Notebook: Effort Earns Minutes; Jefferson, Pierce and more
The Celtics went though what Doc Rivers called a "hard, physical" practice at HealthPoint Thursday before catching a plane for Philadelphia. Given the recent schedule, which included four games in five nights from last Thursday to this Tuesday, it was the C's first opportunity to get a solid practice in, and a point of emphasis for Rivers was execution down the stretch of ballgames. With all of the close games the Celtics have been in, Rivers feels that execution on both ends of the floor has determined their fate.
While he's excited about what the team has accomplished on the offensive end in staging comebacks as of late, he knows that defensively there's still quite a way to go.
"We've been down three games in a row, and our offensive execution has been off the charts. It was a problem, now we're getting shots and making them," said Rivers. "The defensive execution is better, but we still have to get better. The Dallas game, they had to make two tough shots. We scored every time but we couldn't stop them."
As far as getting his team to respond, Rivers continues to dangle playing time as the carrot. He has yet to develop a consistent rotation because only a few players have played well enough to cement a spot in such a rotation.
"Besides Paul, Ricky and Delonte, there's no one else on our team that has grabbed a spot that says you are guaranteed a certain amount of minutes. Effort gets you minutes, and that's the message," said Rivers.
Jefferson Moving On Up -- and Down
Regarding Doc's credo that effort earns you minutes, Brian Scalabrine definitely got that message, and his play against the Hawks in Atlanta Tuesday night was his longest stretch of PT this season. The only negative: Scalabrine's minutes came mostly at the expense of Al Jefferson. Big Al, only recently inserted into the starting lineup, took the move in stride.
"I don't worry about it. Sometimes you've got to do certain things to win, and Scal came in and gave us a big lift," said Jefferson, who practiced with the white team (second unit) Thursday. "They went small, and coach said he wanted to go 'small, but kind of big' and Scalabrine's perfect for that situation. So I didn't play that much, but we came up with the win, so I can't hold my head down."
Rivers said he loved the intensity that Scalabrine brought to the floor, but chalked up Jefferson's ineffectiveness to fatigue, both mental and physical. A reporter asked if Jefferson had "hit the wall."
"Well, he hasn't played well, but I don't know if it's a wall. I thought that was just for rookies?" said Rivers. "With Al, Perk, Orien, you always got to be concerned about mental fatigue. But there's no way around it. That's normal. The Atlanta game showed that. They were tired a bit and they let that get to them."
Specifically for Jefferson, the struggle continues to be on the defensive end. Rivers places the onus for that largely on the coaching staff, given Jefferson's age and lack of experience defending grown men, let alone NBA centers.
"He gets himself into positions that when he gets there, you have to write down on a piece of paper, 'we've got to teach him that too.' I don't think he guarded a whole bunch of centers at Prentiss," said Rivers, laughing.
But progress has definitely been made since Jefferson's rookie year, and Rivers no longer has to worry about Jefferson "having no value" as he put it, if his shots aren't falling.
"This year he's had a couple of games where he didn't score but he did other things, had his body in the right spot, defended OK on the ball, but now he goes back and forth into that."
Pierce Stays Positive
While Pierce has been through ups and downs thoughout his eight year career, he understands that young players don't always see the light at the end of the tunnel. And while he is enjoying the best year of his career in terms of individual statistics, the team has struggled as it relies on several young players who lack the kind of experience that Pierce brings to the table.
Still, Pierce remains upbeat and does his best to the young guys on track. He stressed the importance of young players being able to relate to the veterans if they are going to attempt to emulate them.
"It's a daily challenge, keeping their heads up, and teaching them how to be pros, on and off the court," said Pierce. "My job is not to be negative. I give a positive outlook on everything. We have five coaches to do that. I've got to be there when they turn around to say, hey, everything's going to be alright. I'll let the coaches deal with the rest."
Rivers, for his part, feels that part of the challenge on his team is that he has more youngsters than veterans, but he's pleased with the example the elder statesmen have set.
"The example you want them to show is when they're not playing, how they respond," said Rivers. "You want to show that you're mad that you're not playing, but you're still a team guy."
Rivers said he called Gerlad Green in Fayetteville Wednesday night, and that for the first few minutes of the conversation, Green didn't realize with whom he was on the phone. After revealing his identity, Doc got a quick update on his progress. Green told him that he needed to keep working on his defense, to which Rivers said, "that means someone toasted him"...Tony Allen didn't practice Thursday, but it was because of his ankle, not his knee. Allen turned his left ankle in the first half of Monday's game against the Mavericks, but played on it in the second half. Still, despite sitting out practice, Rivers expects him to be able to go against the Sixers Friday night...Raef LaFrentz and Kendrick Perkins were wearing green after practice and may get the starting nod against the Sixers Friday, as they did in the November 30 contest against them at the Garden. Of course, that was Perkins legendary 19-rebound night...The Celtics enter Friday's game with a 4-0 record against division opponents, the best mark in the league. Said Pierce: "We've got to put emphasis on every game just to build some consistency. We've played well against division rivals but against the rest of the league we've struggled. If it comes down to it in the end of the year, that's an edge we can have."