With Playoffs Looming, Celtics Look To Flip Fabled Switch
WALTHAM - Mercifully, a regular season that saw more than its share of injuries, several bumps in the road and an unsettling roster overhaul at the trade deadline, has concluded, and the Boston Celtics can finally get down to business.
The marketing slogan crafted in the Celtics downtown business office was “All About 18” and the mission couldn't have been any more clear on Thursday in Waltham as the Celtics took to the practice floor in the afternoon. Rather than hosting the media after their practice as is the customary approach, reporters were asked to arrive before the session began.
Doc Rivers, who typically is willing to speak at length until every last reporter has had his query answered, kept his remarks brief and didn't hang around to mingle. Ray Allen, who's known to ramble from time to time, was also erring on the side of brevity. Captain Paul Pierce, who was accidentally interrupted by a reporter while fielding inquiries, was distracted by the next question and lost track of his thoughts, then used the opportunity to end his interview session. He wasn't being rude; he'd been interrupted, and he was already running late.
Let's be honest: he's got bigger fish to fry. There's film to be watched and a first-round playoff series with the New York Knicks on tap. Pierce and company mean business.
To hear the media tell it for the last month, there's a switch to be flipped if this Celtics team is going to make a real run at Banner 18. The Celtics went just 10-11 over their last 21 games and haven't looked like world beaters in quite some time. While they spent a good share of the regular season atop the Eastern Conference, by the time April 11, 2011 rolled around, the Celtics were in third place in the East behind the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, and it looked like everyone needed a break.
Doc Rivers, who considered walking away after last season, has at times seemed downright flustered, especially since the All-Star Break. It was no more apparent than during an early timeout in the Celtics' April 7 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. Less than a minute after sending his team onto the floor for the second quarter, the coach called a timeout and just stared at his players for about 30 seconds, his eyes wide with disbelief in a moment that was captured on national TV and felt like a microcosm for a regular season that never really went according to plan.
So Rivers gave his core players the last two games off, and the break was just as much a mental one as it was physical. He needs this team on the same page and mentally sharp if they're going to make another two-month Finals run. The last week has almost served as a second training camp, with a rare chance to stage consecutive practices and get his players back on the same page. After all, these guys are still trying to figure out who is sitting next to them in the locker room with so many new faces in the foxhole.
When questioned, Rajon Rondo recently admitted that he didn't know whether his team could turn it on for the playoffs. But how should he? Only five players remain from the 2010 NBA Finals team that came within six minutes of winning it all. Despite having been on board since training camp, Shaquille O'Neal, Jermaine O'Neal and Delonte West all missed huge blocks of time due to injuries. And that's just the adversity we know about. Every NBA team goes through struggles that stay in house and go unseen by everyone but those ensconced in the inner sanctum.
But what was apparent to virtually anyone who was paying attention was the team's struggles after the unexpected Kendrick Perkins trade. After picking up five new players around the trade deadline, the Celtics struggled to find cohesiveness, a trait that had been their calling card since the Big Three united in Rome for training camp in the fall of 2007. Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic, who were acquired in the deal, are nice players who could potentially make a difference this postseason, but even if they have some playoff experience, they don't have it in a Celtics uniform. It's hard for anyone to know if they truly understand what's expected of them this spring.
There's one more thing hanging over this team: This could be the last ride. Danny Ainge, cornered by a reporter in the hallway outside the Celtics locker room after Wednesday night's regular season finale, admitted that to be the case. The Big Three aren't getting any younger, and championship windows don't stay open forever in the National Basketball Association.
The Celtics went to work on Thursday searching for the proverbial switch. They'll practice for a two more days leading up to Game 1 at the Garden, and the question is, when the lights get flipped on for Game 1 Sunday night, will the Celtics turn it on as well?