Celtics expect lineup changes for Game 4

David Richard/USA TODAY Sports

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he's undecided about his starting lineup for Game 4 against the Cleveland Cavaliers. But the Celtics practiced Saturday in preparation for changes while hoping to extend their season by avoiding a sweep.

When the Celtics opened practice to the media on Saturday, players were stretching to end the session. Among those in the green practice shirts that typically denote starters were Evan Turner, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, and Tyler Zeller. Marcus Smart and Brandon Bass, who started the first three games of the series, were wearing reserve white.

After Bradley let it slip to reporters that the team was expecting lineup changes, Crowder confirmed he is planning to start.

Stevens' hesitation to reveal his lineup might stem from uncertainty surrounding Jared Sullinger, who bruised his tailbone during Thursday's Game 3 loss and did not participate in Saturday's practice. Sullinger is listed as probable for Sunday's matinee. His availability could affect how Stevens works his bigs rotation.

Stevens, who wasn't asked about potential lineup changes while meeting with reporters, was later jogging on a treadmill overlooking the practice courts and was questioned about what his starting lineup might look like.

"In all sincerity, I have an idea, but it's not 100 percent," said Stevens, noting he still had about 24 hours to roll around all the different potential lineups.

The Celtics utilized the Turner-Bradley-Crowder-Jerebko-Zeller lineup at the start of the third quarter in Thursday's Game 3 and that group played the Cavs even over the first eight minutes of the second half. For the entire game, that lineup was plus-10 overall in 15 total minutes. It's the only time this series that group has worked together.

The Turner-Crowder-Jerebko-Zeller four-man lineup has been one of Boston's most frequent combinations through three games (22 total minutes). It's also one of the Celtics' best groupings with a plus-21.6 net rating (99.9 offensive rating; 78.3 defensive rating). It's a small sample, but that grouping has also been one of Boston's better defensive rebounding units grabbing 76.2 percent of rebounds on the defensive glass (6 percent higher than the team's average this series).

Said Crowder of the potential lineup change: "We’re just trying to come hit first." The Celtics have played from behind much of the series and, when the Cavaliers make their runs, haven't been able to respond.

In shuffling out Smart, the Celtics would lean on Turner as their point guard and primary ball-handler, but that's not a big change considering Turner has often run the offense while starting at the swingman position. If Boston brings Crowder and Jerebko onto the starting unit, it gives Boston the ability to switch more pick-and-rolls in an attempt to keep bodies in front of them on the perimeter while also looking to put players in better position to box out against a Cleveland team that has utilized the offensive glass to generate key buckets during this series.

Sullinger's health could be critical for Boston. He's been the team's best defensive rebounder while grabbing 27.3 percent of available caroms when he's on the floor. Despite still shaking rust after missing 24 games due to a foot fracture, Sullinger has been an important part of Boston's reserve unit this series.

Said Bradley of the potential changes: "I’m excited for everyone [Sunday]. I think our lineup is different [for Game 4], and I know that we’re just going to go out there and play as hard as we can and play well."