We spent the last two or three months of the regular season learning how Greg Stiemsma can impact a game, how he blocks a lot of shots and normally plays proper positional defense, how his rebounding and defensive low-post position have improved quite a bit since the Celtics’ season-opener on Christmas Day, how he occasionally hits jumpers because he weirdly possesses a nice mid-range shot. Yet for whatever reason, Doc Rivers decided to yank Stiemsma from the rotation last night. His usual second-half minutes went to Ryan Hollins.
Stiemsma played four minutes for the night. Hollins, mostly an afterthought since being acquired midseason as a free agent, played 19.
This isn’t a post to complain about Hollins. He caught a couple alley-oops, grabbed three offensive rebounds (including one where I thought to myself, “Holy hell, Ryan Hollins just became a man”), blocked one shot (I felt like he blocked more — they must have been after the whistle) and generally didn’t screw up anything too badly. At least once, Al Horford absolutely swallowed Hollins on the interior and reminded us the difference between an All-Star and a journeyman, but for the most part Hollins did his job pretty well.
Yet he’s more prone to mistakes than Stiemsma. He can’t hit the mid-range jumper. He doesn’t block everything inside the Boston city line. He’s historically an inept rebounder who hasn’t built a well of trust over the past three months.
When Stiemsma played just 14 combined minutes in Games 2 and 3, I thought it was just a matter of Doc Rivers trying to match up with Atlanta’s small lineups. But even with Al Horford back and the Hawks playing more conventionally, we saw very little Stiemsma in Game 5. He says his feet feel better than they have all season, so it’s not an injury issue. Rather, Rivers made a choice that Boston would be better off without their top shot-blocker.
With that in mind, I took the time to re-watch all of Stiemsma’s possessions yesterday. Thankfully, because he only played four minutes, it didn’t take too long. What follows is a play-by-play account of Stiemsma’s floor time.
Play one: Stiemsma sets a mean screen for Brandon Bass, opening Bass for a wide open jumper. Bass misses the jumper but Stiemsma grabs the offensive rebound, one of just nine the Celtics would snag last night. Paul Pierce ends up with a layup on the ensuing possession when Stiemsma intelligently cuts to the opposite side of the hoop, taking his guy with him and leaving Pierce with a wide open lane.
Play two: Stiemsma helps into the middle of the lane off Al Horford. Joe Johnson beats his man, but Stiemsa is there to alter the shot and force a miss. Bass corrals the rebound.
Play three: Rondo drives to the hoop and foregoes an open layup in favor of passing to Stiemsma. It’s intercepted. Even if we despise Stiemsma with everything in our veins, we cannot blame this on him.
(Editor’s note: We now have three plays, and Stiemsma has been prominently involved in every one. This will become a theme. The man makes his presence known.)
Play four: Marvin Williams drives to the hoop. Stiemsma leaves his man to contest and forces a very ugly attempt. Despite very little contact, a whistle blows and Williams heads to the line.
Play five: Pick and roll between Stiemsma and Paul Pierce (I’ll let you guess who handled the ball). Pierce ends up going to the hoop and turning the ball over.
Play six: Jeff Teague dribbles in transition with a full head of steam. He attempts to make a pass to a teammate for an easy score, but Stiemsma deflects it and the Celtics seize possession.
Play seven: Brandon Bass picks up the pass deflected by Stiemsma and outlets it to Paul Pierce. The Truth makes a layup, largely because of Stiemsma’s defensive effort.
Play eight: The Hawks spend most of their offensive possession playing footsy with each other, after which Joe Johnson takes an ill-advised 30-footer to end the shot clock. His shot misses. Rondo boards.
Play nine: Stiemsma sets a screen for Rondo, who’s open off the screen but misses a jumper.
(Editor’s note: We are now more than halfway through Stiemsma’s four minutes. So far, he has grabbed an offensive rebound which led to a Paul Pierce layup, deflected a pass to lead to another Pierce layup, altered one shot to force a miss and generally done nothing wrong. In other words, nothing yet has screamed, “Doc, it’s Ryan Hollins time.”)
Play 10: Jeff Teague drives to the middle, but Stiemsma cuts off his path, Teague is forced to circle back outside. Later in the possession, Teague drives to the right side, Stiemsma contests his layup and it misses. Brandon Bass rotated well on the weak side and has inside position on Erick Dampier for the rebound, but forgets to box out.
(Editor’s note: I am 99.97 percent sure the following play is why Rivers decided to keep Stiemsma on the bench for good after his first stint. Also, it’s Stiemsma’s first mistake.)
Dampier offensive rebounded Teague’s miss because Bass politely declined to box him out. A pick-and-roll of sorts in the left corner forces Bass to leave Dampier alone and double Josh Smith with Ray Allen. Dampier is sitting wide open underneath the basket but Stiemsma fails to rotate, and Dampier gets a layup at the rim. This, I admit, is Stiemsma’s fault.
Play 11: Rondo misses a floater from eight feet. Stiemsma watches, but not creepily.
Play 12: Teague again drives to the basket, again hears Stiemsma’s breathing patterns, again misses a layup. This time, Stiemsma does not leave Bass to try to rebound the miss he forced. He grabs the board his damn self.
Play 13: Stiemsma sets a ball-screen for Ray Allen. After catching on the roll, Stiemsma awkwardly dribbles off his foot and the ball falls out of bounds to the Hawks. Mistake No. 2.
Play 14: Joe Johnson manages to avoid a horde of Celtics defenders trying to stop him and meanders his way to the hoop. Despite Stiemsma’s best efforts to return Johnson’s shot to sender, Johnson floats the ball an inch or two above the shot-blocker’s fingertips and splashes the nets.
Play 15: Mickael Pietrus misses a three. I find this hard to pin on Stiemsma, who had great position for the offensive rebound but was out-jumped by Josh Smith, who tends to out-jump the majority of living human beings.
Play 16: Stiemsma is defending Erick Dampier, but a few feet off him in help position. The ball gets swung to Dampier, who passes quickly to Josh Smith underneath. I’m not sure exactly why Brandon Bass isn’t defending Smith properly, but Smith goes to the other side of the hoop and misses a reverse dunk. He grabs his own rebound. Stiemsma, who did his best to contest the first dunk, blocks Smith’s second dunk attempt, but sadly declines to do the Dikembe Mutombo finger wag. Rondo picks up the rebound and the Celtics are off to the races.
That’s it. That’s every possession Stiemsma played. In his eight defensive possessions, the Hawks managed just six points, a meager 75.0 offensive rating which would have been very much worse than the Charlotte Bobcats’ league-worst rating during the regular season. In his eight offensive possessions, the Celtics scored just four points, awful, but Stiemsma’s contributions led to both of their hoops.
In four minutes, Stiemsma missed one defensive rotation, made one turnover, blocked a Josh Smith dunk, altered three separate Atlanta layups to force misses, deflected a pass to cause a steal, almost blocked Joe Johnson’s floater in the lane, grabbed one offensive rebound to keep a possession alive and added a defensive rebound, which came after one of the three shots he altered. His final impression of the night came while blocking Josh Smith’s attempted dunk, which helped to cover up Brandon Bass’ defensive inadequacy on the possession in question.
I still don’t know why Hollins played all Stiemsma’s minutes from that point forward. I can only guess it was due to the missed defensive rotation, but Stiemsma wasn’t alone in that sin. I also remember a series of missed defensive rotations by other Celtics, several of which led to Al Horford dunks.
Hollins played reasonably well last night, but I’m 114 percent convinced Stiemsma gives the Celtics the best chance going forward. I can only hope Doc Rivers agrees.