Gomes Gets Time to Shine
By Peter Stringer
February 14, 2006
Ryan Gomes didn't call anyone before his first career NBA start last Friday against the Trailblazers. He said that he didn't want to get too excited about it. And according to Gomes, starting an NBA game isn't much different than coming off the bench.
Playing major minutes, however, is a completely different story.
"I got a little winded early, I've got to get used to it," said Gomes. "In practice you go up and down, but in the game it's different. You can run through sets, drills, but in a game, you always have to be moving and be alert."
Things change fast in the NBA, and when Al Jefferson (ankle) and Kendrick Perkins (shoulder) both went down with injuries in under a week, Gomes was suddenly in the spotlight. After practicing with the first unit last Thursday, there was speculation that he may earn his first start against the Trailblazers. But it wasn't until shoot-around the morning of the game that Gomes knew he'd be in the lineup for tip-off, just like old times at Providence College. But starting the game isn't really what concerns Gomes the most.
"I've always was a guy that wanted to be in at the end of the games rather then being in them at the beginning, but both of them have been happening right now," said Gomes after his career-high 14-point, nine-rebound effort in Sunday's win over the Orlando Magic.
"I think his time to play was coming anyway," said Coach Doc Rivers of Gomes getting a chance for some playing time. "Maybe not starting, but he's put in his time in practice. He does a lot of the little things. When you're not on a great team, those don't always show."
What has shown up in his first two starts is that Gomes can rebound and play smart. He grabbed nine boards in each of his last two games, and came out of the gates in especially impressive fashion Sunday night, grabbing seven rebounds in the first quarter. His defensive work against some bigger players like Zach Randolph (6'9") and Dwight Howard (6'11") was also impressive. Physically overmatched against both of them, Gomes employed his quickness to defend them rather than trying to match them with brute strength.
While Gomes probably didn't have to match up against guys built like Howard at Providence, by all accounts, four years of college ball seems to have done him a lot of good. That said, he's also had to adjust to a more limited role. Like most NBA rookies, Gomes was used to being the man. He was a starter in high school, and he started 115 of his 116 games in four years at Providence, and left as the Friars' all-time leading scorer.
"In college I was the focal point of the offense and getting a lot of touches," said Gomes. "But Paul [Pierce] and Wally [Szczerbiak] make it a lot easier because they're so respected around the league that when they get in the lane, my guy's going to help and I'm going to be wide open. I've just got to be able to fill in the spots when they attack."
The respect and minutes that Pierce and Szczerbiak enjoy are earned the hard way in the NBA, and once he was drafted by the Celtics, Gomes quickly realized that he'd have to start over. One of three rookies on the Celtics roster at the start of training camp, he had plenty to prove, and there were already a few players ahead of him on the depth chart.
Early in the season, Gomes was getting playing time, but it ended up being pretty inconsistent. One night he'd get 20 minutes; the next night he'd play two minutes. Then again, he was still trying to figure out whether he was really a small forward or a power forward and had to learn to run plays at both positions. Gomes, at 6'7", is a classic "tweener", a guy who's sometimes regarded as too big to be a guard but too small to play at forward. And at either position, established guys like Reed, Raef LaFrentz, Al Jefferson and Brian Scalabrine were ahead of him.
"It's been tough, but this is a league where at every position, the players are great," said Gomes. "Only a selected few make it here. It's hard to crack the rotation and get a lot of minutes."
Even practice time can be hard to come by when you have that many guys ahead of you. Only 10 guys can run through plays at a time, so it's tough to get reps if you're at the end of the bench, or not even on the active roster. And for most of January, Gomes was inactive and rarely seen in even his street clothes at the Garden. In some ways, he'd seemed to have become a forgotten man.
But Gomes was there, behind the scenes, getting his cardio work in or lifting weights while his teammates played games on the parquet. He chose to work out during home games because when teams are on the road, they typically don't have access to the same type of workout equipment as they do at home. So even though he wasn't playing, he was preparing for the days ahead when his time would arrive.
"I give a lot of credit to the coaches and the strength and conditioning coaches for telling me 'just stick in there, keep working hard, you've got to prepare like your going to play every game', and that's what I did," said Gomes. "So when my number got called, it's still a different transition but I'm more prepared then if I put my head down and didn't work as hard."
But the last few weeks have changed everything for Gomes. On January 25, the day before the Celtics' seven-player blockbuster trade, he was activated for that night's game against the Washington Wizards. He took a DNP-CD that night, but the following day his situation improved when Reed, Ricky Davis, Mark Blount and Marcus Banks were sent to Minnesota for Wally Szczerbiak, Michael Olowokandi and Dwayne Jones, who was toiling in the D-League at the time.
With Reed sent to the Timberwolves, Gomes' chief rival for playing time was gone and opportunity seemed to be knocking. Even so, Gomes got only 16 minutes over the next two games and really never got a chance to establish any sort of rhythm or consistency, and would go on to play just five minutes over the next three games.
But injuries to the Celtics' Perkins-Jefferson tag team threw the door open for Gomes, and he's responded with two big games at the Garden. While he knows that his role will change again when Jefferson and Perkins return, he hopes that he's earned himself a spot in the rotation for good.
"It's an opportunity for me," said Gomes. "Hopefully I can just hold down the fort until they come back, and when they come back I can just fit in with them."