Rivers likes shape of things
Celtics advance to refining phase
By design, the Celtics have taken the preseason in stages, slowly and deliberately. Part of it was to make life easy on the veterans, part of it was to acclimate the new arrivals.
There was the phase when everyone was adjusting to life with Kevin Garnett back on the floor. The chemistry was still there among the starting five, but because it had been essentially eight months since they had played together with regularity, the rust was there, too. There was a period when Garnett, Ray Allen, Kendrick Perkins, and particularly Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce had to reconnect.
Coach Doc Rivers monitored Garnett’s minutes, looking for positive signs - a good sprint here, an in-the-moment collision there, an alley-oop that came out of nowhere. But he was confident that Garnett was healthy.
Rivers put the majority of his focus on teaching the second unit. Having veterans Marquis Daniels and Rasheed Wallace was like having new toys, and watching the instant chemistry between Daniels and Eddie House or Wallace and whoever else was on the floor with him, turned Rivers into a bit of a mad scientist pondering all the possibilities.
Certain things Rivers considered constants. He waited until there was less than a week left in the preseason to install plays for Allen and Pierce, realizing they’d know what was expected of them. In Wednesday night’s game against Cleveland, Allen rested while Pierce talked his way onto the floor, but Rivers didn’t show anything he hadn’t shown already.
The last stage before the regular season is these next four days, when Rivers will take a team he’s pleased with and refine it.
“I’m looking forward to sharpening our tools,’’ Rivers said. “That’s what we’ve got to keep doing.’’
After going 6-2 in exhibition games, with no major injuries, the Celtics are comfortable with their preparation, though there are things they still want to work on. Rivers said he has more plays he intends to put in, and he’ll likely emphasize the things he was disappointed with in the exhibitions - transition defense among them.
“We’ve still got some things to clean up,’’ Pierce said. “We’re nowhere near where we want, but we’re still trying to get there.’’
There are no real checkpoints in Rivers’s eyes, no way to gauge when the team is hitting on all cylinders. It’s not necessarily fast starts.
“Last year, I kept making a point when we were 16-1 we were horrible, that we were playing horrible,’’ Rivers said. “People were laughing; I believed that. I thought we were and it proved itself a little bit right after that. So you just watch your team.’’
Chemistry becomes a cliché after a while, but making sure roles are clear and every player is comfortable in theirs is a priority.
“A lot of the jobs for guys are new, even some of the guys that have been here, and it’s going to take them time to understand it completely,’’ Rivers said. “And that’s what we mean by, ‘We’ll be better as the year goes on.’ ’’
Not that the new additions haven’t impressed. Daniels’s versatility to play either guard spot is only one of his pluses, along with his ability to finish around the basket, take advantage of mismatches against smaller guards, and to perpetually be in the right spots on the floor. Wallace’s vocal presence on defense alone adds an extra dimension, and Rivers has flirted with lineups that took advantage of his length.
Having those two on the second unit, Pierce said, is invaluable.
“The first week of training camp I noticed it,’’ he said. “When you’re a basketball player and you play the game, you get that sort of feeling when you play against a team, and that second unit. I was not surprised at the way they moved the ball, the chemistry they have, because if you look at them they have all unselfish players, all veteran players who know how to win.’’
If the question is how much more prepared a team can get in four days, Rivers answered, “We’ll see.
“I like our team. I like where we’re at right now. We’re going to be a better team later than we are now. I guarantee you that. But we’re ready to play NBA basketball, and we’re ready to start the season.’’
Despite talk that the Celtics wanted to work with Mike Sweetney to get his weight down with hopes that he could contribute by midyear, the team waived the former Georgetown star yesterday to get the roster down to 15. Sweetney, who averaged 6.4 minutes in five preseason games, was listed at 275 pounds, though he looked larger.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.