Brad Stevens played his decision to change up the lineup close to the vest most of the day, revealing it at the 11th hour shortly before tip-off in Monday night’s game at Charlotte.
New lineup or not, the Boston Celtics (9-8) have the same old problems that have plagued them most of this season which is why their 117-112 loss at Charlotte has them continuing to hover around .500.
And you know what?
Stevens intimated that the decision to have Aron Baynes start and Gordon Hayward come off the bench was just the beginning of changes on the horizon.
“We’re not done probably tweaking the lineups,” Stevens said. “And so, I do think you’ll see more.”
That’s a good thing because the combinations that Stevens has used thus far this season, have yet to gel with any consistency.
And that maybe, more than anything else, has made this season a head-scratcher for so many.
Boston should be better record-wise than what we’ve seen thus far.
It’s that simple.
While it’s true that 10 of the Celtics’ 17 games have been on the road, that’s no excuse for what we’ve seen thus far.
This team is being tested in more ways than what we see on the floor.
They pride themselves on being a close-knit group, but the struggles by so many players, the mounting losses, the combinations that aren’t working nearly as well as they did a year ago, has a way of wearing down the tightest of teams over time.
There is a level of soul-searching this team must individually go through in order to escape this basketball malaise they are stuck in now.
Otherwise, Danny Ainge will do what Danny Ainge does well and that's change up the roster dynamics with the goal being the same as it always is around these parts - to compete for a championship.
Boston has struggled, but a major shakeup at this point is unlikely.
However, there's no question that the players are feeling a mounting level of pressure as the number of disappointing performances continues to grow.
Because what we’ve seen thus far from the Celtics is a volatile, emotional series of cameos where their emotional engagement comes and goes sporadically to the point where this team looks nothing like the gritty squad we saw last season even though most of the significant participants from a year ago are back in the fold.
While Stevens’ decision to change up the starting lineup on Monday is expected when a team struggles the way they have, Boston getting back on track and playing like a title contender comes down to each player doing whatever their job is, better, regardless of their role or how many minutes they play.
Charlotte’s Kemba Walker had it cooking (again) as he torched Boston for 43 points less than 24 hours after lighting up the Philadelphia 76ers for 60 points on Saturday.
Marcus Smart is Boston’s best perimeter defender and spent a good chunk of the game trying to defend Walker, getting very little help.
When Walker used a screen to create space, the help-side defender was often too late rotating over to contest the shot.
And on the possessions when Smart went under the screen, Walker just raised up for a jumper or 3-ball.
Walker became the latest one-man show to show up Boston’s defense which is considered by many as the best in the NBA.
But Boston’s problems go deeper than what’s happening on defense or scoring the ball or the lack of rebounds … it’s about consistent effort.
And right now, that more than anything else is what Stevens is searching for.
That’s why the lineup change on Monday will likely be the first of many until Stevens and the Celtics find the right combination of players to compete more consistently.
Stevens explained part of his decision to have Hayward come off the bench was to pair him up more with Marcus Morris who has been arguably Boston’s most consistent player this season.
According to NBA.com/stats, the two average 9.8 minutes played together per game, shooting a combined 47.5 percent from the field and 36.5 percent from 3-point range while averaging 22.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 5.2 assists.
Like the rest of the Celtics, they struggled as well in combining to score just 13 points on 4-for-14 shooting from the field which included them combining to miss all five of their 3-point attempts but they did tally 16 rebounds.
With all that said, Stevens actually seemed more upbeat following Monday’s loss than you might expect.
“I did see more of what I would refer to as ‘Celtics basketball,’ than I have seen at least over the better part of the season,” Stevens said. “So, I leave a lot more encouraged than discouraged than when I came in.”
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