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Celtics shuffle starters, find missing offensive aggression

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Crowder's big night lifts C's over Nets (1:13)

Jae Crowder scores a career-high 25 points to go along with six rebounds and three steals in Boston's 103-94 win over Brooklyn. (1:13)

NEW YORK -- The Boston Celtics were going to have to tweak their starting lineup for Monday's game against the Brooklyn Nets because of an injury to starting shooting guard Avery Bradley, but coach Brad Stevens added a second wrinkle when he shuffled Kelly Olynyk into a starting spot in place of struggling Jared Sullinger.

And while Stevens has often reminded reporters that too much attention is paid to starters versus reserves -- he argues that it's far more important how different combinations play together over the course of the entire 48-minute game -- the lineup changes were noteworthy because Boston entered Monday's game against Brooklyn coming off two disheartening losses in which consecutive uninspired starts contributed to falling to a pair of league basement dwellers.

Rolling with a starting unit of Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Olynyk, Boston erupted for a 37-point first quarter in which the Celtics set an aggressive tone and built a 15-point lead before leaning on that cushion en route to a 103-94 triumph over the Nets at the Barclays Center.

In 19 total minutes together, Boston's first unit scored 47 points on 19-of-33 shooting (57.6 percent) and was plus-10 overall in plus/minus. What's more, that unit generated five steals, fueling its offensive outburst with the easy transition baskets that have been a staple when this team has played its best two-way basketball.

Boston's first unit finished with a net rating of plus-28.9 points per 100 possessions, including an obscene offensive rating of 134. The same lineup, subbing Marcus Smart for Turner, was likewise plus-10 over a mere four-minute stint (owning an absurd offensive rating of 184.8 in that tiny sample).

Which only hammers home how Boston came out with an attack-happy mindset and benefited from Olynyk's floor-spacing abilities. For a team that Stevens has lamented being passive and tentative on offense, scoring 54 points in the paint was a sight for sore eyes.

"We were locked in as a unit for the first five minutes of the game," Celtics guard Jae Crowder told reporters after scoring a season-high 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Crowder finished 5-of-6 shooting near the rim to fuel his offensive output, which included some strong drives in the early going (and some clutch baskets to close things out).

"We came out and really got into [the Nets], dictated how the game was going to go. We gotta find out how to bring that each and every night because it's definitely a learning tool to see how locked in we were at the start of the game and just try to keep it going."

Added Crowder: "We came out very focused and we imposed our will early. It's good for our team to do that and probably learn from it. We'll watch film tomorrow and I'm sure we're going to watch the first five minutes when we came out really focused, all five guys were engaged. We gotta have that each and every night."

A Boston offense that ranks 19th in the league with an offensive rating of 101.3 scored 24 points over the first 7 minutes, 5 seconds of play and owned a double-digit lead after Turner spun and pump-faked his way to an easy layup.

Stevens had said that his team focused almost exclusively on being aggressive to the basket during its morning shootaround and it didn't even matter that Olynyk struggled with his shot early because his presence gave his teammates more room to operate.

"I just thought we had good spacing," Stevens said. "Kelly didn't make any shots [early], but they certainly had to honor him in that first quarter. Then he got his rhythm a little bit and that opened things up for Amir, open things for drivers -- Jae got drives, Evan got a few drives. I thought we had a really solid first quarter. Sully brought us great energy right when he got into the game and I thought Tyler [Zeller] did as good of a job, as far as guarding [Brook] Lopez, as we've [done]."

It's unclear if the Celtics will stick with this starting unit beyond this game. Bradley sat out with a hip pointer, but it doesn't sound like a long-term injury and he should resume his starting role when healthy. Sullinger has been nursing minor maladies (wrist, back) and could stay in a reserve role if Stevens likes how Johnson had more space to operate with Olynyk. Sullinger also seemed to shoot with more confidence with the second unit.

The Celtics own the second-best defense in the league, and Stevens is likely going to have to consider anything that helps Boston's offense remain a bit more consistent.

"We have to score," Stevens said. "Again, if you want to be really good team in this league, there comes a point in time when you have to put the ball in the basket."

The Celtics lacked offensive aggression in recent losses to the Lakers and Nets, and when those other teams got early confidence, Boston endured stomach-churning losses. The Celtics got a reminder Monday night what's possible when they're the aggressor that hits first.