Celtics Practice Without Four Key Pieces

WALTHAM, Mass. – How does an NBA basketball team run through a March practice without four of its most important faces? The Boston Celtics figured out an answer to that question on Sunday afternoon.

This is the final full month of the regular season but Doc Rivers was not with the Celtics for Sunday’s practice in Waltham, Mass. He was up in Maine to watch the Red Claws and his son, Jeremiah, take on the Erie Bayhawks in the NBA Development League. During his absence, he instructed his eldest players to take the day off as well.

Jordan Crawford

Jordan Crawford is one of four new Celtics who were on the floor on Sunday.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

“He wants to rest KG (Kevin Garnett), Paul (Pierce) and JET (Jason Terry),” said assistant coach Armond Hill, who took over Rivers’ media responsibilities on Sunday. “Everyone else goes through the practice.”

Rivers remains concerned with the ramifications of Boston’s recent trip out West. The team played five games in seven nights during that trip, including two back-to-backs. Now Rivers is doing his best to recharge the batteries of his most important veterans by giving them consecutive days off this weekend.

“The most important thing is that they’ll be off their feet,” said Hill.

While the “over 35 group,” as they’re often referred to, rested during Sunday’s practice, the other nine healthy Celtics were out on the floor working hard. This practice was another opportunity for the Celtics to integrate their four new players who were acquired in the past 11 days.

“(We’re) trying to get the young guys and new guys to understand what we’re looking for in a play and repetition is the mother of learning,” Hill said. “So we’ve got to keep going over and over and over.”

Hill harped on repetition throughout his media session, and rightfully so. The coaching staff is throwing a lot at their newest players and that could easily lead to information overload.

“It’s challenging whenever you get a new player in because you’re trying to teach them the philosophy and the way of how we like to play and what we like to do on defense and offense, and it’s a lot of stuff,” Hill said. “They’re caught behind the 8-ball as far as what they have to learn.”

Those increased repetitions, however, will help the new guys inch closer to playing with a clear mind.

“They have to pick up a lot right away, so that’s why (we emphasize), ‘Repetition, repetition,’” Hill explained. “But the most important thing is they understand what we’re looking for when a play is called. If they understand that, then we can get through the execution of the play.”

Processing Boston’s philosophies and plays is at the top of the priority list for Jordan Crawford, Terrence Williams, D.J. White and Shavlik Randolph, but that quartet is also in the midst of learning the Celtic Way. In the long run, that may be the most important element to Boston’s long-term success, as well as these players’ individual careers.

The Celtics have a particular way of doing things. They treat each other with love and respect and they approach practices as if they are games.

Practices like Sunday’s are helping the new players learn about Ubuntu, which is the philosophy that links Boston’s players together as one. It sounds as if that philosophy is sinking in at a rapid rate.

“What I liked the other day is that someone fell on the floor and got knocked down and I saw Jordan running to pick him up,” Hill said while referring to Crawford. “That’s how we do things.”

Understanding the intensity of Boston’s practices is the other adjustment. Garnett sets the tone in that department with his passion and communication. The new guys have gotten a small taste of that already, but KG’s absence on Sunday meant that other seasoned Celtics needed to pick up the slack in the leadership department. Hill singled out Avery Bradley as someone who could take on more of a leadership role during practice, but other Celtics vets like Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox also possess that ability.

That group, along with Rivers’ assistants, made sure that the team was able to overcome the absence of its four biggest names on Sunday. The Celtics still put together a productive practice while integrating their newest players. And as Wilcox pointed out, he wasn’t too concerned about the possibility of Boston’s practice lacking its typical level of intensity.

“We’ve got a lot of guys on the team who talk trash, so that’s all it takes,” he said with a laugh. “One guy starts talking trash, then the intensity picks all the way up.”