With his victory over warriors of the golden state Thursday night, the boston celtics he overcame what seemed like a huge mental hurdle. After losing to the Warriors last year nba finals and after getting pummeled in their first matchup of the season on December 10, they finally fired back.
But the game meant more than just a win over the Warriors. It was also the first time Boston unveiled its esteemed starting lineup that dominated the NBA last year with Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams.
Among all five-man units that logged at least 200 minutes together last season, those five starters ranked first in net rating (24.6) and defensive rating (94.2). And while putting that lineup back together may improve Boston’s ceiling, it also raises a whole new set of questions.
The biggest of those questions is how Joe Mazzulla will allocate minutes within the Celtics’ guard rotation. Smart is the clear starter, but beyond that, Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon will also need ample opportunities. Up to this point in the season all three have been able to see plenty of playing time as White has been part of the starting XI. But now, things will have to change.
In their first game as bench leaders, Brogdon got the call. He played 35:46 to White’s 17:28, which marked his third-lowest total minutes of the season and his lowest excluding blowouts. That being said, both sides treated the matchup like a playoff game, so the minute totals were a bit of an exaggeration.
Tatum played a career-high 48:07, Brown eclipsed the 40-minute barrier, and both Smart and Horford also played more than 37 minutes. Mazzulla kept his rotation to just nine players (including the mother of short-time 7:30 Luke Kornet), and Steve Kerr cut his to just eight players.
At the same time though, this game can be used as the best example of when each guard will be used. In this case, both Brown and Tatum struggled to find their footing. This left Boston struggling to find answers on the offensive end, and Brogdon answered the call as he has many times this year. He didn’t shoot particularly well either, but his 3-pointers and superior shot creation gave him the necessary momentum.
White, on the other hand, failed to record a single field goal. He finished the night with a singular point, shooting 0-of-6 from the ground and 0-of-3 from distance. The lack of shooting kept him off the court and moving on, that will likely continue.
Having both White and Brogdon on the bench is a problem most teams in the league would love to have. Both are capable of starting point guards in the NBA, but the Celtics employ them both from the pine tree. And because of that, they can be implemented in different scenarios when the time is right.
Against the Warriors, the situation called for offense. Combined 15-for-45 shooting by Tatum and Brown meant Brogdon was needed. His offensive spark was more than a luxury: it was a necessity. In his last 10 games, Brogdon is averaging 16.6 points on 48.3% shooting from the field and 49.0% shooting from deep. He has shown that he can be an offensive outlet when Boston needs him.
Meanwhile, White’s strength lies on the defensive end. He can hit 3s and drive well into the paint, but when the Celtics need to lock down the perimeter, that’s when White’s number will be called. White is tied for 29th in the NBA in blocks (41), ranks fifth overall plus/minus (+264), and the Celtics allow 5.8 fewer points per 100 possessions when on the floor, according to Cleanup. glass. If Boston’s stars are locked up and need to focus on getting saves, White is the guard for the job.
Sometimes it will be more complicated than that. If White is having a good shooting night, there is no reason to take him out of the game. The same can be said for Brogdon, especially if his backcourt counterpart struggles. And, to take it a step further, if Smart is having a tough game, they are both perfectly capable of playing alongside each other.
Mazzulla’s rotation decisions won’t be easy. Sam Hauser completely fell off the map against Golden State, and Grant Williams played just 12:49. Those are other problems in themselves. But as for the guard position, it could be as simple as attack vs. defending.