BOSTON With all the injuries that the Boston Celtics have endured this season in the front court, they've had to rely on a smaller lineup more often than they would like.
Well all that "small ball" practice paid off in Boston's 92-91 Game 1 win over Philadelphia in the second round of their best-of-seven playoff series.
In fact, it was Boston's smaller lineup that allowed them to erase a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter and rally for the win.
"We have to do a better job of when they go small, and understanding what we have to do," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "It doesn't change you as much offensively as it does defensively. When Paul Pierce goes to and plays like the power forward, they run a lot of screen-roll, him and (Kevin) Garnett. And what are you going to do on the coverage now when you have a lot of other guys who can shoot the ball? When they have one less big, it becomes more on the defensive end than it does on the offensive end."
It has to be that way for the Sixers, a team that ranks among the NBA's worst in rebounding due to a lack of frontcourt size.
Because of that, Collins says he can't approach dealing with the Celtics' smaller lineup in the manner in which he would like to.
"We're not a team that can pound you inside," Collins said. "You end up having to match up small. My philosophy has always been if a team goes small against you, then you pound them. But we don't have that kind of team."
Philadelphia has fared well when teams have tried to go with a small lineup, in part because of the play of Thaddeus Young.
At 6-foot-8, Young has the ability to play both forward positions. But when teams go small, he slides over to the power forward spot where his quickness and ability to get to the basket usually causes major problems for opponents.
In the regular season, Young averaged 12.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game off the bench. His playoff numbers, however, are off.
He's averaging 6.9 points in the playoffs this year.
Young's versatility wasn't on display as much as Philadelphia would have wanted to in Game 1 courtesy of a knee to the shin from Boston's Ryan Hollins in the second quarter. The shin injury led directly to Young rolling his ankle as well.
"He's wild, man," Young told CSNNE.com about Hollins. "That dude is wild."
The injury limited Young to just under 22 minutes played, as he scored five points.
"Not having Thad (for long stretches), not being able to play small ball when the guys go small-ball, would hurt the team," said Sixers big man Elton Brand.
Said Collins: "(Small lineups) helps Thad. We just didn't take advantage of that (in Game 1)."
Not only did the Celtics do a better job in terms of their offensive execution with the smaller lineup, they were a surprisingly dominant rebounding team once they went into full blown small-ball mode.
The Celtics had a small lineup on the floor throughout the entire fourth quarter.
After being out-rebounded for most of the first three quarters, Boston's small-ball lineup allowed them to grab 15 rebounds compared to just eight for the Sixers.
"You gotta pick up those long rebounds," Collins said shortly after Saturday's loss. "Boston scrummed out some balls and beat us on some hustle balls. It wasn't' like their big guys were rebounding. It's where everybody's gotta get back and rebound the ball."