With No Opponent Decided, Boston Takes on Itself

WALTHAM, Mass. – The Boston Celtics have been off since Sunday evening, and they still don’t know who they’ll be playing in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

But just because they don’t know what jersey they’ll see on the other bench come Game 1 doesn’t mean the Celtics are unaware of who their opponent is. They can find that answer simply by looking in the mirror.

“I’ve told you all year the opponent has been us,” is what Doc Rivers claimed Wednesday afternoon.

With that being said, the Celtics were able to begin taking on that opponent at Wednesday’s practice, which was the first time the team has been together as a whole since it departed Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

The Celtics reconvened this afternoon, and from what was seen in the 30 to 45 minutes while the media was allowed into the gym before practice, it was clear that they were anxious to get back to work.

Glen Davis and Kevin Garnett went through personal workout routines at opposite ends of the court while their teammates trickled onto the court one-by-one. This all took place while the media waited for Rivers to pop his head out of his office to speak publicly for the first time since Sunday’s win.

By the time Rivers eventually wrapped up his 10-minute chat with media members, not much time remained before players and team personnel began to let the media know that reporting time was over. It was time to get down to business in practice.

Today’s session was the first of what should be three or four practices that the team holds prior to Game 1 of the Conference Semifinals. Rivers believes the stretch of practices will serve in a similar fashion to Boston’s yearly visit in late September to Salve Regina University.

“We get a chance to work on our stuff, very similar to a training camp,” said Rivers. “When you’re starting camp, you really don’t have an opponent. You’re really just trying to work on all of your stuff and we have the opportunity to do that with (this) rest.”

Davis, who seemed to be working on both his jump shot and conditioning during his hectic pre-practice workout, agrees that this week of no games will be, in effect, a mini training camp.

“It’s just like getting the cobwebs out, like in the beginning of the year,” said Davis, who was in his most chatty mood in recent memory. “So today’s a cobweb day: get the cobwebs out, get a rhythm going, get a lather going, start sweating, and things like that. And (then) get on with our playoff run.”

This season’s path through the playoffs will likely continue this weekend, and it looks as if it will be against the Miami Heat. Miami leads its series against the Philadelphia 76ers 3-1 and can advance to the next round with a win tonight.

Although many people around the league are assuming that the Heat will, in fact, advance, Rivers and the Celtics aren’t too concerned about who their opponent will be. At least for now.

Asked if it would be safe to say that Boston is preparing to face the Heat, Rivers responded, “No, we’re prepping for ourselves. We’re not going to work on anything with Miami today. We’re just going to work on our stuff, so I would say it’s not fair to say that right now.”

Boston’s “stuff,” according to Rivers, consists of tightening up the defense, executing at both ends and continuing to integrate its late-season acquisitions. The Celtics went through their first-round sweep with a limited playbook in hopes of eliminating any mental stress for their newest players. With these extra days off, Rivers noted that there is a great opportunity to expand that limited playbook, which will make preparing for them much more difficult.

There is one problem with this week of rest that must be noted. The Celtics face the possibility of losing the rhythm they displayed in the first round with this full week off.

While speaking to the media today, Jermaine O’Neal touched on the issue of rest potentially turning into rust. Seeing as the Celtics were essentially in the same situation prior to beginning their first-round series with the Knicks – Boston’s starters hadn’t played in a full week prior to Game 1 – this isn’t exactly uncharted territory. O’Neal believes that his coach will figure out how to keep his players fresh and prepared for Game 1 of the next round, whenever that day may arrive.

“Doc is good, Doc is good,” O’Neal said with a grin just minutes before the team began practice. “I’m almost intrigued to see what he has planned for us today, to be honest. Guys are asking questions, nobody really knows (what to expect in practice). We’ve asked a couple of coaches and they’re kind of like, ‘I don’t know.’ So it’s gonna be something surprising.”

Rivers has had plenty of tricks up his sleeve during his seven-year career as Celtics coach, and the odds are that he’ll have another one this week to keep his players on the edge.

He may have been secretive with his players about what drills they should expect heading into today’s practice, but he wasn’t shy about who the Celtics would be preparing for. This was Day 1 of a mock training camp, and the opponent was the Boston Celtics, not the Miami Heat.

Not yet, at least.