Small Lineups Could Yield Big Improvements for C's

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics might be forced to go small in order to play big against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Boston lost handily Wednesday night, 117-104, during a game that at one point featured a 28-point lead for Cleveland. But as the final three quarters unfolded, the Celtics may have discovered some smaller lineups that could help them do big things moving forward.

“Today I felt like it was more advantageous to go small later,” Brad Stevens said after the defeat.

Jae Crowder might be the best source of information on Boston’s team when it comes to its small-ball lineups. He has been the team’s go-to power forward within such groups.

Crowder, who totaled 21 points, eight assists and five rebounds Wednesday night, saw a glimmer of light as the C’s rolled with smaller lineups throughout the second half of Game 1.

“I think we were able to capitalize on how they were defending the pick-and-roll, especially with Isaiah (Thomas) being the primary ball handler,” Crowder said, as Thomas sat to his left and nodded his head in agreement. “We were able to make reads and play it simple.”

And what happens when Boston makes reads and plays it simple?

“We know we can get any shot we want against these guys,” Crowder stated confidently.

Maybe that’s why the Celtics shot 58.1 percent from the field during the second half of the game. Maybe those small-ball lineups also played a key role in the Cavaliers shooting just 40.5 percent from the field during the second half of the game.

Stevens questioned those results at the end of the night, saying, “I don’t know how much you can glean from that third and fourth quarter.” His comments were likely alluding to the notions that the Cavaliers may have relaxed a bit with their large lead, and that the Celtics may have taken advantage of the minutes eaten up by the end of Cleveland’s bench.

However, the numbers are the numbers, and they say that the Boston Celtics were a far more competitive team when they played small than when they played big.

Brown came off of Boston’s bench and was the team’s top rebounder with nine, all while scoring 10 efficient points and providing versatile defense on LeBron James and Co.

Smart, meanwhile, was an energy-giver, as always, who at times was matched up with Cleveland’s offensive rebounding machine, power forward/center Tristan Thompson. Smart does not match up with Thompson when it comes to height and length, but he does match up with Thompson when it comes to heart and effort.

The Celtics may have learned that those latter characteristics will be key in keeping Thompson off the offensive glass during this series; Thompson was visibly frustrated by Smart during the second half as the big man tallied just one offensive rebound to go along with two personal fouls.

Meanwhile, Green showcased yet again that he can be an instant scorer off the bench. He tallied 11 points in less than 14 minutes of action while hitting four of his six shots. Green is another player who can guard multiple positions and add length and athleticism to Boston’s defense.

With all of that in mind, those who watched this contest from a green perspective must believe that the Celtics found something during the second half of Game 1. It didn’t lead them to a win, but it gave both them and the Cavaliers something to think long and hard about as Game 2 approaches Friday night.

The interchangeable combination of Crowder, Brown and Smart, along with a potential added boost from Green, could be the key to Boston achieving success as the rest of this unfolds. The Celtics are more versatile at both ends of the court with two or three of those players in the game at the same time within small-ball lineups, and those lineups give Boston much more ability to negate Cleveland’s strengths at both ends of the court.

It would be no surprise if Stevens winds up turning to these lineups again during Friday night’s Game 2.

In fact, we might even see one of them for the opening tip.

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