Commentary

Rivers may have to change ways

The Celtics' inconsistency is a big problem -- so something has to give

Updated: March 11, 2010, 9:27 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

Celtics coach Doc Rivers despises change and, fortunately for him, hasn't had to make any wholesale alterations since the Big Three united during the summer of 2007.

But even Rivers can't run from the numbers that show just how mediocre his team has played over what amounts to nearly half a season. And, despite his hesitations, Rivers admitted Wednesday night on the heels of a lopsided thrashing at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies that change might be inevitable.

After winning 23 of their first 28 games to start the 2009-10 season, the Celtics stood at 151-41 (.786 winning percentage) for the past three seasons, a staggering 110 games over .500.

Over the past 35 games, Boston is a pedestrian 17-18 (.486 winning percentage).

For most of this season, Boston could blame injuries. The Celtics rarely enjoyed a completely healthy roster with just about every player missing time because of injury or illness. But Boston has been near full strength recently, including Wednesday night, and it hasn't been able to rekindle what made it so successful in the first 192 games the new Big Three played together.

[+] EnlargeDoc Rivers
Elsa/Getty Images"We've been reluctant to make changes with our rotations and stuff like that. Maybe we need to think about it," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

So for the first time since the team traded for Kevin Garnett, a move that pretty much dictated Rivers' starting lineup for him, Boston's coach must decide if it's prudent to tinker with his use of personnel in order to salvage the current campaign.

The fact Rivers acknowledged that change might be necessary suggests how dire the situation is.

Before last month's trade deadline, the assumption was that Boston simply needed a shakeup, something to stir it from the winter doldrums. And while the Nate Robinson-for-Eddie House swap might ultimately be judged as a move that made Boston better, it wasn't the cure-all some hoped it might be.

So now the Celtics must examine their core and decide if recent troubles are a result of an inability to sustain the level of play from seasons past.

"I'm slow to change," Rivers said Wednesday. "I think consistency is better. But I think at times, you do have to think about it. I'm not a big believer in change if it's not going to be a long[-term] change; that's a waste of time.

"We haven't fixed [our problems], clearly, and I always say I've got to do better, I've got to figure out why. We've been reluctant to make changes with our rotations and stuff like that. Maybe we need to think about it."

Rivers then showed his hesitation at even suggesting change by quickly adding, "And maybe not. But we have to think about it because right now we're just sketchy; we're not playing consistently."

Blame injuries, blame a lack of desire, blame age. It's possible that Boston's struggles truly are a combination of all three. But with 19 games remaining in the regular season, Boston cannot stand idly by and let a campaign that began with championship aspirations slip away.

But even if Rivers feels a change is necessary, there's no obvious move that will immediately shore up this team. The most frustrating aspect of these Celtics is that they are so wildly inconsistent, it's nearly impossible to pick a single area to tweak.

It's pretty obvious that Kendrick Perkins is struggling right now at both ends of the court, particularly offensively, where even his league-leading field goal percentage has eroded lately. So one line of thinking is to stick Rasheed Wallace in the starting lineup for a more offensive look that might also spread the floor for a stagnant group.

But the counterargument is that Boston has been woeful defensively at the start of first and third quarters, suggesting the team needs Perkins, one of its top defensive players, in the middle of the floor. What's more, the Celtics have been getting killed on the glass, and Wallace isn't a solution there. Perkins' rebounds-per-36-minutes rate is a robust 9.9 a game, while Wallace's is a mere 6.3.

In what amounts to the fourth quarter of the 2009-10 season, Boston doesn't have time for trial and error. So what sort of moves could Rivers make to spice things up?

Here's one idea. The Celtics could examine moving Marquis Daniels into the starting lineup in place of Ray Allen. At a time when Boston is clearly struggling to generate open looks for Allen, maybe it makes more sense to get a slasher on the floor like Daniels, who is sure to remove some stagnancy from the first unit with his tireless movement.

What's more, Daniels is one of Boston's top defenders, allowing him to guard the opposing team's best player and taking some of that pressure off Paul Pierce early in games.

The other benefit is that Allen would then come off the bench, not only driving down his minutes, but also giving Boston a Jamal Crawford-like scorer with the second unit. Sure, Robinson was brought in for similar bench output, but if there's one knock on Boston's second unit, it's that their scoring isn't overwhelming.

It's pretty likely that Allen will be destined for a sixth-man role in coming seasons; maybe this is a chance to see how it looks.

Consider this: During Boston's recent trampling of the Charlotte Bobcats, Allen picked up two quick fouls. Daniels subbed in midway through the first quarter with Boston nursing a three-point lead. The Celtics built a double-digit advantage before the end of the period and by the end of the game, Gino danced on the JumboTron for the first time in nearly three months.

Daniels finished with nine points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal in 30 minutes. What's more, he boasted a team-best plus-20 in the plus/minus category. He brings a little bit of everything to the floor.

Consider, too, that Daniels averaged 13.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 31.5 minutes per game last season while starting 43 contests for the Pacers.

The danger, of course, is how Allen responds to being taken out of the starting lineup. But after Wednesday's loss, even he seemed resigned to change.

"Guys were talking about what we need to do, what we can do better," Allen said with a big sigh. "What we need to do at the start of games, what we need to do on offense and defense. It's going to take true commitment. All the guys, all of us taking responsibility -- looking at each other and looking at ourselves."

Examining Boston's recent play, change seems inevitable.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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