BOSTON -- The Celtics, as expected, made some lineup changes for Game 3 on Friday night, and big ones they were.
After back-to-back slow starts in which the Celtics were forced to turn to small ball early on, theyr'e going to cut right to it from the start.
"We're going to start [Evan] Turner for [Marcus] Smart and [Jonas] Jerebko for [Jared] Sullinger," coach Brad Stevens said. "So we'll go with Turner, Isaiah [Thomas], Jae [Crowder], Jerebko and Amir [Johnson].
"Obviously there’s some things from the starting group, as far as how we want to play, spacing-wise, those types of things factor in. Obviously, Jerebko gives you spacing, gives you some defensive versatility on the two bigs and then Turner has been, along with Isaiah, really able to get into the paint and do certain things and consistently be able to attack throughout the first few games. I think that’s that, Sully and Smart are still going to play, they’re still going to play big parts for us. I’ve said this before about the guards, you can just kinda throw a dart with those four guards and, Smart being the fourth one tonight, they’re all going to play 30-plus minutes for us on most nights.
If this is a lineup that doesn't sound very familiar, it's because it hasn't been used at many times this season. Perhaps Kelly Olynyk would get the start over Olynyk for the needed spacing, but he's out with a shoulder injury that limited him in Game 1 and kept him out of Game 2.
In fact, Stevens could only make light of just how little this starting lineup has been used this season . . . and now at the most important time, too.
"They’ve played a whole 33 possessions together. They’re plus-20," Stevens quipped. "So the sample size from a analytical viewpoint is not strong. But the one thing is you practice all year, you try different things, you’re going to have moments like this, especially with Avery and Kelly out, where you have to do something like that, and there will be groups off the bench that haven’t played much together, too. Any lineup with Terry [Rozier] or R.J. [Hunter] or both has not played very much. That’s why we practice all year, that’s why you play. You find a synergy in practice, you believe that what you’re doing is right, and you go out and do it."
You wouldn't say that Game 3 of the first round is the time to experiment with lineups and rotations, but Stevens has been left with no choice after Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, and Kyle Korver have made them pay over the first two games.
When Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer sat down for his press conference after Stevens, he wasn't aware of their lineup changes. He also didn't seem fazed by them upon getting the news from the media.
The Hawks are staying the course.
"I think just following us, we’re not a team that focuses on matchups or the other team and who they do or don’t play very much," Budenholzer said. "We’re gonna continue to do kind of what we’ve been doing during the course of the series. You kind of see those lineups at different times, so to see them to start the game—we’ll take a couple minutes, I’m sure, when I go back—but just generally speaking we’re a lot more focused on what we do and how we play and what’s important to us. Changing the lineups for the opponent doesn’t usually affect us that much."
The Hawks may not change much based on the news of the Celtics' starting lineup changes, but the Celtics sure hope they'll be forced to once things get going.