“We’ll go back and forth,” Rivers said. “We’ll go big with Jeff and Paul at the 2 and 3. Last year, we’d slide Paul over to the 4, now we have Jeff at the 4, who can dominate — and with speed. So, I think, talent-wise we’re [better].
“And I think we can sustain an injury. We don’t want one, but I think this team is deep enough to get away with it for a while and last year we were pretty thin, extremely thin.”
The Celtics improvised without Rondo last season, but now they have altered the attack to be less dependent on him. Rondo will still have the ball most of the time and choreograph halfcourt sets. But when Rondo is out, Barbosa, Lee, and Terry will call the shots in a simplified, more improvisational set up.
“We don’t need a point guard with the offense we’re running, to start it,” Rivers said. “You need a point guard to make the passes, and sometimes that’s Rondo. We obviously have a great point guard, probably the best in the league. So, we run a lot of stuff through him. But we also can initiate it with the pass and cut away, and the offense still starts.
“Sometimes, with some groups, just the point guard has to initiate it, start it, run it. We don’t want to be that team.”
The Celtics will also welcome a grind-it-out, slow-down pace at times, placing Garnett and Sullinger on the post and daring opponents to double team.
“This is the best pick-setting team we’ve had,” Rivers said. “Darko loves to pick, Kevin is the best pick-setter in league, [Terry], if he’s not the best he’s right there with Kevin. He’s small but he loves setting picks, that’s what he did with [Dirk] Nowitzki. It’s a lost art in our league, and we have some guys who actually enjoy doing it.’’
So, the title race is on. And the Celtics appear capable of going to the front out of the gate.
“This team is pretty fast,” Rondo said. “We have a lot of young guys now, a good mixture of young and old. This is the deepest team we’ve had, and I look forward to this season.
“Not a lot of teams can say they compete for the championship every season and we have, the past four or five seasons. So, you know, we’ve got to beat the Heat and that’s where the focus is.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.