All Jokes Aside, C's Grow from Ad Lib Practice
WALTHAM, Mass. – Doc Rivers made his way over to the herd of media after Tuesday’s practice and broke the ice with a whimsical joke. It was typical Rivers material, who likes to keep his media sessions light hearted.
It was an atypical moment, though, because that joke, which invoked a burst of laughter from the group, was a legitimate statement that held a significant underlying meaning.
“We needed some of you guys for practice today,” he said with a laugh.
On this day, even a reporter might have been useful in the Celtics’ practice.
Boston was forced to maneuver its way through today’s session, which was only the team’s second full practice in more than two weeks, with eight players. The list of players who did not participate in practice would be an intriguing seven-man core for any NBA team: Rajon Rondo (hamstring and foot pain), Nate Robinson (personal matter), Delonte West (broken wrist), Glen Davis (illness), Jermaine’ O’Neal (sore knee), Shaquille O’Neal (sore calf) and Kendrick Perkins (knee rehabilitation).
All of those players missed today’s session due to a variety of injuries and reasons, and none of them are expected to play in Wednesday night’s game against the Denver Nuggets. Four of them, however, will likely be possibilities heading into tip-off. Although it's not probable, any or all of the following could be ready by game time: Rondo, Robinson, Davis and Shaq.
But today none of them were available, and so the C’s practiced on the fly. Rivers stated that it’s normal for NBA coaches to plan practices a month ahead of time. Today’s plan had to be completely scratched. It had been etched in as a “small lineup practice day,” but without Rondo and Robinson that plan was literally an impossibility. So instead of following the script, Boston ran through entire 90 minutes of practice time with ad lib lineups that you’d never even think of, let alone see on the court.
“We had one lineup today when the guys were laughing today, and I said, ‘Hey guys, this may be our lineup,’ “ Rivers remarked. “So we had to work on it today, so it just is what it is.”
The lineup he might have been alluding to was the one in which Luke Harangody, a 6-foot-8 rookie, was manning the center position. That certainly is not an ideal lineup, but at this point Boston has to expect the unexpected when it comes to five-man groups on the floor.
In addition to Harangody getting some time at center, four different Celtics – Ray Allen, Avery Bradley, Marquis Daniels and Paul Pierce – all spent time playing point guard.
Many teams would squander away a day of practice under these circumstances, but the Celtics did the exact opposite. Instead of dwelling on the fact that nearly half of their team wasn’t on the court, they looked at today’s practice as one that has prepared them for any situation.
“Yeah, it definitely does (make us more versatile),” Pierce said of Tuesday's session. “It makes us a deeper team I think, more so because you’ve got young guys who are going to get some minutes and some experience that don’t normally get that, and so in the long run I really think it’s going to pay off for us. So in that aspect I think it makes us a little more deeper.”
Rivers echoed those sentiments, particularly concerning the fact that Pierce, Allen or Daniels will probably be forced to play point guard at some point during the remainder of the season.
““It makes us a threat for any situation..." he said" It was a very difficult practice. So you gotta create a practice and we went with Marquis, Ray, and Paul at the one, two and three, and we ran an offense for an hour with that. And it’s good for them because we did that already once this year, and we may have to do it again.”
As you can see, most of the attention today was paid toward running an offense with limited resources. Defense wasn’t a hot topic because this team will always have confidence in its ability to perform at that end of the court.
“Well, that’s our identity - continue to be a defensive team,” said Pierce. “We’ve got high goals for ourselves, high standards for ourselves, on the defensive end regardless of what the offense does. That’s one thing we’re going to try and hang our hat on. With limited players out here – some scorers and some players, some All-Stars, out of the lineup – one thing we can do every night is defend.”
That’s what they’ve been doing during this “crisis,” as Rivers termed it, and they’ll continue to do so until the rest of the cavalry returns.
As we’ve seen throughout the start of this season, Boston is loaded with enough ammunition to race through this obstacle course, and they won’t need any media members on the practice court to do it.