BOSTON –- Brad Stevens trotted out the same starting unit in four of the Boston Celtics’ seven preseason games, including the last two.
They all worked well – really well – together.
But with three days before the official start of the season, Stevens isn’t quite ready to coronate that group as the one that will take the floor when the Celtics host Philadelphia on Wednesday.
It’s too hard to tell whether this is just a sign of Stevens wanting to keep the Sixers somewhat in the dark as to what they’ll see to start Wednesday night’s game, or if Stevens is just being overly cautious due to the injuries and illnesses that have impacted Boston during the preseason.
“We’ll see how next week goes,” Stevens said. “We have two practices. Hopefully we’re past the illness bug and all that stuff. I felt they did a pretty good job.”
The team’s expected starting five on opening night – Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, David Lee and Tyler Zeller – has been the most successful of the four different starting lineups used in the preseason.
In the four preseason games with those starters, the Celtics have led by an average of 7.3 points after the first quarter.
Against Brooklyn on Oct. 14, the Celtics used a different starting lineup that included Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner, Crowder, Amir Johnson and Zeller.
After the first, they led by seven points.
Stevens continued the lineup carousel against New York on Oct. 16 when he unveiled a first unit that included Thomas, Bradley, Crowder, Johnson and Lee, which led by one point after the first quarter.
And on Oct. 19 against Brooklyn, Boston’s first five was made up of Smart, Bradley, Turner, Johnson and Zeller. After the first quarter, the Celtics led by five points.
Having Smart, Bradley and Crowder with the starters speaks to the Celtics’ desire to have a physical, punch-first-type of group on the floor at the opening tip-off.
“You have to start games well,” Stevens said. “You have to start the third quarter well and you have to be able to finish quarters. There are moments that we’re going to find out if a starting group that starts games well starts third quarters well. And if not, we’ll make the changes swiftly because we can.”
Locking in on a particular starting five is not easy when you consider the Celtics have led after the first quarter in every preseason game, regardless of who has been in the starting lineup.
While Stevens likes what he’s seeing from his first unit now, he has been in this league long enough to know what works now may not necessarily be effective in two months or even two weeks from now.
“It’s a long year. But you have to start well and you have to be prepared to play,” Stevens said. “When you’re generally ready to play, you look engaged, you sound engaged and you come out ready to roll from the get-go.”