The days of bigger being better, of rounding up the O'Neal-sized (Jermaine, Shaquille) suspects are apparently over. NBA lineups are being downsized, and the Celtics are going sleek this season.
And run they will.
In the past, coach Doc Rivers was reluctant to get into a "track meet" with the Miami Heat and other athletically gifted teams. Not now. Anyone want to get into a shootout with Leandro Barbosa, Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry? Try catching Avery Bradley (due to return from shoulder surgeries in December) and Rajon Rondo in transition. Want your big men chasing Garnett or Chris Wilcox in a 94-foot sprint?
"You no longer put a 5 [center] and a 4 [power forward] on the floor," Rivers said. "You are going to put your best five on the floor. And they are usually going to be your best five offensive guys. That's the game - all through the league, you'll see four guards and a big. Because, I think that's where people have gone. I think the size of players has now evolved - the Jeff Greens, and the LeBrons. They can play 2 [shooting guard], 3 [small forward], and 4, and why wouldn't you put them on the floor?
"I can tell you when building the team I didn't think of Miami one time," Rivers said. "I was thinking, 'What's going to make us the best team?' And whatever was going to make us the best team, then we'll play everybody [in the league]. Honestly, that's what we thought of. If we'd have really thought of Miami, we'd have thought bigger guards, stronger guards; we thought just ballhandling guards. I thought that's what we need to be a better team. Courtney makes us better on [perimeter defense]. We already had Avery, and now we've got two guards who can defend and defend multiple positions. So, that clearly makes us a better defensive team."
"We'll go back and forth," Rivers said. "We'll go big with Jeff and Paul at the 2 and 3. Last year, we'd slide Paul over to the 4, now we have Jeff at the 4, who can dominate - and with speed. So, I think, talent-wise we're [better].
"We don't need a point guard with the offense we're running, to start it," Rivers said. "You need a point guard to make the passes, and sometimes that's Rondo. We obviously have a great point guard, probably the best in the league. So, we run a lot of stuff through him. But we also can initiate it with the pass and cut away, and the offense still starts.
"Sometimes, with some groups, just the point guard has to initiate it, start it, run it. We don't want to be that team."
So, the title race is on. And the Celtics appear capable of going to the front out of the gate.
We've had a lot-0-interesting storylines this preseason: (1) the rise (and fall?) of Darko; (2) the return of James Worthy, er, Jeff Green, to action; (3) Rondo's presumed ascendancy to MVP candidate; and (4) Ray Allen’s affliction with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. But the biggest story may be the radical transformation of the Boston Celtics.
If the October 18th rout of the Brooklyn Nets is a sign of things to come, fasten your seatbelts and hold on to your hats, cuz Dad's Studebaker has been exchanged for a convertible. The Celtics appear to have gone from a “duct-taped” team (as Dan Shaughnessy calls them) of old stars who played a slow and grinding style of basketball to a team of explosive ball-handlers who may challenge just about every team in the league to keep up. While pushing forward with last year's style of basketball surely would have accelerated the demise of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, this new brand of basketball promises to extend their careers by lightening the load and giving them more rest. Better yet, because many of the younger guys play two-ways, the Celtics may wreak as much havoc on defense as they do on offense.
To the best of my recollection, the Green have tried this type of transformation at least twice in their history. Upon Bill Russell’s retirement and the beginning of the Tommy Heinsohn’s coaching career, and again near the end of Larry Bird’s career when Chris Ford took over for Jimmy Rodgers and inherited a roster mixed with youth and age, much like Doc Rivers’ roster today. The Heinsohn Revolution netted the C’s two titles (and almost a third but for the Hondo shoulder injury during the 1973 playoffs), while Chris Ford’s efforts helped the C’s run to a 29-5 record during the 1990-91 season, their best start of the Larry Bird Era (yes, gang, you read that correctly. Better even than the start to the vaunted 1985-86 season).
Tonight will be our first opportunity to evaluate the latest Revolution. But, of course, it won’t be the only one. The current group of players will need a good 20 games before they really get comfortable with each other and the new system, at which point Avery Bradley’s return will kick things up another notch. By January or February, instead of the dread and drudgery we typically experience, things could really be smokin’ in Beantown. My only question is will Doc be bold enough to try smaller lineups against bigger teams?
Now that would be fun.