Doc Finally Allows Celtics to Run Wild

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Doc Rivers used the first five days of training camp to install his system and teach his newest players the Celtic Way. On the sixth day of camp, he let those players run wild.

Thursday’s sixth practice of the preseason was the first that featured extended scrimmage time. And by extended, we mean approximately two-thirds of the entire practice.

The session began with minor installation and drills but the team quickly got into scrimmaging that was broken up into four separate games. Each game was timed and often scripted to follow specific circumstances, but the players were given their first opportunity of the season to play at full speed for a lengthy amount of time.

Kevin Garnett

Kevin Garnett and his teammates finally got an opportunity to scrimmage on Thursday.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

“Our first time really scrimmaging extensively,” said Paul Pierce, “so I had a chance to get up and down, working a few more plays in than we had the past couple of days.”

While Pierce and his teammates were running up and down the court, their head coach, Doc Rivers, was taking a laissez faire approach on the sideline. He stood back, watched, and enjoyed the sight of the green team, made up of the top eight players, and the white team, made up of the rest of the roster, competing at a high level.

“I was very uninvolved in practice in a lot of ways,” said Rivers. “I just walked around and watched.”

While he was watching, he was taking mental notes of what played out before his eyes. All four games were highly competitive and the series wound up being a split at two games apiece. There were positives, negatives, and everything in between, but that’s exactly what Rivers expected.

“I don’t think anyone stood out or anyone was bad,” he said. “I thought it was good at times, sloppy at times, but I think that’s the way your scrimmages should look.”

It was perfect timing for the coaching staff to let the players run wild. At some point, installation begins to reach a level of information overload. That’s when Rivers knows that scrimmage time is of the essence.

“I just wanted them to get up and down the floor, because the first three or four days when you practice, you put in so much stuff they don’t play enough,” Rivers said. “So I just wanted them to play basketball.”

Being able to play basketball, rather than processing more and more of the playbook, was exactly what the players needed. Kevin Garnett, who is in his 18th NBA training camp, knows when the team reaches this point, and he even has a nickname for it.

“We call today Hump Day,” said Garnett. “You do four or five days in a row, and it’s kind of tough, but today was a good day.”

Garnett, who is as competitive as they come, had to love what he saw. His teammates, which were the regular starters plus Jeff Green, Jason Terry and Darko Milicic, played well. Likewise, the third unit, performed at a high level and was able to win half of the games in the series.

That type of competition is exactly what the Celtics want and need throughout the season. We all know how much this team prides itself on practice, and the more competitive those practices are, the better the team will become.

“When you have a third team that can come out there and push the first unit and the second unit, it’s only going to make your team better,” said Paul Pierce. “Usually your third team is the team that’s always getting blown out, losing every game, but that’s not going to be the case here.”

Not if Thursday was any indication. The third team hung with the first and second team throughout the day of scrimmaging, and that’s expected to continue for the remainder of the season. We don’t have the rest of the season’s results yet, but in the meantime, let’s take a quick look at today’s four-game series:

Game 1 – 6 minutes

Dionte Christmas banged in a 3-pointer from the top of the key – off the glass, no less – to help the third unit win the first game by a score of 14-11. The first-second unit hybrid team had a chance to tie the game on the final possession, but Pierce and Rajon Rondo each missed 3-pointers.

Game 2 – 6 minutes

The first-second unit must have been motivated from that loss in Game 1, because it came back strong in Game 2. Boston’s top players won the second contest by a score of 12-8, and Milicic shined toward the end of the matchup by successfully defending guard Dionte Christmas on the perimeter, then blocking his shot attempt, to seal the win.

Game 3 – 1 minute

Rivers created a situational contest by putting one minute on the clock and giving the third unit an 86-83 lead. Garnett began the game by making just one of four free throws (he actually should have shot 0-of-4 from the line, but he capitalized on a lane violation by Fab Melo) to bring the score to 86-84. After that performance, Rivers joked to Garnett that, “They’ll be coming out with hack-a-Garnett pretty soon.”

Jamar Smith made a free throw for the third unit to make it 87-84, and then Rondo was put on the line with just a few seconds left in the game. He made the first shot, then attempted to miss the second, but the shot accidentally fell through the net to make it 87-86. Rondo nearly stole the inbounds pass to Kris Joseph, but Joseph corralled the pass and kicked it ahead to Christmas, who dribbled out the clock to give the third unit a 2-1 series advantage.

Game 4 – 4 minutes

Rivers put four minutes on the clock and instructed his players that they would be drawing up the plays during timeouts. Jason Terry drew up the first play for the first-second unit, which led to a wide-open jumper for Garnett. Terry would score on his unit’s next possession to make it 4-0, and then Rob Kurz scored on a driving layup for the third unit to make it 4-2.

Then the highlight came.

Rondo drew up a play during a timeout and it worked to perfection. Jeff Green ducked to the basket and caught a perfect pass from a teammate and slammed home a reverse dunk that got some teammates fired up. Pierce tacked on a free throw to make it a 7-2 game, and that was the final score.