Small Forward Position in Limbo as Pierce Rests

WALTHAM, Mass. – Paul Pierce is going to finish the preseason 2-for-2, and not in a good way.

Boston’s captain and starting small forward continues to nurse a sore heel that will prevent him from playing in both of the Celtics’ preseason contests. Pierce was already absent from Sunday’s win in Toronto, and he will not play Wednesday night against the Raptors in TD Garden, said Doc Rivers.

The original hope was that Pierce would return to the lineup for practice today, but those plans were derailed by his body’s reaction to a workout he went through on Monday.

“It’s a heel, it’s a bruise, and he went really hard yesterday and it just got real sore,” Rivers reported. “So we just want him to rest.”

Rivers and his staff haven’t set a date for Pierce’s return, but they’re hopeful that No. 34 will be able to return for at least a day of practice prior to the team’s Christmas Day tip-off in New York.

With Pierce sidelined until further notice, the Celtics are left in a precarious situation at the small forward position. As we learned this past weekend, Jeff Green, who would have been the primary backup behind Pierce, will miss the entire season due to an aortic aneurysm detected during his physical.

That shocking news left the Celtics with only two bodies on the depth chart behind Pierce. Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic are those two bodies, and neither of them have been known for their great health. In fact, Pavlovic has been out of action recently with a sprained left wrist and he did not play Sunday afternoon in Toronto.

On the other hand, Daniels did play, and he played well. He got the start and wound up notching 11 points, two rebounds and three assists. Those numbers would gladly be accepted during Pierce’s absence, but Daniels hasn’t been reliable during his two seasons with the Celtics. As Rivers always claims, the best ability is availability, and Daniels has struggled to be available.

He is returning from a major spinal surgery that took place earlier this year. The procedure was so severe that Rivers believed Daniels would never play basketball again. Now the head coach is facing the prospect of sending Daniels onto the floor as his team’s starting small forward on Opening Day.

If Daniels is healthy and winds up being the starter for the short term, the Celtics won’t be in a bad place. Daniels is one of the players Rivers has raved about since training camp broke on Dec. 9. He continued to reel off the positive reviews Tuesday afternoon at the team’s practice facility.

“I like when guys separate themselves, and that’s what I tell them all the time,” Rivers said of his players competing against each other for playing time. “Right now, Marquis is clearly separating himself, and that’s what you have to do.”

About a month before Daniels went down with his frightening injury on Feb. 6, it seemed as if things began to click for him mentally. He was playing great basketball at both ends of the court, which helped to turn Boston’s small forward position into one of its strongest. It’s a bit of a shocker that he has been able to come back and play so well so fast, but as Daniels said today, that has been his plan all along.

“That was my key,” he said, “just come back in, just be aggressive and just picking up from where I left off. I’m just trying to go in there and just play without any hesitation right now.”

The way he’s playing, Rivers will have no hesitation placing him into the starting lineup if need be. Daniels will be relied upon to deliver productive minutes until his captain returns to the lineup. In his eyes, though, that might be sooner than many on the outside believe. Daniels is eyeing full health for his team on Christmas Day.

“I’m sure Paul will be ready. I’m sure Sasha’s going to be ready also,” Daniels said confidently. “We just gotta stay ready. No matter who’s name gets called that night, we’ve all gotta be ready to go.”

Christmas morning will be a great one for Rivers and the Celtics if they learn that all three small forwards will be ready for their names to be called at Madison Square Garden.