By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- After playing a guessing game for much of the preseason, Celtics fans may have finally have a grasp of Brad Stevens' starting five.
Boston improved to 5-1 in the exhibition season with a 99-85 win over the New York Knicks at the TD Garden, with Marcus Smart-Avery Bradley-Jae Crowder-David Lee-Tyler Zeller taking the floor for the start of the game.
All five enjoyed success in their time on the floor together, as the Celtics jumped out to a big lead thanks to a breakneck pace on the floor. Smart showed his ability to be a floor general, dishing out eight assists in the first half alone. Four of those went to Zeller, with Smart rewarding his big man for running the floor in transition. He finished with 15 points, while Lee finished with seven points, eight rebounds and a pair of assists.
Stevens wouldn't set anything in stone for next Wednesday's season opener against the Philadelphia 76ers, but it sounds like he's found his starting lineup.
"If we decide to start that first unit like today, that unit's got a nice chemistry," he said after the win. "David kind of handles passes and directs, Tyler does what Tyler does and the guards are great cutters. When David has the ball there's a lot of cutting, a lot of movement, and they all have skills so that's a nice combination."
Smart said it's the unit's ability to run the floor that makes them so dangerous.
"David Lee can get the ball and push the ball ahead. It puts pressure on the defense because now one of the forwards is bringing the ball up and making plays," explained Smart, who finished with seven points and nine assists in 26:42 on the floor. "It gives us guards momentum to run off the screen and run off the handoffs."
The first quarter was a bit chaotic for the Celtics offense, but the continuity with that starting five (the same group Stevens used in Boston's two games in Europe) helped. The Knicks, having beat the Celtics last week, had defensive success at times to start the game, but led by Smart's playmaking, Boston showed off a great ability to improvise on the fly.
"There are going to be nights like that when teams know your plays," Smart said" They're going to be able to stop it and you have to adjust. When you get into those scrambles you have to make a play, and that's what we were able to do."
One thing that stands out about that particular starting five is their defensive ability. While Lee isn't known much as a defender, Smart and Bradley are both above average on that side of the floor, and Crowder is known for his strong two-way play. He played great defense on Carmelo Anthony on Thursday, with the Knicks forward missing 14 of his 18 shots from the floor.
With those five as Boston's starters, it leaves Isaiah Thomas (who missed Thursday night's game with tendinitis in his left leg) to lead a second unit likely rounded out by Evan Turner, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk (who got Thursday night off) and Jonas Jerebko, with Jared Sullinger, R.J. Hunter and Terry Rozier fighting for minutes.
Just don't get too fixated on any lineup or rotation yet. Stevens told Zolak & Bertrand Thursday afternoon that he won't be naming a lineup until next week, leaving him some wiggle room between Friday's preseason finale and Wednesday's season opener. And without a true star on the roster, his starting five and rotations off the bench are something Stevens will likely tinker with throughout the season, and at times, on a night-to-night basis.
But with opening night just a few days away, we finally have a clearer picture of who could be taking the court when the season tips off.
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