Conditioning is at Core of Celtics' Issues

WALTHAM, Mass. – If you thought the Boston Celtics looked slow, lethargic and tired during their last two games, you and Doc Rivers have something in common.

Boston went 1-1 over the course of those two contests but scored a total of only 59 points in the first half of those games. Their 25-point performance during the first half of Friday night’s loss to Indiana tied a franchise record for the least amount of points scored by the Celtics in a single half. Ever.

With the evidence of fatigue staring him directly in the face, Rivers knew it was time to give his team some time off. Luckily, during this condensed 2011-12 season, the schedule just so happened to agree with him.

Boston will have had four consecutive days without a game before their next contest on Wednesday night, and that allowed Rivers to give his players the entire weekend off from full-fledged practice. Many of the reserves were in Waltham putting in work on Sunday, but it was not anywhere near a full practice.

Those two days off allowed the players to get their legs back just in time for a challenging practice today. Rivers did not make the mistake of easing through practice in order to preserve his players for a big game Wednesday night. Instead, he hammered the team with a taxing session.

“I thought today honestly was sloppy but it was good,” Rivers said. “It was long. It was a ton of running, and that was done with a purpose.”

That purpose is to help the Celtics get into legitimate game shape, because as Rivers has noted several times this season, they simply aren’t there yet. In order to get there, Boston’s typical practice plans will need to be altered. These past few days have been the first example of that.

“I thought we had a couple of practices where we did very little, and we probably should have done more running and not worry about the results of the game, but to look at the bigger picture,” Rivers said, commenting on practices that took place earlier in the season. “That’s where we’re kind of learning on the fly here, and I learned that just watching us play the last couple of games. I just thought, ‘Wow, we’re tired after three minutes, or four minutes.’ “

And that fatigue lasted for the remainder of those contests, too. The Celtics have been short on their jump shots, and they’ve been outhustled on rebounds and 50-50 balls. All of those issues are a product of poor conditioning. Being in shape is the first domino, and if you can’t get that one to fall, the rest can’t drop into place, either.

“You can have all the intensity that you want, and I think some of our guys do,” said Rivers, “but then after three minutes when your lungs hurt, you’re no longer thinking about intensity. You’re thinking about survival. How can I get through this next five minutes? And then you’re not playing the same.”

When you’re thinking about survival you forget about the little things, such as getting into bodies for rebounds. Boston was pounded on the glass Friday night to the tune of 47-36. A lack of physicality, which stems from that lack of conditioning, is what’s standing out to Rivers and his coaching staff.

“I showed our guys today, we had five times where we had the inside position on a rebound, and it was our bigs, and [the Pacers] still got the rebound,” Rivers said. “To me, that’s a physicality. That’s not boxing out. That’s relying on your athleticism. Five times that came up and they scored on every single possession.”

Those are the plays the Celtics aren’t making, and those are the plays they will need to make in the future if they want to become a title contender. The Celtics will get there, they just need practices like today’s to make it happen.

“We need this,” Rivers said. “The problem with this is that when you have four days off with this schedule, that means good things aren’t coming.”

Four consecutive games against playoff teams in a span of six days definitely isn’t a good thing. That’s what the Celtics are staring down as this stretch of off days comes to a close.

All of those games will be important, but do yourself a favor and try to think like Doc Rivers again.

Keep your eye on the bigger picture. Don’t concentrate solely on the results of these upcoming games. Instead, concentrate on whether the Celtics are inching closer to the level of conditioning that they’ll need to compete for a championship come springtime.