With Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett ailing over the past few weeks, the Boston Celtics have endured a relatively rough patch. Their playoff spot is set, but the inconsistency that comes with broken continuity has given the franchise a 4-8 record in their last 12 games.
That is not the way the Celtics will want to enter the playoffs.
Regardless of who they will face in the first round. Regardless of their relative talent and experience. Regardless of Doc Rivers' coaching, no team in the league can comfortably flip a switch from losing basketball to win-worthy performances in the playoffs.
The Celtics have five games left in the regular season. Even though they are locked into the playoffs, they can still move around in terms of their seed. Being just three games ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks in the eighth seed and four games behind the Brooklyn Nets in the fourth seed means that the Celtics can still be the last team in or open with home advantage.
According to Kevin Garnett, that is not a priority. Garnett had previously said that he has never been 100 percent entering the playoffs, but that he does like to be in a rhythm. That same standard applies to the rest of his team also. When queried by a reporter after the team's most recent victory over the Washington Wizards, Garnett said "getting in a rhythm with that nine or eight is very important for going into the playoffs."
Garnett played just 24 minutes, but they were 24 welcome minutes after he missed so many weeks with a left ankle injury. In fact, both Garnett and Pierce returned from ankle injuries to spark the Celtics' victory.
This could be the final year for Pierce and Garnett. Even though that has been said so many times over the past few seasons, the Celtics are closer to the brink in terms of a rebuild than they have ever been before. The Big Three is long gone and Rajon Rondo is rehabbing a torn cruciate ligament, opposed to leading the charge on the court.
Garnett and Pierce will be the two pivotal pieces of a relatively deep rotation for Doc Rivers. Although Garnett has only averaged 29 minutes per game this season, he has played 40 minutes or more on three occasions and regularly gone over 30. Come playoff time, he can play more and more minutes if physically healthy. Pierce has averaged 33 minutes per game this season and should push over 40 in the playoffs.
That eight or nine man rotation that Kevin Garnett spoke of is pretty clear.
It's obvious that Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green, Jason Terry and Brandon Bass will remain involved in every game. However, the final one or two spots in the rotation will likely be designated based on individual matchups pertaining to each playoff series.
Against the New York Knicks, the team the Celtics are currently slated to face in the first round, the Celtics will likely play smaller lineups. That means Jordan Crawford or Terrence Williams will take precedence over Chris Wilcox or Shavlik Randolph. Although Crawford and Williams haven't really distinguished themselves, Williams could get the nod in the playoffs because of Crawford's erratic decision-making at times.
If the Celtics do go further in the playoffs, to the point where they must play the Chicago Bulls or Indiana Pacers, then Randolph and Wilcox will see more minutes as the Celtics try to compete with those teams' physicality.
While the Celtics' overall roster quality may be lacking compared to teams of the past and current, their flexibility guided by the veteran leadership of Pierce and Garnett could cause them to shock the basketball world once again.