It wasn't at all surprising that coach Doc Rivers shifted the Boston Celtics' starting lineup for Wednesday's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics were coming off probably their worst stretch of basketball in quite some time. They had lost three in a row – going 0-3 on their three game road trip thanks to bad losses in Houston, San Antonio, and Chicago – and clearly something had to change. However while one of the moves Rivers made, going with Jason Terry over Courtney Lee at the shooting guard position, was expected starting Jason Collins at center was not. In a surprise move Rivers inserted Collins at center thus moving Kevin Garnett over to his natural position of power forward and sending Brandon Bass to the bench. More surprisingly it worked as Boston scored a much needed 103-91 victory over Kyrie Irving and the Cavs, but the question now becomes will it last?
Currently his 13th NBA season Jason Collins is what he is at this point. He is not a scorer. He is merely an adequate rebounder. However he is still an excellent defender. Even at 34 Collins is still one of the better low post defenders in the entire NBA. On top of that he is also a very strong team defender. He clogs space in the lane and rotates well, something the Celtics have been especially poor at this year. The Celtics defense of the rim, or lack there of, has been almost laughable at times this season. However with KG and Collins holding the fort down low they suddenly have somewhat of an interior presence the likes of which they haven't seen since Kendrick Perkins was shipped to Oklahoma.
Many have wondered what effect this will have on Boston's bench rotations, that is to "who's minutes is Collins taking?" The way it manifested itself on Wednesday, and the way it will likely continue is Collins, Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox basically doing a three way switch. Collins moved into the starting center spot, sending Bass into Wilcox's "first big off the bench" role, and Wilcox into the DNP-coach's decision slot formerly occupied by Collins. Other than that Boston's rotations essentially stay the same, so the improvements to Boston's defense should be two fold. For all the good things Chris Wilcox does he had been killing the Celtics with poor defense this year, particularly on that three game road trip. The Celtics' defense will always drop off a little when Garnett heads to the bench. He's one of the best defensive players in NBA history. No one coming off the bench can possibly match him. But the drop off from KG to Wilcox is so pronounced that Boston's defense has been literally disintegrating the second Garnett leaves the floor thus far this year. There were numerous times against Chicago when Wilcox was in position to take a charge and instead just reached out and committed a lazy foul. Perhaps lazy isn't the right word, at least not when referring to Wilcox for whom hustle is actually a very large part of his game. But the lack of focus on the defensive end is epitomized by plays like this.
The drop off from KG to Bass is not nearly as significant. Bass is still struggling to pick up some of Boston's team defensive concepts (though he made a couple of excellent help defense plays against Cleveland), but he is an excellent individual defender. He isn't KG, but the difference between KG and Bass is not nearly as pronouced as KG and Wilcox, at least from a defensive standpoint. However, with KG shifting back to power forward, the question of how many minutes Collins can play becomes key. The Celtics don't have a pure backup center. They have a number of undersized bigs – Bass, Wilcox, Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green, but no one who can really come in and replace Collins. Previously with KG playing center and Wilcox relieving him the Celtics could piece together the power forward position with undersized bigs like Bass and Sullinger. Now they would seemingly have a gap at backup center. It's almost enough to make one miss Darko Millicic (almost).
The thought is that either KG or Collins will be in there most of the time, and when they aren't Doc Rivers will simply have to mix and match. Both are still capable of playing between 25 and 30 minutes per game, so one of them should be able to anchor the defense more often than not. They are the only two interior defenders that have been able to grasp Boston's defensive rotations thus far. This team has plenty of scoring. They need a few guys who can help them get stops. If Collins can play enough minutes of strong defense than Boston should improve.
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