In the Celtics – Raptors game early tonight, the Celtics were up 73-55 at the start of the fourth quarter. Of the Old Three, only Garnett was on the floor. Both teams started the quarter cold, but Garnett got a couple free throws to push the lead to 20 with 9:15 left. In came Greg “the Dutch Steamer” Stiemsma, and that was the last of the Old Three for the evening. Needless to say, the Celtics won by 23. (The only bad news for the Celtics was a hard fall for Rondo, though he seems to be ok.)
I definitely approve of this strategy. There are multiple pros:
- Raptors are terrible, so there was almost no chance of a comeback, even against the second unit.
- It gave the second unit game experience, which helps them improve and the coaches evaluate (they played well, by the way)
- The Old Three got some much needed rest
I can’t think of any downside to this, except maybe some fans leave early, a little disappointed. But why didn’t the Celtics rest the Old Three sooner? Here’s the Old Three’s substitution pattern in the second half:
- Start of half: Old Three on the floor (6 point game)
- 3rd Q, 7:35: Garnett out (8 point game)
- 3rd Q, 5:30: Pierce out (13 point game)
- 3rd Q, 3:39: Garnett in (18 point game)
- 3rd Q, 0:17: Allen out (17 point game)
- 4th Q, 9:15: Garnett out (20 point game)
Was it really worth bringing Garnett in again with 3:39 left in the third? He made a few plays, but the chance of a comeback by the Craptors was pretty small at that point. The Celtics could have rested Garnett and Pierce for the final 16 minutes of this game without risking much (playing Allen a bit more is less of a worry; he’s moving well and healthy).
As an extension of this strategy, teams like the Celtics, Spurs, and Mavericks should give more minutes to the second unit and manage their old dogs more like hockey goalies. When a game gets out of hand (ahead or behind), take them out, and give them a night off during the most demanding parts of the schedule.
Consider the Celtics recent 5 game losing streak. They played the last four games in a six day span, losing to the Mavericks and Bulls at home, then the Pacers on the road, and finally the Thunder at home. Perhaps resting one or two of the Old Three in that Pacers road game (maybe even leaving them in Boston?) would have made a difference in the Thunder game, which was close until the end.