With approximately a week left in the regular season that includes six games for the Celtics, there are a few loose ends to tie up. While everyone is rightfully awaiting how the “Battle for the Bronze” plays out between the Hawks and the Celtics, Doc needs to get his lab coat on and solve one major chemical equation he’s has trouble with all season: the bench rotation.
Let’s get one major point out of the way first: This team will go as far as their starters will take them. It’s obvious that they need the collective health of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and now Kendrick Perkins to be as close to optimal as possible. They also need Ray Allen to be able to log those heavy playoff minutes that he’s accustomed to. Finally, Rajon Rondo being completely engaged for every second he’s out there is probably the most imperative element in the typically solid starting five. But what about the bench?
We hear all the time about how chemistry is an important piece to any championship puzzle. That’s not exactly true if you take into account just how tumultuous some championship teams were (see the 1991 Chicago Bulls or the 2000-2002 LA Lakers). One thing that’s usually consistent with all true champions (as well as true contenders) is that they have a solid rotation going into the playoffs and throughout the playoffs (barring injuries, of course). Chemically thinking, the Celtics can be classified as this: Starting Five (solid), Doc (liquid), Bench (gas).
Similarly to liquids, Doc seems to change the shape (and amount of minutes to players) based on the flow of a game. For most of the early portion of the season we all heard how the injured Marquis Daniels was a huge problem. At the same time, Tony Allen was essentially frozen in carbonite and Doc said he had no idea when he would be back or even play. There was also the ever flowing issue of “Who is going to backup Rondo?” Eddie House’s glaring inept defensive abilities, coupled with his inability to simply bring the ball up the court prompted Ainge to trade him (along with JR Giddens and Bill Walker) to the Knicks for Nate Robinson. Now? My how things have changed as both are now officially out of the rotation completely.
Just a few weeks ago it seemed as if the rotation was finally taking on a more solid form. But the bench players have been in more of a combustible, gaseous state. For one game, Marquis would be a human Swiss Army Knife and play the ultimate utility role. Check the opponents’ superstar? Check. Get some post-up baskets, or take it to the hole? Check. Grab some rebounds, take a charge? Check. These days Daniels has been relegated to Brian Scalabrine’s game time chat buddy.
Last season Stephon Marbury was the 2009 version of Sam Cassell. The only problem was he kept himself in a box and never let “Starbury” come out and shoot the ball. Nate Robinson is the 2010 version of the 2008 Cassell and the 2009 Marbury. Unfortunately and quite shockingly for Nate, he’s already lost Doc’s confidence much sooner than the aforementioned Rondo backups. It doesn’t stop in the back court however.
Glen Davis began the season breaking his thumb trying to re-adjust his friend’s face. Rasheed Wallace has been every bit as advertised. He’s had games that have been equally frustrating and satisfactory. There’s at least a handful of fans asking everyday: “Why doesn’t Doc play Shelden Williams?” It’s relatively safe to say that the bench rotation is in an incessant gaseous state: There’s no definite shape or volume and if unconstrained, they will spread out indefinitely.
Historically the championship contending teams have a solid rotation. In the big picture this might not be a huge problem because Doc has always had a penchant to play his starters heavy minutes, especially in the playoffs during the New Big Three era. Perhaps Ainge has given Doc too many variables to work with when trying to solve the chemical bench equation. Doc needs to figure this out before the playoffs begin because we all saw what happened last year.
In the final analysis of last season’s brutal fourth quarter collapse against the Orlando Magic (at home) in Game 7, the majority of basketball minds agreed that the starters seemed exhausted. If the Celtics have any shot of going the distance this season this needs to be resolved. Amazingly, guys like Tony Allen and Michael Finley have carved out roles and essentially demanded minutes from Doc. If the supposed big acquisitions anticipate on making difference they need to show that they want to. Unfortunately for them there may not be enough time left to do so. Doc might just have too many other options he’s content with.