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Wounded Celtics press on

By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / March 10, 2009
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WALTHAM - The Celtics' slow start against the Orlando Magic Sunday illustrated their dependence on point guard Rajon Rondo, who missed the game because of a right ankle sprain. And the Celtics will be missing Rondo for tomorrow's visit to Miami and possibly a home game Friday against Memphis.

Starting forward Kevin Garnett (right knee) and reserves Tony Allen (thumb surgery), Glen Davis (right ankle sprain), and Brian Scalabrine (concussion) are also out of action. Rondo, injured during last Friday's 105-94 win over Cleveland, practiced briefly yesterday, and Davis, who went down early in the second half of the 86-79 loss to Orlando, attended practice, his lower right leg in a stabilizing boot.

The return of Garnett, who had been expected to miss two to three weeks, has been extended.

"Kevin will be out longer than the Milwaukee game [Sunday]," coach Doc Rivers said. "I would say Kevin, maybe the end of the following week, at the earliest - maybe San Antonio, maybe Memphis [March 21].

"We'll probably be down to 10 [players] for this whole week. [Davis] and Rondo are out and will be out for probably the next couple games, maybe the next week. I actually made the comment [Sunday] that Rondo would be ready for Wednesday; I think we were wrong."

As vulnerable as the Celtics appear at point guard, they have three available. Eddie House likely will start against the Heat; Rivers second-guessed himself for starting Stephon Marbury against Orlando. Gabe Pruitt, whose development made Sam Cassell expendable, is also a possibility.

In any case, Rivers plans to limit the playing time of Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, which means J.R. Giddens, Bill Walker, and Pruitt will be in the game plan.

"It was different circumstances, because injuries happened either during the game or right before the game," Rivers said. "So it was tough to plan for it. But I still want to keep their minutes down, even in a time of crisis."

Rivers is not exaggerating much by calling this a crisis. The Celtics concluded the Magic game with nine available players (Leon Powe fouled out), illustrating their vulnerability.

But Rivers is portraying the situation positively.

"We just have to find ways to win games," he said. "This is a growth period for our team and, clearly, we want to win the games.

"But we have an opportunity to grow our team in this little stretch and get them closer together and get them all understanding how hard the work is going to be to win the title. And, then, when everybody comes back, in the long run, I think this might make us a better team.

"Every season is different, every challenge is different. It's good for all of us, even though we don't like going through it.

"In some ways it has to be good for me, it has to be good for Paul and Ray to have to trust guys they are not used to trusting. This will make us - if we allow it to, if we don't get frustrated, if we can play through this - it has to make us better."

The Celtics certainly showed a willingness to respond to adversity. After trailing by 18 points at halftime against Orlando, they came within a Ray Allen 3-point attempt of tying the score in the final minute.

"Last year was unique in the sense we led wire-to-wire," Allen said. "We were able to play a lot of guys and it was very textbook in winning a championship.

"But it doesn't always happen that way, and we have to adjust to the climate of the NBA and the team."

Much of yesterday's 1-hour 20-minute session consisted of four-on-four half-court drills with seven reserves and starting center Kendrick Perkins, mostly for the benefit of newcomers Marbury and Mikki Moore.

"Steph and Mikki are now at the point where they know five or six sets but they have no idea what we're looking for in those sets," Rivers said. "The first step is actually knowing the motion of it.

"You could see Steph didn't know what or who to look for [against Orlando], so he's playing at half-speed, so you could see him thinking. And that killed him and it killed the team, as well. So what I'm trying to get him to do is not press, not worry about it."

Do not count Marbury among those underestimating Powe, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds against Cleveland. "I thought he could play from when he first came in the league," Marbury said. "I thought he was a stud. Everybody was laughing at how he was running, and I said, 'That guy can play.' He knew how to play the game, how to score. I look at it like, if you can stop him, you can stop him. Like Reggie Miller - everyone says he has the weirdest-looking shot, but it goes in. And you can't say too much about it if it goes in."

Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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