Celtics Battling Injuries As Playoffs Roll On
BOSTON - Fifteen players went through Boston’s shootaround on Monday morning, and in Doc Rivers’ pregame media address about an hour before Game 2’s tip-off, he declared that “everybody’s ready to go.”
The Celtics had everybody "available" at the end of the game as well, and when time expired, the Celtics had lost 82-81, which evened their Eastern Conference Semifinals series with the Philadelphia 76ers at 1-1.
They’re not blaming injuries or moving screens that are never otherwise whistled at the end of a playoff game, and frankly, neither should you. Doc Rivers was quick to point out that it took the Celtics three quarters to start playing the right way (a 9-0 run to start the game notwithstanding), and that they didn’t get the ball to Kevin Garnett (15 points, 12 rebounds) early enough in the game. A 4-for-17 third quarter didn’t do the Celtics any favors either.
Still, the truth is, The Truth and a few others are hurting. It’s forcing the Celtics to improvise quite a bit, as it’s unclear on any given day who’ll be able to contribute, even if they’re in uniform. So just because everyone’s “ready to go” and on the floor at the game’s finish, don’t confuse that with “everyone’s healthy.”
As a result, the Celtics have gone 2-2 in the last four postseason games, all of which were nail-biters, something Rivers expected coming into the playoffs.
“You know, I don’t think we have a big margin of error. We knew that coming into this whole playoff run with the bodies we have. We’ve got guys going in and out of games; Paul (Pierce) clearly is not 100 percent,” Rivers said. “We’re not going to run away from anybody.”
If you’ve covered the Celtics for any amount of time, at one point or another, Rivers has given you two common refrains to an injury question. The first is, “I’m not a doctor. It’s just a nickname.” The second is, “I didn’t ask.” So his admission, unprovoked, that Pierce is hurting, is substantial by itself.
When a reporter asked him about Rajon Rondo’s hand, which the point guard appeared to tweak after a hard fall to the deck, Rivers told reporters that he hadn’t asked. Rondo himself didn’t really let on that anything had happened to his paw after the game either. Given the gruesome hyperextended arm injury he withstood against the Heat last postseason, he’s unlikely to be slowed by anything less substantial anyway.
The team holds player injury information close to the vest, as most do, but even if Rivers walked around with full medical reports on all 15 guys, it’s hard to imagine he could keep them all straight. By the time the playoffs roll around, no team is 100 percent healthy, or anywhere close. The grind of an NBA regular season, truncated or otherwise, takes a gradual toll on bodies and rosters, regardless of age.
“In the playoffs, the game gets rougher. You’re going to get hit,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said after the game. “If you’re going to complain you might as well go sit down. You’re going to have to play through it.”
For the Boston Celtics, that toll is mounting, even if everyone’s still suiting up for tip-off. Pierce, as Rivers mentioned, has played through and struggled with a sprained left MCL, and it’s clearly limiting his game on both ends of the floor. He hit just two of his nine shots Monday night, scoring seven points while committing five turnovers and taking just two free throws.
When Pierce isn’t getting to the line, it’s typically because he’s not attacking the hoop, and that’s typically an indication that he’s not feeling right. Meanwhile, Avery Bradley entered the game with his left shoulder in a large white wrap and left the game in the second quarter with yet another dislocation, his third in two weeks according to Rivers.
“I didn’t think we’d have him. At halftime they said we wouldn’t, and then when I walked out (Trainer) Eddie (Lacerte) right before said, ‘Hey, I think he’s going to try to give it a go.’ "
Bradley returned to action to start the fourth quarter to little fanfare — Willis Reed and Larry Bird can rest easy for now — but he’s likely going to be battling the issue for the remainder of the postseason.
Ray Allen, who had double ankle surgery in the summer of 2007 before he joined the Celtics, has been fighting off ankle woes for two months. Rivers quipped after Game 1 that he thought Allen had re-aggravated his ankle on three or four different occasions in that game. Allen, who moved to the bench late in the season, started the second half of Game 2 while Bradley was recovering from his dislocation, and as a result, had to adapt on the fly to playing in a new role.
Allen ascended the short steps to the postgame press conference very gingerly for a world-class athlete. Once seated, he spoke about the impact that injuries can have from game to game and minute to minute in a playoff series.
“You really have to pay attention to what’s going on in the huddle. You have to learn the plays, watch what we are running. We tweak plays every single day,” Allen said. “We might have a play that we ran all year but in the series, based on how they guard us, we might change it up a little bit. So everybody has to pay attention, has to focus.
“At any moment, somebody’s name is going to get called and that’s the nature of the playoffs.”
The war of attrition is a very real factor in deciding an NBA champion. It’s an opponent the Celtics will have to beat every night this postseason, regardless of who's sitting on the other side of the court.