New Starters Slowly Find Rhythm in Indiana

INDIANAPOLIS – Rarely does a new lineup hit the ground running. It takes time for five players to gel.

Wednesday night in Indianapolis, it took Boston’s new starting five of Isaiah Thomas (filling in for an injured Marcus Smart), Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Jared Sullinger two quarters to catch their groove.

And then, finally, those players hit the ground running. Nearly into the winner's circle.

Following an underwhelming start to the game, Boston’s new starting group, which had played only two minutes together prior to Wednesday's game, found a rhythm to start the third quarter. The fivesome combined to make six of their first 14 shots, outscoring Indiana 20-16 in the process, and quickly propelled the C’s back into this game.

“We got back to the basics,” said Jared Sullinger. “We worked hard, we moved the ball, and we got easy shots.

“We did find a rhythm, defensively and offensively.”

The group’s burst of chemistry was so apparent that Brad Stevens chose not to interrupt it – for nearly nine straight minutes.

Stevens, who is widely known to consistently rotate his players to take advantage of depth, left the starting unit on the court for the first eight minutes and 24 seconds of the second half.

“I thought we settled down and made a nice little run,” Stevens said of why he left the starters on the floor for so long. “We finally started moving the basketball a little bit, looking like much better offensively. That was the best part of the second half for me; we looked a little bit like a basketball team on offense.”

After trailing by as many as 10 points, Boston tied things up at 59-59 and trailed 65-62 when Stevens made his first substitution of the second half. Evan Turner and Jonas Jerebko replaced Amir Johnson and Jared Sullinger, respectively, at the 3:36 mark.

Boston and Indiana traded baskets for the remainder of the quarter and the C’s trailed 73-72 heading into the fourth.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, they were never able to go back to their starting unit from that point on.

Johnson, who has been one of Boston’s top rebounders and interior defenders this season, suffered a right ankle sprain during the third period that left him limping on the sideline. Although Stevens stated that Johnson was cleared to play during the fourth quarter, it was hard to imagine the big man making an impact on a hobbled wheel.

Without Johnson, Boston’s defense wasn’t able to muster up enough stops down the stretch. Indiana shot 53.3 percent during the fourth quarter and outlasted the C’s by two points, at 100-98.

“We played well, but well isn’t good enough in this league,” a visibly frustrated Isaiah Thomas, who scored a game-high 27 points, said after the game. “There were stretches where we looked like a really good team, and there were stretches where it looked like we didn’t know what we were doing. We’ve got to fix those stretches where we didn’t know what we were doing and turn those around.”

Fortunately for Boston, most of those moments occurred during the first half when a new starting group and a new second unit were feeling each other out. The second half featured much better basketball by the C’s, as evidenced by their 46.5 percent shooting and 22-21 rebounding edge over the final 24 minutes.

Boston certainly needs to clean some things up moving forward, particularly at the defensive end. Its new starting lineup, however, moved in the right direction as Wednesday’s game progressed.

The next step is to move the Celtics into the winner's circle.

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