ATLANTA – The series scoreboard shows that Boston and Atlanta are all tied up at 2-2. But when it comes to the adjustments game, it’s not even close.
Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens is winning this thing, going away.
And while Boston comes into tonight’s Game 5 matchup having not won in Atlanta since Nov. 23, 2013, there’s no denying that the momentum as well as the matchup adjustments are in the Green Team’s favor.
The most notable change from the start of the series has been Stevens’ decision to replace Jared Sullinger with Jonas Jerebko in the starting lineup, a move made in concert with putting Evan Turner with the first group ahead of Marcus Smart who had replaced Avery Bradley (right hamstring).
Even Stevens’ non-adjustments have worked.
As Paul Millsap torched the Celtics in Game 4 with a career-high 45 points, Stevens decided to continue playing him straight-up with occasional help tilting towards Millsap rather than a full-blown double team.
“During the game, that was a really hard call with Millsap,” Stevens said. “The one thing you don’t want to do is get those other guys going. If you put too much emphasis on doubleing the post or rotating or whatever the case may be, (Kent) Bazemore gets a wide open 3 in the corner or a cut, (Jeff) Teague gets an open 3, (Kyle) Korver gets an open 3 … those are bad things as well. It’s a tough call in the heat of the moment.”
But lately in this series, Stevens has been pushing all the right buttons at the right time to give the Celtics a fighting chance against an Atlanta Hawks team that dominated them during the regular season with wins in three of their four meetings.
Of course with at least two games left to be played, this series’ momentum can easily swing back in Atlanta’s favor if head coach Mike Budenholzer makes a tweak or change that pays huge dividends.
But based on his words and the way his rotation has played out in the postseason, it’s not looking as though Atlanta will do anything structurally significant with its lineup other than maybe inserting former Celtic Kris Humphries into the playing mix off the bench after having not played (coaches decision) in each of the series’ first four games.
“I do think that those things at times are overstated, over-discussed,” Budenholzer said of adjustments. “Historically we have a group that we play with and we kind of stick to and hopefully over the course of a series or a season or course of a game, all of those habits and all of those principles and everything can get us through.
He added, “Can we do some things better? Can we make some slight adjustments? Some situations? Yeah. But that’s not what’s gonna win or lose the game. I don’t think that’s what wins or loses it for anybody.”
Well, let’s see.
Stevens takes Sullinger and Smart out of the starting lineup, in came Jonas Jerebko and Evan Turner.
It’s a small sample size, but Boston has won both games with those two with the first unit.
The Celtics don’t over-react to the awesome night Millsap was having in Game 4.
He tires out down the stretch, no one else really had it going, and the Hawks lose Game 4.
This series changed when Stevens made it up in his mind that his team had to change.
Budenholzer may be right.
Sticking to what the Hawks have done all season may in fact be enough for them to win tonight to take a 3-2 series lead.
But here’s the thing.
Not only are the Celtics making the most adjustments, they’re also getting closer to being at full strength the longer this series last.
Jae Crowder, still on the mend from a high right ankle sprain that sidelined him for eight games this season, looked good in Game 4 offensively for the first time in this series. He made the game’s first basket, a 3-pointer, and finished with 12 points on 4-for-11 shooting.
Kelly Olynyk, whose right shoulder injury has kept him sidelined most of this series, returned in Game 4 to play limited minutes. He didn’t score, but did manage to grab two rebounds while playing just under four minutes.
Then there’s Avery Bradley whose right hamstring injury is expected to keep him sidelined for the rest of this series but he has not been totally ruled out from returning, either. The deeper Boston gets in this series, the better the odds become no matter how slim, that Bradley can return in time to play in this series.
And that could be make for yet another set of adjustments in a series that’s full of them; from the Celtics side at least.