Brad Stevens is one of the best coaches in the NBA, but one area in which he has run into trouble at times during his career is waiting too long to make a lineup adjustment.
It haunted him early in his postseason Celtic career when he stuck with starting lineups too long that didn’t have a chance in matchups against the Cavs and Hawks. He improved in this department a ton last postseason with more proactive changes (i.e. Semi Ojeleye starting against the Bucks in the first round) but that proactive mindset didn’t carry over to the first month of the season.
That’s very understandable to a degree. Patience would be needed to see how Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward re-integrated into the starting five and the case can be made for giving that group a very long rope as both tried to get comfortable on the court after such a lengthy absence. Irving did so quickly while Hayward remains a work in progress. One thing that was evident after 10 games was that the starting five just wasn't clicking, at least from an offensive standpoint.
Ultimately, Stevens addressed the issue last week by moving Hayward last week but that adjustment did not solve some of the core issues within the first unit: Defensive urgency and appropriate shot distribution. The case was made here at BSJ that Marcus Smart was the piece that best combated those issues, yet Stevens has always valued Smart as jack-of-all-trades weapon off the bench. His versatility has always been crucial with that group but Smart's presence was needed more with the starters, in my mind.
That leads us to Monday night in New Orleans, where an injury to Jaylen Brown (sore tailbone) created an opening at shooting guard. Gordon Hayward was an option to take that spot but his mobility makes him a liability against the Pelicans’ speedier starting guards. The same goes for Semi Ojeleye.
Ultimately, Stevens gave in and started Smart next to Irving for the first time in 21 games. The Celtics responded with arguably their most complete 48-minute effort of the year in a 124-107 victory over the Pelicans, setting the stage for a lineup "controversy."