Blakely: Deep bench should pay dividends for C's

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Blakely: Deep bench should pay dividends for C's

BOSTON There's no shortage of bodies for Doc Rivers to choose from when trying to figure out who to put on the floor this season.

But even with a roster that could legitimately go double-digits deep in players used almost every night, Rivers said his rotation strategy this season won't be altered that much from past seasons.

"We're not going to go that deep," Rivers said. "We'll go the same."

Rivers starts most seasons off by playing 10 or so players, depending on how they perform and whether the C's can maintain enough healthy bodies.

That means most games will feature a few players who won't see action that could conceivably contribute.

While the Celtics' goals of another deep playoff run will come down to the performance of their top eight or nine players, Rivers understands all too well the value of having depth during the season.

Because Boston has arguably the deepest bench in the league, that should pay huge dividends for the C's during the regular season when they can essentially wear down teams on a nightly basis.

Not only does that make it tougher for opponents to game-plan against Boston, but it also affords Rivers a greater opportunity to keep core guys such as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett even fresher for the playoffs.

"Coming off the bench, our job is to make things easier for the starters," Celtics backup center Darko Milicic told CSNNE.com. "We do our job, we'll be OK."

Part of doing their job is developing continuity both among themselves as well as with the starters who at times they will be on the floor with as Rivers continues to mix up his lineups.

"The continuity is pretty good right now," said Boston's Courtney Lee. "But this team, we're not satisfied with anything we do. Even when we do something well, we know we can do it better. That's what this team is about, always trying to be better."

And that involves developing a rotation that players understand, will shrink in some fashion come playoff time.

"That's what's so great about this team," Lee said. "Doc has so many options to choose from, and the competition for minutes is there. That's only going to bring out the best in you as a player. And that's only going to help the team. So you can't look at that as anything but a positive."

Lee is expected to edge out Jason Terry for the starting job at shooting guard. Joining Lee in the starting unit will be Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The fifth starting spot - at least for the season opener against Miami on Tuesday - is expected to go to Brandon Bass.

That leaves the C's bench rotation to start the season consisting of Terry, Milicic, Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green. If Rivers plays 10 players, that 10th player will likely fluctuate between Leandro Barbosa, Jason Collins and Chris Wilcox.

Avery Bradley remains out until at least the middle of December while recovering from surgery to both of his shoulders. Rookies Kris Joseph and Fab Melo are unlikely to see much action early on this season.

Rivers is hesitant to heap too much praise on his second unit - especially with them having not played a single game yet together - but he acknowledges that this team does have the kind of depth that gives him more options than he has had in past years.

"I don't know after 10 (players), we'll see, or 11," Rivers said. "But I'm not worried about that, honestly. I'm more worried about that top-9 or 10. Because those are the guys that are gonna win."

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Celtics-Knicks preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

Celtics-Knicks preview: Thomas scoring at record pace in fourth quarter

WALTHAM, Mass. –  As the fourth quarter rolls around, you will occasionally catch Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas looking down at his wrist, a gesture to remind anyone watching what time it is – Thomas time.

There are those who elevate their play in the fourth quarter of games, and then there’s Thomas who continues to smoothly navigate his way in unchartered fourth quarter scoring territory.

The Celtics begin the second half of the season Wednesday night against the New York Knicks, and there sits Thomas atop all players in the NBA when it comes to fourth-quarter scoring.

But that’s not all.

He’s not only dropping more points than any other NBA player in the most important quarter of them all, but he’s doing so at an unprecedented level of 10.1 fourth-quarter points per game.

Since NBA.com/stats began tracking fourth quarter scoring with the 1997-1998 season, no player has averaged more than 9.5 fourth-quarter points (LeBron James, 2006) in a season.

What makes Thomas’ fourth quarter heroics so impressive is that everyone in the building – fans, coaches, opponents – knows that’s when he’s looking to be most impactful for the Celtics and yet he still can’t be stopped.

Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford acknowledged how tough it is to limit Thomas despite knowing he’s looking to take over games in the fourth.

“It’s hard because the blitz game is impossible because they don’t roll,” said Clifford whose Hornets were beaten 108-98 by Boston on Monday. “If you watch the teams that try to blitz them, you’re going to give up basically lay-ups. We had things in to get the ball out of his hands but the way they played and the stuff that they usually go to late, they didn’t get to. He (Thomas) made some terrific plays; he’s a terrific offensive player.”

Despite what he does in the fourth and his overall scoring average of 28.2 points which is ranked among the league’s leaders, there are still lots of doubters as to how good Thomas.

Regardless of how you view his play, he has consistently played at a level this season that places him among the game’s best players.

And at the rate he’s scoring in the fourth quarter, he’s establishing himself as one of the great closers in the game.

Consider the list of players in the past decade who led the league in points scored in the fourth quarter.

  • 2016: James Harden (7.7)
  • 2015: Russell Westbrook (7.1)
  • 2014: Kevin Durant (7.9)
  • 2013: Kevin Durant (8.4)
  • 2012: Kevin Durant (7.3)
  • 2011: Amare Stoudemire (7.1)
  • 2010: LeBron James (8.0)
  • 2009: LeBron James (7.7)
  • 2008: LeBron James (9.1)
  • 2007: Dwyane Wade (8.2)

You have All-stars, All-NBA First Teamers, league MVPs as well as a few future Hall of Famers.

As good as those players were in their respective seasons, when the game mattered most – the fourth quarter – Thomas numbers (for now at least) stand head and shoulders above them all.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens gives Thomas a lot of credit for being such a consistent scorer, particularly in the fourth quarter.

But as good as Thomas is, he’s not out there getting all these baskets on his own, either.

“It says a lot about the fact that he’s got a lot of skilled guys around him that are hard to leave,” Stevens said. “When you’re playing Kelly (Olynyk) and Jonas (Jerebko) together with him, there’s a lot of space on the floor to operate. When those guys are at the four (power forward) and five (center), when you’re playing guys like Al Horford who can space the floor or Avery (Bradley) or Jae (Crowder), you know, those types of guys … at the end of the day I think that it’s a combination of a lot of things.”

And for opponents, a lot of problems.

“He’s been playing well,” Hornets guard Kemba Walker said of Thomas. “He’s been playing better than anyone in our league. He’s playing with great confidence and making the plays for his team to win games. He’s been great.”