WALTHAM - The Celtics are discovering what basketball life is without James Posey. That is not something Doc Rivers likes or wants.
Posey missed the season-opener serving a one-game, league-imposed suspension for pleading no contest to a reckless driving charge from last spring. Now, it's lower back spasms as a result of a lumbar disk herniation. Yesterday, Rivers thought it was "very unlikely" Posey would play tonight against Atlanta.
The first-year Celtic is listed as day to day after an MRI yesterday at New England Baptist Hospital revealed the herniation that was sustained during the second quarter of Wednesday's game against visiting Denver.
"But, if he says he feels good, he's probably going to play," Rivers said. "We'll see."
Posey played only eight minutes in Wednesday night's dismantling of the Nuggets, leaving in the second quarter when the spasms kicked in. Rivers said he knew of no prior history Posey had with back woes. Last year, Posey missed 11 games, but only six were because of an injury and most of that was because of a calf strain. The other five absences were for not meeting team body fat requirements and another suspension.
As the Celtics were wrapping up practice yesterday, Posey was readying for an MRI at New England Baptist Hospital. Rivers noted, "If you have a bad back, the last thing you want to do is lie down for an hour." He said if Posey cannot go tonight, it will be a costlier-than-normal absence because Atlanta likes to play small and fast.
Second helpingThe Celtics outscored Washington in the second period, 37-18. They then crushed Denver in the same quarter, 39-16. That's a total of 76-34 in the first two second quarters at home, resulting in leads of 22 (Washington) and 39 (Denver) at the break. "Our bench has been solid," Rivers said. "But what really has helped is that our defensive intensity has not dropped when the second unit comes in. And the other team's second unit isn't used to seeing something like that. And when they see it, they tend to break down." . . . Paul Pierce would like to add a dose of realism to all of those thinking of bringing 82-0 signs to TD Banknorth Garden tonight. "We've won three games. That's a start. But we're nowhere near where we want to be," he said . . . Scot Pollard was the only player on either team not to see action in Wednesday night's mauling - an "empty the bench" kind of game if ever there was one. "I was just giving him a break," Rivers said. "His ankle is still not quite right." Pollard did not play in the exhibition season because of a left ankle injury. He did, however, play in the first two games of the regular season, logging a total of 13 minutes, before watching against Denver.
Trash talkNitpick department: Rivers said the Celtics' play in the fourth quarter against Denver was "awful." He said the Celtics, who were outscored by 11 points (and still won by 26), were too passive on defense and had too many turnovers in the final 12 minutes. Uh, Doc? That's why they call it Garbage Time . . . The Hawks are 2-2, with their wins coming over Dallas and Phoenix. They also nearly beat the Pistons in Auburn Hills and hung with the Nets before losing in New Jersey. "They're staying away from what they don't do well," Rivers said. The Celtics coach said Al Horford was probably "the most NBA-ready" of any of the league's rookies. He also likes rookie point guard Acie Law. "He's going to be a helluva player," Rivers said. "He's that rare lefthander who can finish with his right [hand]." . . . A win tonight would make this Boston team the first in 20 years to start 4-0. The 1987-88 team, which went to the Eastern Conference finals (the last such trip for the real Big Three), started 6-0 and ended up winning 57 games.
Marc Spears of the Globe staff contributed to this report; Peter May can be reached at email@example.com.