Boston Celtics

Blakely's Celtics-Sixers Game 5 preview

768674.jpg

Blakely's Celtics-Sixers Game 5 preview

BOSTON So much of coaching has little to do with X's and O's. More often than most fans understand, coaches rely on instincts and hunches.

Sometimes they're on the money. Other times, not so much.

Friday's Game 4 matchup against Philadelphia falls under the latter for Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers and his staff, which rode the team's successful small-ball lineup down the stretch one game too many.

That group's struggles were among the factors contributing to Boston's Game 4 loss which now has this series tied at 2-2.

And as the Celtics gear up for tonight's Game 4 battle, deciding when to go with a small-ball unit will again be a gut check of sorts for Rivers.

The player most affected by Boston's small lineup for the C's is Brandon Bass, who is usually on the Celtics bench when Rivers decides to play a smaller quintet that includes some combination of three guards, Paul Pierce at power forward and Kevin Garnett at center.

Bass has struggled shooting the ball most of this series, but had his best scoring night of the series in Game 4.

He finished with 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting, which is even more impressive when you consider he spent all but three seconds of the fourth quarter on the bench.

"Honestly, if we made one mistake we should have went back to Bass," Rivers said. "The first three games, our smaller lineup was better than our big lineup. Statistically in Game Four, the big lineup was better. The big lineup is what got us the lead. The big lineup is what, in the beginning of the third, got off to a good start. Both times when we went small, it hurt us. So that's something as a staff we have to recognize."

Knowing that both his usual lineup and his small-ball group have had stretches of strong play in this series doesn't make the decision of which to play any easier to make, either.

"It's a tough call," Rivers said. "We're going to have to make a call every game, it looks like. There's no right or wrong to it, but it's going to have to be a gut feeling. And I hope when we make it, it's going to be the right one."

Besides figuring out when to go big or small, here are some other keys to tonight's game as the Celtics try to regain control of this series in a pivotal Game 5 matchup.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- The Sixers have wisely challenged Avery Bradley to become more a scorer, well aware that his shoulder injury has significantly impacted his ability to score. Bradley, whose status for Game 5 is up in the air, will have to continue being a difference-maker with his defense.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Celtics bench vs. Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen: Boston's second unit has had little to no impact in this series, while the Sixers bench - namely Young and Allen - have been arguably the two biggest reasons this series is tied at two games apiece. Young's ability to score and Allen's defense on Kevin Garnett have paid huge dividends for the Sixers thus far. Boston's backups have to contribute more than they have in order to lessen the impact of Philadelphia's dynamic backup duo.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- It has to be Kevin Garnett. The most dominant figure in this series through the first three games, the Sixers limited Garnett to just nine points while he connected on just 25 percent (3-for-12 shooting) of his shots in Game 4 - the worst shooting percentage Garnett has had as a member of the Celtics in a playoff game. You can expect the C'sa to use multiple sets offensively to try and get Garnett the ball deeper in the lane where he has been next to unstoppable in this series.

STAT TO TRACK -- Rebounding is always going to be a challenge for the Celtics, but a bigger concern for them has to be limiting their turnovers. In their two playoff wins over Philadelphia, Boston has averaged 10 turnovers that led to 10.5 points for the Sixers. In the two losses, the turnover numbers rise to 18 per game and led to 12.5 points for Philadelphia.

NBA adds 'Harden Rule' and 'Zaza Rule' for players' safety

houston-rockets-james-harden-rule-change-92217.jpg

NBA adds 'Harden Rule' and 'Zaza Rule' for players' safety

NEW YORK - NBA referees will be able to call flagrant or technical fouls on defenders who dangerously close on jump shooters without allowing them space to land, as Zaza Pachulia did on the play that injured Spurs star Kawhi Leonard in last season's playoffs.

Officials will also make sure jump shooters are in their upward shooting motion when determining if a perimeter foul is worthy of free throws, which could cut down on James Harden's attempts after he swings his arms into contact.

The new rules interpretations are being unofficially called the "Harden Rule" and the "Zaza Rule". The Washington Wizards accused the Celtics' Al Horford of a dangerous closeout on Markieff Morris that injured Morris and knocked him out of Game 1 of their playoff series two weeks before the Pachulia-Leonard play.

Leonard sprained his ankle when Pachulia slid his foot under Leonard's in Game 1 of Golden State's victory in the Western Conference finals. After calling a foul, officials will now be able to look at a replay to determine if the defender recklessly positioned his foot in an unnatural way, which could trigger an upgrade to a flagrant, or a technical if there was no contact but an apparent attempt to injure.

"It's 100 percent for the safety of the players," NBA senior vice president of replay and referee operations Joe Borgia said Thursday.

The NBA had made the freedom to land a point of emphasis for officials a few years ago, because of the risk of injuries. 

Officials can still rule the play a common foul if they did not see a dangerous or unnatural attempt by the defender upon review. Borgia said Pachulia's foul would have been deemed a flagrant.

With the fouls on the perimeter shots - often coming when the offensive player has come off a screen and quickly attempts to launch a shot as his defender tries to catch up - officials will focus on the sequencing of the play. The player with the ball must already be in his shooting motion when contact is made, rather than gathering the ball to shoot such as on a drive to the basket.

"We saw it as a major trend in the NBA so we had to almost back up and say, `Well, wait a minute, this is going to be a trend, so let's catch up to it,"' NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell said.