Rivers' dilemma: Better to start Allen or Bradley?

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Rivers' dilemma: Better to start Allen or Bradley?

BOSTON Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers has a dilemma of sorts on his hands now.

Ray Allen, who has missed the Celtics' last six games with a right ankle injury, is going to be healthy enough to play soon.

His replacement, Avery Bradley, seems to be getting better and more comfortable with every start.

So what does Rivers do? Put Allen back in the starting lineup when he returns, or stick with the strong play of Bradley with the first unit?

When you look at Rivers' reluctance to make any changes involving the Big Four, it would seem as though Allen's place with the starting unit is secure, right?

Not really.

Rivers acknowledged following Boston's 91-72 blowout win over Miami on Sunday that he has not made his mind up about which of the two will start when Allen returns to the lineup.

This season, the Celtics are 10-1 without Allen in the lineup, and 20-21 with him.

"We're playing well, but we've also played well with Ray, by the way," Rivers said. "I think people forget that part. The good thing is that we have options. And we have players with confidence; we have a lot of them."

The emergence of Bradley as a starter speaks to his growth this season into one of the NBA's most improved players.

He doesn't shoot the ball nearly as well as Allen, but his ability to defend seems to fit in well with the C's and their defensive mindset.

And with him now cutting to the basket often -- and Rondo finding him -- he's no longer an offensive liability when he's on the floor.

Bradley filled in for Rajon Rondo earlier this season, and the Celtics were successful.

But this stint in place of Allen has been different.

As Rondo's replacement, Bradley often deferred the play-making duties to Paul Pierce.

But in place of Allen, Bradley's clearly more comfortable at the off-guard position. And his defense, combined with Rondo's instincts for forcing turnovers by getting into passing lanes, has given the Celtics the kind of defensive-minded backcourt that the C's have not had under Rivers.

To his credit, Bradley has avoided making his newfound status with the Celtics an issue, maintaining that he plans to continue playing hard whether he's starting or coming off the bench.

"The veterans on this team have taught me so much since I've been here," Bradley told CSNNE.com. "It doesn't matter if I'm in the game at the start or coming off the bench. I just have to make sure I'm always ready to play, and when I do play, I'm helping my team win."

While Bradley has certainly played well enough to warrant the starting nod when Allen returns, folks have to remember that Allen's best play typically comes this time of year.

Bradley's defensive prowess has been impressive, but playoff games often come down to one or two big shots -- Ray Allen's specialty.

Whichever way Rivers decides to go, one thing is clear: The Celtics bench will get a boost with the addition of either player.

Celtics force overtime, come up short in 127-123 loss to Blazers

Celtics force overtime, come up short in 127-123 loss to Blazers

BOSTON – For the second time in as many games, the Boston Celtics ran into a team that played with a greater sense of desperation.

And the result was yet another defeat as the Portland Trail Blazers, playing their second game in less than 24 hours, were able to get off their losing skid with a 127-123 overtime win over the Celtics.

Boston (26-17) has now lost back-to-back games at home, while the Blazers (19-27) snapped a four-game losing streak.

In the extra session, Portland jumped out to a 117-113 lead only for Boston’s Al Horford scoring on a bank-shot in the paint and Thomas draining a go-ahead 3-pointer for Boston.

Portland regained the lead when Al-Farouq Aminu made a pair of free throws with 59.3 seconds to play to make it a 119-118 game.

Boston soon fell behind 122-118, but a pair of Thomas free throws with 44.8 seconds to play made it a two-point game.

Mason Plumlee scored with 24 seconds to play in overtime, and an Al Horford miss – rebounded by Plumlee who was then fouled by Horford – essentially put the game away with 13.5 seconds to play.

Boston found themselves down late in the fourth quarter and seemingly headed towards defeat, only to get an unexpected lift in the final seconds from Terry Rozier.

Trailing by three points late in the fourth, Boston had one last chance to force overtime so who did they turn to?

If you were thinking Thomas which is what the Blazers and most fans were thinking, you would have been dead wrong.

The fourth quarter may be Thomas’ time to shine, but at that point in the game it was Rozier’s moment as he drained a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds left that ultimately forced overtime. He finished with 15 points, three rebounds and three assists off the bench.

The Blazers came into the game with the kind of potent scoring punch in the backcourt that strikes the fear into the heart of any defense, let alone one that has been as up and down as the Boston Celtics this season.

For most of the game, Portland’s 1-2 punch of Damian Lillard (28 points) and C.J. McCollum (35 points) lived up to the lofty billing as they combined for 63 points.

McCollum and Lillard both did their share of damage down the stretch, but it was their bench – specifically Meyers Leonard – whose play kept Portland in the game early on.

He finished with 17 points off the bench.

Boston led 65-56 at the half, but soon found itself in a 67-all game after McCollum made the second of two free throws.

But Boston countered with a put-back basket by Kelly Olynyk and a 3-pointer from Isaiah Thomas to push Boston’s lead to 72-67.

Once again the Blazers fought back and eventually took the lead 74-72 on a powerful put-back dunk by Haverill (Mass.) native Noah Vonleh.

Brad Stevens had seen enough of his team getting pushed around, as he called a time-out with 5:31 to play in the quarter.

It didn’t help as Portland continued to bully their way around the rim for second and third-shot opportunities with their lead peaking at 78-72 following a put-back basket by  Plumlee.

But the Celtics responded with a 7-2 spurt capped off by an end-to-end, driving lay-up by Rozier that cut Portland’s lead to 80-79 with 2:44 to play in the quarter. Boston continued to be within striking distance as the third quarter ended with the Celtics trailing 88-86.