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Leandro Barbosa provides a spark off the pine with his speed.In the Celtics' season-opening loss to the Miami Heat, Leandro Barbosa took the floor for the start of the fourth quarter with his team facing a 17-point deficit, and proceeded to rattle off 16 points, virtually taking over the game and leading an inspired comeback that got Boston as close as four before they ultimately bowed to the defending champs.
It was quite the entrance party for Barbosa, who the Celtics had signed a little over a week before, but, much like the rest of his team, he quickly fell into a usage rut of sorts. Over the next five games, he saw scattered minutes, playing over 10 just twice, and it seemed like head coach Doc Rivers was having a difficult time figuring out how to best utilize his speedy backup guard, nicknamed "The Brazilian Blur."
But then came Monday's 101-95 victory over the Chicago Bulls, that saw Barbosa respond with 15 minutes of floor time -- his longest stint since opening night in Miami. Rather than settling for a host of jump shots like he did during an 0-for-6 shooting effort Saturday in Milwaukee, Barbosa scored all six of his points on aggressive drives to the rim, in which he either turned the corner on his own defender or sped right down the middle of the lane.
Barbosa netted his six points on 3-of-7 shooting to go along with three assists and only one turnover. Not only were his points -- all of which came during the second quarter -- vital to Boston's effort to garner a 12-point lead heading into halftime, but his overall effectiveness allowed Rivers to keep Rajon Rondo on the bench for a few extra minutes of rest.
With Rondo currently leading the NBA in minutes per game (40.8), Rivers is looking for ways to reduce his floor time without sacrificing the Celtics' production. As he alluded to after last Friday's loss to the 76ers, Rondo coming off the floor has basically doomed Boston's offense the way Kevin Garnett's absence has crippled its defense. But Barbosa on Monday kept things clicking better than he has for the majority of the season, and it resulted in Rondo playing just over 37 minutes (a number that'll help Rivers sleep a little better at night). In addition to scoring his own points, he found Garnett for a jumper at the 7:09 mark, a point in the frame when points were crucial as the Bulls were in the midst of scoring on four of five straight possessions.
Rivers' use of Barbosa over the next few weeks could be indicative of how he'll be applied for the majority of the season, or at least until Avery Bradley returns and further bolsters Boston's guard rotation. Does Rivers see him solely as a backup point guard of sorts, out there mainly to spell Rondo for periods of time? Or, similar to what Terry was thought to be at the start of the season, is Barbosa meant to be a hybrid guard of sorts, capable of both handling the ball and scoring when Boston needs it?
The framework might be a little loose at the moment, hindered a bit by Barbosa likely still grasping Boston's system, but as he proved Monday against Chicago, he can help to keep the Celtics' offensive working, both as a scorer and as a playmaker.