The Boston Celtics are like a lot of teams in the NBA who see lots of advantages in going with a “small ball” lineup from time to time.
But the downside is that it has the potential to provide a size advantage to big men who spend most of their time around the rim; big men like Brooklyn center Brook Lopez.
Lopez will be among Boston’s many concerns heading into the season finale for these two teams tonight when the Celtics travel to Brooklyn to take on the Nets who have won two of the three matchups this season.
The two teams played just two days ago, with Lopez thrashing the Celtics for a game-high 30 points to go with 13 rebounds.
His dominance was far from a one-time thing, with Lopez playing some of the best basketball of his career recently.
In Brooklyn’s last five games, Lopez has averaged a double-double of 22.4 points and 11.4 rebounds along with 2.2 blocks and 1.4 steals per game.
He has seen his share of traditional defenses as well as those with a smaller, more active frontcourt which tries to mix in double-teams with tilting defenders his way without fully committing, as well as some teams that have played him straight-up with one defender who is often smaller.
When the two met on Saturday, the Celtics did all the above to no avail.
“It was just the way Boston went so we tried to take advantage of that,” said Lopez, referring to Boston’s smaller lineup. “I did my best to make the right play every time down, realizing that. And just tried to read the double-teams.”
The Nets caught a bit of a break against Boston’s small-ball lineup when Amir Johnson had to sit for key stretches in the fourth due to foul trouble.
Because of his length and quickness defensively, the Celtics have the capability to go small and still have an above-average rim protector on the floor when the 6-foot-9 Johnson is in the game.
When Johnson picked up his fifth personal foul with 8:24 to play, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens subbed him out 45 seconds later.
In hindsight, Stevens acknowledged he probably should have kept Johnson on the floor a little longer because of how he was playing.
While saying that the small ball lineup may have “hurt us in some ways,” Stevens added that there are benefits to it when Johnson was at center.
“When Jonas (Jerebko) was at the four (power forward) we were pretty good there, with Amir at the five, and we were flying around and pretty active,” Stevens said. “And when Amir picked up his fifth and I subbed him out, in retrospect I might’ve left him in.”
Regardless of who Stevens calls upon in the frontcourt to play center, the Celtics collectively have to do a better job in defending Lopez and do so without sending him to the line as often as they did on Saturday where Lopez was a perfect 8-for-8 from the line.
“He (Lopez) outplayed us,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “He deserves to make those shots. He worked for them; he earned it, the calls he got. He put himself in great position to get fouled. All the credit goes to them. We just have to fix it.”
And they’ll get that opportunity tonight, something the players are eagerly looking forward to.
“We didn’t play up to our standards (on Saturday),” Jonas Jerebko told CSNNE.com. “And they busted our ass!”