BOSTON – The time has come for Brad Stevens to make another change to his starting lineup.
And this next change may be exactly what they need to hold down the fort until two of their best players, Al Horford (concussion) and Jae Crowder (ankle), return.
I’m talking about Marcus Smart being put into the starting lineup in place of Jaylen Brown.
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Brown has shown himself to one day be a very good player in this league. But he’s making the kind of mistakes defensively that the Celtics can’t afford to have happen with that first group.
And while Brown got us all excited with a career-high 19 points in his first start at Cleveland, he hasn’t been able to rekindle that magic since.
Meanwhile, Smart seems to be getting better and better at both ends of the floor after having missed the team’s first three games while recovering from an ankle sprain in the team’s last preseason game.
Wednesday’s loss at Washington was another strong game for Smart who had 20 points off the bench.
But more than the scoring, Smart brought a defensive presence and aggressiveness that frankly, has been lacking from this team.
I know Stevens likes Smart with that second unit because of the stability that he brings.
But they’re at a point where they need to do something to improve their play to start the game, and the best shot at doing that short of a Horford/Crowder return, is to get Smart on the floor with the first unit.
Boston’s huge deficits in the losses are fueled by poor starts. And those poor starts have more to do with bad defense than ineffective offense.
Smart starting will make Boston even smaller than they are now, but the toughness and experience that he brings to the floor is sorely needed at the start of games.
And while Smart has struggled throughout most of his career in terms of shooting the ball, he knows his role with that first group would be more of a playmaker at both ends of the floor, more so than a point producer.
Remember, the Celtics have been one of the NBA’s most efficient teams offensively this season.
Boston’s points per 100 possessions (offensive rating) is 109.0 which is the second-best mark in the NBA. And their 107.7 points per game average ranks 6th in the league.
Now their defense is an entirely different story.
The Celtics’ points allowed per 100 possessions (defensive rating) is a league-worst 112.0. In addition, Boston has a league-low rebounding percentage of .453.
And that shoddy defense has led to opponents taking 28.9 free throw attempts per game which is the third-highest mark in the league.
It all adds up to a Celtics team that has shown themselves to be a talented group offensively, but one that has lost its way at the other end of the floor.
Considering defense has been the foundation of this team’s success under Brad Stevens, struggling so mightily at this end of the floor has him and most of us befuddled.
Stevens explains the troubles having a lot to do with players simply not being in the right position to be effective.
But the defensive problems that have been consistent issues with this team can also be traced to the lineups that are used simply not playing with any level of consistent cohesion.
They have too many defensive possessions where one or two player were out of position, or they don’t fight over a pick hard enough or they simply fail to close out on shooters with a hand up.
It’s a lot of little things that have added up to a big problem defensively for Boston this season.
And with two of their best defenders (Horford and Crowder) still out, Boston has to find a short-term solution.
That’s why it makes a lot of sense for Smart to be put with the first group.
He’s more than just one of the team’s better defenders.
Smart is an antagonistic, gritty, grimy player whose physical brand of basketball has a way of getting under the skin of opponents.
That’s exactly the kind of player the Celtics need with that first group that has struggled on several fronts defensively.