 1-on-1 situations throughout the season. If the Celtics aren’t going to win this series anyway, getting some seasoning for one of their top young pieces isn’t a bad idea, particularly when he’s making a case to play more.
After being a consistent member of the C’s rotation all year long, the Swede has been buried on the bench for much of the postseason. He’s been a DNP-CD in four straight games and played just 18 total minutes against the Wizards after Stevens tightened the rotation and went with smaller, more athletic options (Brown, Rozier).
On paper, the Cavs are a better matchup for him than some of the other C’s bigs though. The 6-foot-10 stretch 4 has the size to fight Kevin Love in the post and provides the kind of floor spacing that Stevens is looking for on paper. The problem is that Jerebko has not shot the ball well in the second half of the season after suffering a broken nose back in February. Either way, he deserves a shot at rotation minutes over Johnson, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him get a chance to start as well, since it would allow Stevens to keep his other bench rotation (Olynyk, Brown, Rozier, Smart) intact.
Starting Green worked against the Bulls and didn’t work against the Wizards, so will Stevens try it one more time against the Cavs? If Brad Stevens is worried about the offense, it might be the best choice.
The C’s have shown few signs all year long of containing Cleveland’s firepower, so at the least, they have to be better positioned to keep pace with it. Green’s the best wing shooter on the team’s bench and is capable of making the open looks that the C’s struggled with in the first half of Game 1. His defense leaves much to be desired (making him an easy target for the Cavs) but it’s evident this team needs some offensive rhythm and confidence out of the gate if they want to hang with the defending champs. Green very well could be the answer on that front.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.