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.

Irving takes over in third quarter, Cavs beat Celtics in Game 4, 112-99

Irving takes over in third quarter, Cavs beat Celtics in Game 4, 112-99

CLEVELAND – They had them right where they wanted them.

LeBron James was in foul trouble.

Kyrie Irving had not yet heated up, and the lead hovered above double figures but seemed oh-so-close to creeping upwards of 20 points if the Celtics did a better job of making open shots in the first half.

Those missed shots, combined with a Kyrie Irving takeover in the third quarter, would prove to be part of the narrative for Game 4 – missed opportunities - as the Cavs rallied for a 112-99 Game 4 win.

Cleveland now leads the best-of-seven series 3-1, with a chance to eliminate the Celtics in Boston on Thursday and advance to the NBA Finals where a well-rested Golden State team will be awaiting them.

Irving led all scorers with a playoff career-high 42 points, 21 of which came in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Boston’s Avery Bradley had 19 points while Jae Crowder (18 points), Al Horford (16), and Kelly Olynyk (15) also finished with double figures scoring.

"He put the team on his back," said Tristan Thompson, regarding Irving's play. "He still has another gear."

Boston spent all of the fourth quarter playing from behind, failing to get that necessary made shot or defensive turnover or stop that they needed to slow down Cleveland’s growing momentum.

And with Irving making a slew of clutch baskets that put Cleveland in control, it was James’ turn to put the game away.

He did just that, finishing with 34 points which included 15 in the fourth quarter.

But for a good chunk of Tuesday’s Game 4 matchup, it looked as though the Celtics were coming back to Boston for Game 5 with the series tied up.

It was an odd game for sure, with nothing being any stranger than LeBron James being whistled for not one, not two, not three, but four personal fouls … in the first half.

The fourth came when he was whistled for an offensive foul against Terry Rozier with 6:46 to play and Boston ahead by 10 points.

With James on the bench, Cleveland managed to play Boston to a standstill as the half ended with the Celtics still leading by 10 points (57-47).

Cleveland slowly crept back in the game in the third, and eventually went ahead 73-72 following a pair of free throws by James with 3:15 to play in the quarter.

The Cavs were able to lead by as many as five points in the third quarter which ended with Cleveland ahead 87-80 as Irving scored the last 14 points for Cleveland which included a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that would be the final points scored in the quarter.

Cleveland’s strong finish to the third was a striking contrast to how the game began.

Boston got off to its best start in this series after a 3-pointer by Jae Crowder put the Celtics ahead 18-11.

The Celtics went ahead 22-13 after a pair of free throws by Jonas Jerebko and would eventually lead by as many as 16 points.

Meanwhile, James – the man Crowder was defending most of the time early on – had six points in the first quarter on 3-for-7 shooting.

WNBA: Sylvia Fowles' 21 points, 13 rebounds lead Lynx past Sun, 80-78

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WNBA: Sylvia Fowles' 21 points, 13 rebounds lead Lynx past Sun, 80-78

SAINT PAUL, Minn. - Sylvia Fowles had 21 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks to help the Minnesota Lynx beat the Connecticut Sun 80-78 on Tuesday night.

Seimone Augustus added 16 points, including nine in the third quarter, for the Lynx (4-0).

Morgan Tuck hit a 3-pointer from the wing to pull Connecticut to 80-78 with 19.8 seconds left and Lindsay Whalen missed two free throws at the other end. After a timeout, Connecticut worked the ball around but a jump ball was called with 2.2 seconds left. The Sun gained possession but weren't able to get off a shot.

Maya Moore added 12 points, six rebounds and five assists for Minnesota, which is ranked second in the AP power poll. Rebekkah Brunson grabbed seven rebounds to move into fourth on the all-time WNBA list.

Jasmine Thomas made a career-high five 3-pointers and scored 18 points for 11th-ranked Connecticut (0-3). Jonquel Jones added 16 points and Tuck finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

Minnesota has won 21 straight games in the month of May since 2012.