- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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If Courtney Lee is healthy enough to get back on the floor Friday night against Atlanta, it will bring a dash of much-needed stability to the Celtics' starting lineup. But while the team waits for Kevin Garnett's ankle inflammation to subside, coach Doc Rivers said he will continue to mix and match the team's personnel trying to get through this stretch.
"I don’t even know now who we are going to start against Atlanta," Rivers told reporters after Wednesday's win in Cleveland. "We just gotta figure it out and everybody has to be in on it. You can’t have any guys with hurt feelings, if they are not playing or not starting or not in a different position. And our guys have been very good with that."
The Celtics went with a bigger starting lineup on Wednesday, moving Chris Wilcox onto the first unit alongside Brandon Bass, Jeff Green, Paul Pierce, and Avery Bradley. In 18 minutes together, the lineup was minus-8 overall as the Cavaliers shot 48.5 percent from the floor (16-for-33 overall) and opened a double-digit lead early in the third quarter.
What's interesting is that Boston's best lineup on Wednesday was actually its starting lineup from Tuesday's game against New York, one that featured Jordan Crawford in the spot Wilcox took over on Wednesday. That lineup was plus-10 and keyed Boston's second-half comeback. What's more, the Cavaliers shot a mere 18.2 percent (2-for-11) and turned the ball over five times against that unit. Sure it's a super small sample size, but Boston's defensive rating (points per 100 possessions) for that Crawford group was a minuscule 35.5 (or about 70 points below Boston's typical road allowance lately).
That Crawford group actually had decent numbers against New York, too, finishing plus-5 over 16 minutes in a game that Boston lost by 15 points. Rebounding would seemingly be the natural concern, but against Cleveland, that group grabbed every single available defensive rebound.
It's undeniable that Boston struggles to go with smaller lineups without Garnett, really the team's only consistent rebounder since Jared Sullinger was lost for the season. But it's an encouraging sign what they were able to do with a smaller lineup in Cleveland.
In fact, five of Cleveland's nine offensive rebounds came against the Wilcox lineup (two others were against a lineup in which Shavlik Randolph was the only big on the floor; Randolph still played nine serviceable minutes).
Until Boston can get Garnett and Lee back on the floor, Rivers will make it up as he goes.
"We don’t know, going into games right now, who’s going to play, who’s going to play well," said Rivers. "I thought Shav, by the way, was terrific again [Wednesday], he was wonderful for us. I thought the second group in the second quarter gave us a good lift as well. I tell them, ‘Guys, we just need to find a way to win.’ This isn’t necessarily how we want to play, we’re going to change styles, we’re going to go from big to small every game. I thought today was so much better than [Tuesday] night with guys figuring it out."