Practice Is at the Forefront of Celtics' Minds

WALTHAM, Mass. – What are we talking about on a Thursday in early March? Not the upcoming playoffs. We’re talking about practice, man.

It’s All About 18 for the Boston Celtics in the long term, but in the immediate future it’s going to be all about preparation and getting their new players on the practice floor as often as possible. The team ended today’s regular practice at 2:35 p.m., but six Celtics stayed late to run through offensive sets and defensive principles for another 45 minutes.

The only player out of that group who has been with the Celtics all season long is Avery Bradley, and he was joined by Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic, Troy Murphy, Chris Johnson and Sasha Pavlovic, whose ink may have still been wet on his freshly signed contract. Those players underwent 45 minutes of instruction from assistant coach Armond Hill at the offensive end and Lawrence Frank at the defensive end.

After watching over the opening minutes of that extra practice, Doc Rivers made his way over to a herd of media and eventually spilled the beans that this type of additional practice time is going to become a common theme. In fact, that might be an understatement.

“We’re bringing just this group in tomorrow by themselves just to work. We’re bringing them in early before the game to work again,” Rivers said of his new players. “We can’t worry about them right now as far as being tired in games, which they will be. That’s not a problem for us. We just need to get them ready.”

Outside of Bradley, the longest-tenured Celtic of that six-man group is Johnson, and he’s only been in a Celtic uniform for eight days. That fact gives you a quick idea of the challenge Boston is faced with in terms of teaching the offensive and defensive playbook to one-third of its team with only 23 games remaining on the schedule.

Watching the instruction from the sideline was reminiscent of watching a training camp or summer league practice, with the coaches teaching simple offensive plays such as “slice” and defensive techniques such as ball denial and shrinking.

Many of the newcomers have discussed the fact that its not so difficult learning the plays as it is internalizing the language and terminology of them. These players must also adjust to the required practice habits while being a Celtic. As Green alluded to shortly after he wrapped up a shooting session (which occurred after the second practice closed up – he’s catching on quickly) is that the intensity level doesn’t decrease as Boston’s practices wear on. Here in Boston, it only gets stronger as practice time progresses.

Green is one of three players the Celtics have acquired who figure to see a solid amount of playing time as the season closes out. Murphy and Krstic would also see substantial minutes if the roster never reaches full health. One of the biggest things that group must become great at is coming off of the bench. That trio has been in the starting lineup for the majority of their respective careers, so none of them are accustomed to their new roles of being a reserve. Rivers thinks that adjustment could be the toughest one that his new guys currently face.

“I actually am more concerned the other way,” Rivers said after being asked if he worries about leaning on players who haven’t played big minutes for other teams this season. “The Jeff Greens of the world, players who get a lot of minutes, and then you cut some of their minutes and they’re searching to find a rhythm. I’ve always found that to be more difficult. Usually they try to force their whole game into a 20-minute stint instead of just letting it come to them.”

The newest Celtic, Pavlovic, might have a leg up on those other guys, and Boston would have to thank the Cleveland Cavaliers for that. Pavlovic spent five of his eight NBA seasons with the Cavs, and in anticipation of facing the Celtics in the playoffs, they used to run Boston’s offense during their practices to prep their players. For that reason, Rivers’ prior suspicions were confirmed this afternoon.

“We thought it, but we have confirmation now, but Cleveland basically put our entire offense in in training camp, and that’s what they ran,” Rivers said. “And their whole thinking was the better they knew us, the better chance they had to beat us in the playoffs. And so when we were calling the stuff, Delonte and Sasha (were saying), ‘Oh yeah, slice…’ They know it. When we scouted them, we were laughing like, ‘Damn, that looks like our play.’ It’s confirmed now that that’s what they were doing.”

Though these players are all now faced with a hefty list of adjustments, they’re all capable of handling them. With the exception of Johnson, Boston’s new acquisitions are all veterans who have high basketball IQs. They should be able to wrap their head around their new surroundings and give positive contributions to the Celtics in the very near future.

It’s never easy for players to learn on the fly in actual game action, but that’s not the only place these new C’s will be able to learn. Boston’s coaching staff will find time whenever possible to instruct these guys on the court and get them ready to play basketball without thinking. That’s what practice is for, and that’s why practice, not the playoffs, is what’s currently at the forefront of the Boston Celtics’ minds.