Mailbag: Three-guard lineup intriguing

The 2014-15 NBA season is in full swing and with it comes a new season of our Celtics Mailbag. With the benefit of 144 minutes of regular-season action, let's overreact (err, make educated guesses) about what the future holds for Boston's basketball squad.

Q: The combination of Marcus Smart/Avery Bradley/Rajon Rondo on defense will be a nightmare for point guards. Seems like a good way to combat a star point guard-heavy NBA. -- @furnsey (via Twitter)

A: There's no denying Boston's three-guard lineup is fun to watch, particularly with the amount of defensive pressure it can put on the opposition. So I'll admit I was surprised to find that when you home in on that three-man lineup, the group was minus-2 in plus/minus over 17 minutes on Monday night (though it was plus-7 in the second half, when Boston made its charge). It's a bit too early to know just how sustainable that lineup is, but clearly, there are going to be times when Boston simply elects to go small and challenge opponents to take advantage. Smart's fearlessness in defending bigger perimeter players -- we've already seen him on Joe Johnson and Dirk Nowitzki in 1-on-1 situations -- will give coach Brad Stevens even more confidence to go with that three-guard look. You'd think Boston's lack of shooting with that lineup would be its Achilles heel, but in a small sample of 25 minutes this season, the Smart/Bradley/Rondo combo has averaged 122.2 points per 100 possessions, Boston's second-best three-man combo among those who have played at least 17 minutes together. Bottom line: Let's see more of it because undersized Boston has no other choice but to lean on its most talented players.

Q: The second half against Dallas -- is that a style of play the Celts can duplicate for 80 more games? -- @JohnnyBarlow (via Twitter)

A: Stevens said last week that pressing for even half the game is not ideal for a team -- even one with Boston's perimeter depth. The Celtics are asking their players to exert an awful lot of energy when they are on the court, even if it's simply in half-court defense and pushing the pace after stops. As nice of an advantage as it can be, Boston's press defense works better as a changeup than a fastball. The Celtics can still disrupt ball-handlers without picking up at three-quarter or full-court lengths. What continues to resonate after the first three games is Boston's offense is completely tethered to its defense. When the Celtics generate multiple stops, it takes pressure off the offense and affords easier opportunities in transition. The Celtics absolutely have to allow their defense to fuel the offense and cannot endure the sort of defensive lulls that existed in the first quarter of both games in Texas.

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