BOSTON – Sooner or later, this casting call for Boston Celtics starters is going to come to an end.
Boston has used two different starting lineups this season, each with varying degrees of success and a number of players deserving of a callback.
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens would love if his roster shuffling gets sorted out the old fashioned way – players clearly beating out other players to start.
But that’s not happening because the evenness that plagued this team to start training camp, is very much alive and well.
And if players can’t sort this out themselves, Stevens said he and his staff will intervene and “decide on a course of action.”
“We’re probably closer to deciding on a course of action,” Stevens said. “And maybe that’ll change a little game to game. But as long as there’s some evenness there, that’s your other choice; that’s Plan B.”
With multiple injuries (Marcus Smart with a toe and Amir Johnson with a sprained ankle) and inconsistent play from whoever the Celtics insert into the first unit, there’s no telling what direction Stevens will take as far as his lineup is concerned for tonight’s game against Washington.
The uncertainty about the Celtics’ lineup can easily be used to explain why they have struggled thus far to start games where they have been outscored by 5 ½ points after the first quarter of play.
Jared Sullinger, who went from being the team’s sixth big man to a starter on Wednesday, doesn’t see the lineup shuffling as an issue for why the team has struggled so mightily to start games.
“That’s making excuses if we have to have a set rotation,” Sullinger told reporters after practice on Thursday. “And this team prides itself on not making excuses. You have to be a pro’s pro. You have to be ready at any given moment.”
Sullinger recalled during his rookie season under then-head coach Doc Rivers, he played six minutes against Milwaukee, went to the bench and was then brought him in for the last 10 seconds because the Celtics needed a rebound.
“You’re always mentally ready to be in the game,” Sullinger said on Thursday. “As long as you’re mentally ready, you’ll be physically ready.”
There’s some truth to that, especially when you consider so many of the miscues made by Boston in the first half of games are mental breakdowns that lead to physical ones.
In the first half of games this season, Boston commits 10.0 turnovers per game which ranks 29th in the NBA, compared to 7.3 turnovers in the second half which comes in at a middle-of-the-pack 15th in the league.
Fewer turnovers results in more scoring opportunities.
Boston is averaging 55.3 points in the second half of games which is the fifth-highest average in the league. In the first half, Boston’s averaging just 44.8 points which ranks 27th in the NBA.
When you look at field goal percentage, assists, effective Field Goal Percentage, offensive rating … the numbers are nearly universal across the board showing the Celtics are a significantly better team after whatever Stevens’ halftime spiel in the locker room may be.
“Our first halves have been poor,” Stevens acknowledged. “We have not gotten the same level of looks with the same amount of purpose that we have in the second (half), especially the last two games.”
The Celtics spent part of practice on Thursday watching film which only made it clearer that a change in play to start games might result in a different finish for Boston (1-3).
“Our offense first half is nowhere near as good as our offense second half,” said Celtics big man Jared Sullinger. “That’s a direct result of us moving the ball.”
While it has certainly raised the concern level among fans, Sullinger doesn’t seem overly concerned about it as a problem the Celtics can’t handle.
“We’ll get better,” Sullinger said. “It’s only four games in; we’re not rushing. We’re not worried about anything. We’re just going to move forward.”