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Doc Rivers’ Dilemma

Sebastian Lena March 7, 2013 Celtics News, The Team 26 Comments

With a little more than 20 games remaining, the NBA is officially in the midst of its stretch run.

This is the time teams sink or swim. When the jockeying for playoff position begins heating up. Where the pretenders are separated from the contenders. But most importantly, this is the time teams start taking a good long look at the cards in their hand and either check or fold.

Do they tank for a better lottery pick or continue battling for an improbable playoff seed?

Should they begin resting key players for the postseason or attempt to lock up home-court advantage?

Would a change in game plan take them to the next level or is the current strategy sufficient enough?

These are just some of the questions teams will be asking themselves in the next coming weeks.

However, the Boston Celtics find themselves in a rather peculiar position.

At 33-27, the Celtics currently sit at the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. They are five games back of the New York Knicks in the Atlantic Division and only 1.5 games separate them from the Brooklyn Nets for the No. 4 seed.

So do they make a run at the Atlantic Division title and risk only securing a No. 4 or No. 5 seed—with a potential date with the Miami Heat looming in the second round—or do they play it safe and try and wrap up the No. 6 or No. 7 seed, pushing off a potential showdown with the Heat until the Conference Final?

It might seem like a foolish dilemma to present, but it’s one head coach Doc Rivers should seriously consider.

 ♣ ♣ ♣

Through 59 games, Miami are 45-14. Its won 16 straight and hasn’t dropped a game since Feb. 1.

The Heat are easily playing the best basketball in the league right now.

During the winning streak, LeBron James has averaged 28.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game. He’s also shot a staggering 60 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from three-point range.

At the same time, Dwyane Wade has averaged 24.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 2.3 steals per game during the stretch. He’s also shooting at a 55.5-percent clip from the field.

With just one of these players on the roster, Miami would still be an intimidating playoff foe. But with both in tow? Good luck.

This is a team that doesn’t put its guard down for a second. Whether it’s the San Antonio Spurs or the Charlotte Bobcats, you can expect the Heat to exert their 110 percent.

In fact, only two of their 14 losses this season have come against sub-.500 opponents—one in which Wade was sidelined.

Sure, Boston took these guys to seven games last season. But it also benefitted from having Rajon Rondo put together one of the best playoff series in franchise history—20.9 PPG, 11.3 APG, 6.9 RPG and 1.9 SPG.

The Celtics won’t have that this year.

In my opinion, it’s best to face these guys later rather than sooner.

The only question remains, how can Boston ensure this?

 

Option 1: Win the Division

While making up a five-game difference over 22 games may seem daunting, it’s not entirely impossible.

Only the Knicks—division leaders—and Nets—3.5 games back—stand in the Celtics’ way.

However, the way in which each team closes out the season will determine everything.

Here’s how it breaks down:

For Boston, the road ahead isn’t too difficult.

The Celtics do have a three-game road trip left from Mar. 20-Mar. 23. However, two of those opponents—the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks—are below .500. In fact, only four of their 11 road contests are against plus-.500 teams.

Not to mention, Boston will get a chance to make up some ground in the division with two games remaining against New York at the end of the month and a matchup against Brooklyn in April.

On paper, the Nets might look to have the easiest draw out of the three.

Brooklyn only has 21 games left, with only eight of those against plus-.500 opponents. However, 13 of its remaining games are on the road. That includes a massive eight-game road trip from Mar. 18-Apr. 3. In total, seven of the Net’s eight matchups against plus-.500 foes are on the road.

So much for that easy draw.

The Knicks have the toughest closing stretch by far.

Only 11 of New York’s 24 remaining games are at home. To make matters worse, it has a whopping 17 games left against plus-.500 teams. Starting tonight, the Knicks’ next seven contests are against such opponents. That includes a five-game road trip from Mar. 11-Mar. 18.

Throw in the mystery surrounding Carmelo Anthony’s injury and New York is prime picking for a late-season slip-up.

A division title is definitely there for the Celtics’ taking.

If they can handle their business, there’s a very strong chance that the other two will falter.

Maybe, even as soon as by the end of next week.

 

Option 2: Play It Safe and Wrap Up the No. 6 or No. 7 Seed

Yes, I know what you’re thinking.

Why would Boston want to tank some of their remaining games? How does that benefit the team heading into the postseason?

Well, tanking doesn’t benefit anyone. Easing the foot off the pedal a bit just might.

For starters, the Celtics currently hold a 2.5-game advantage over the No. 8 Milwaukee Bucks. Should anyone ever be intimidated by the Bucks? Thought so.

But most importantly, some of their key players could use some rest.

Specifically Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett—35 and 36, respectively—who are running on tired legs. And lately, it’s starting to show.

Going into the season, the plan was to limit the duo’s playing time. Anywhere between 25 to 28 minutes a night would be perfect. It would not only help keep the two active, but also leave them well rested for a potential playoff run.

Instead, Pierce is logging in 33.9 minutes per night and Garnett is averaging 30.3.

You can blame a poor start and bad luck with injuries for that.

However, against the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 22, Garnett was given the opportunity to rest for the first time this season. In five games since, he’s averaged 15.2 points, 9.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. The big man has looked a lot more refreshed on the floor and his performance has benefitted.

Pierce—who has played in all 60 games—could certainly use a night off himself.

With a rejuvenated Pierce and Garnett on the roster, there’s no telling how high Boston’s ceiling will be during the postseason.

But run them to the ground over the last month of the regular season, and risk burnout and a first-round exit.

It’s your choice.

Besides, I’d much rather take my chances against the Knicks or the Indiana Pacers than the possibility of a Derrick Rose-led Chicago Bulls.

♣ ♣ ♣

Both options offer up their own variety of pros and cons.

However, determining which option to choose depends on a couple other variables.

In my opinion, if I were the Celtics, I would closely follow the next couple of weeks.

Both New York and Brooklyn have a tough slate of games on hand. There’s a strong possibility that one, or even both, might drop several games during the stretch.

If that’s the case, Boston should fight tooth and nail for the division until the last second of the final game of the regular season.

On the other hand, if both the Knicks and Nets come out unscathed—paired with a couple losses by the Celtics—then it might be a good idea to take the opportunity to rest some players.

While living in fear of another squad is never the way a team would like to play out their season, sometimes it’s all about how the dominoes line up.

It could be the difference between a disappointing first or second-round exit and an improbable run to the NBA Finals. Just ask last year’s Boston team.

Better get your popcorn ready.

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  • piecz

    Best option would be to play Knicks in the 1st round. No matter if it starts in Boston or NY. I’m pretty sure we’d beat them.

  • Grandad434

    This team is all in and have been since Rondo went down. I don’t expect anything less over the next few weeks. This is turning out to be an awesome season for this C’s team that are still relatively new to one another. Playoffs!!

  • LAF

    forget everything. just play to win every night and let the chips fall where they may.

    • KWAPT

      Bingo. Using the word “tank” where men like Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce & Kevin Garnett are involved does not compute. Not happening. Thank God.

  • Mr. Curet

    I’d rather Boston facing Miami in the 1st round with Terry, Pierce & KG rested instead of facing them in ECF when they’d be all beat up from previous series. Look at what happened last year, they ran out of gas in game 7. So if they’re going to take them down might as well do it in the 1st round. Besides, it’s not like they get something for advancing, if they don’t win the title the season was a bust, whether they go out in 1st round or in the finals it makes no difference.

    • eddysamson

      I feel the same way to some extent but at the same time the Heat have Allen, Wade, Battier, Miller, Andersen, Lewis that are all old and will be beat up quite a bit by the ECF.

      • dk

        Agreed

      • Celtics ny

        Lebron James.

        • eddysamson

          I dont think you can say that after the ECF last season…

          • justin

            agree as well. biggest question, will stern actually allow a heat loss in opening round reguardless? avoid em till the big show in the ECF where the whole world will be watchin, make it tougher on stern to pull that sh*t

    • mike

      i agree also, but facing them in the ECF also gives way to the possibility of an injury to wade, james or bosh also.

      • Roy

        Play them early and get it over with. Either way it’s gonna go through Miami so we either knock them off early in the playoffs or we meet them later on. The only other way I’d like to see us play the heat is if they have to play the pacers, and we face them after. they will be beat up by then

  • $tephanie95

    The only thing I want them to do is give their all every night and everything else will take care of itself. As far as seedings it doesn’t really matter to me.

  • screaming jay

    Anything is POSSIBLLLLLLLLE!

    Wearing green colored glasses and drinking green coolaid, but still, the above statement really is true.

    Remember the ’69 Mets? Our Celtics chances are much much better than what happened back in ’69.

  • RedsLoveChild

    Naturally, it`s always preferable to delay playing the best teams as long as possible.

    You get to “buy time”, as there is always the chance the best team might get upset or suffer a key injury in the interim.

    That said, when has any non-superior team ever “maneuvered” it`s way to a championship???

    • eddysamson

      NY Giants last year?

      • Chulinho

        The Baltimore Ravens this year.

        As for NBA basketball, I’d say the closest was the Mavs a couple of seasons ago, and the Pistons almost a decade ago.

        • RedsLoveChild

          Some maneuvering…you`ve gotta be kidding!

          2011 Mavs–after sweeping the two-time defending champion Lakers in 4, they beat LBJ and Miami in 6.

          2004 Pistons–after knocking off the #1 seeded Pacers in 6, they destroy the Kobe/Shaq Lakers in 5

  • dk

    I don’t get why the NBA doesn’t re-seed after each round. They do it in the NFL.

    Granted it helped us get homecourt over 76ers in the semis–but it’s silly that teams are penalized for winning atlantic and coming in 4th –resulting in them playing Miami–resulting in teams considering tanking games to end up with a lower seed and an actual more favorable playoff matchup down the road. If the NBA is all about making sure they have the best product out there–and have penalized teams like the Spurs for resting guys, they should implement the same rationale with re-seeding.

    • Sebastian Lena

      Actually, if the C’s won the atlantic they would be either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed.

      Although I do agree that re-seeding after each round would be much better.

      • dk

        Not necessarily–this happened to them the last 2 years. The lowest than can be is 4th based on record. Plus it doesn’t even guarantee home court. Last year in the 4 v. 5 matchup against Atlanta they were 4th seed having won the Atlantic, and they didn’t even have home court because Atlanta had a better overall record than the C’s.

  • Frank5

    The only truly “improbable playoff seed” is 1st. After the Knicks lose tonight, the Celtics will be only 4.5 games out of 2nd. Watch for that number to be even lower by the time the Knicks get to town on 3/26. Count it.

  • thekid

    while it could hurt the celtics big time that they dont have rondo we do have some major upgrades from last year tho. Bradley and Green should atleast have a fighters chance of containing James and Wade which we absolutely could not do last year.

  • Boogie

    I’ld really like to play Miami in the 1st round. I’ld like our chances better when PP & KG are fresh. A lot of energy gets expelled during the playoffs. The more games played, the more tired they become. But, it is what it is. Where we fall is where we fall. Besides, how sweet would it be to see the Heat lose in the 1st round?

  • Caterpillar from Italy

    I’m glad the two Miami divas are putting together that scary numbers NOW, because they can’t hold it til June.
    If this is the best season moment for the Heat, nothing is written for the playoffs: ask Duncan and Parker two years ago..

  • Chris H

    I stopped reading at “Tank the season”.

    This is the Celtics, they go down swinging. They take on whoever they take on and fight until they win it all or get knocked out.

    Same formula since the days of Red.