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It has come time to lean on bench

By Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / December 24, 2009

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Paul Pierce’s sudden and surprising right knee procedure is causing more of a stir outside the Celtics’ organization than in the front office.

There is no panic among the Celtics’ brass. Pierce experienced knee soreness following Tuesday’s victory over Indiana and doctors discovered an infection that was flushed yesterday with antibiotics. He’s expected to miss at least two weeks.

It’s December and there is no reason to sip extra spiked egg nog to sedate the pain of possibly losing a chance at winning another NBA title. Pierce will be back strong, and Kevin Garnett (right thigh bruise) is a game-time decision for tomorrow’s Christmas Day contest with the Orlando Magic.

These ailments, however, should serve as an opportunity for the Celtics to get younger, and that could happen in two ways: 1. the Celtics could acquire another player with scoring punch to boost the bench and relieve pressure off the Big Three and Rasheed Wallace; or 2. coach Doc Rivers could give more minutes to the team’s younger core so they can gain confidence.

The Celtics have done little with J.R. Giddens, who will be an unrestricted free agent next season and wants to go somewhere he can display his skills. Giddens has played 53 minutes this season, but works hard and has been biding his time for an opportunity. Rivers has said Giddens needs to make an impact with defense and rebounding, and this two-week stretch - against opponents such as the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State, and Toronto - may be optimal.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Pierce’s injury and Garnett’s one-game setback aren’t related. That is correct. Pierce’s injury is a byproduct of a chance infection, but the question now is whether the Celtics will look to preserve the Big Three for more significant games in April and May.

“It’s a goal of mine not to have KG play 81 games and to not have Paul Pierce play 81 games,’’ Ainge said yesterday. “And to not play 36 minutes a game for 81 games. That’s not my objective at all, or our organizational objective. KG could have played [Tuesday] night. We look for opportunities to give him time off.

“This has nothing to do with wear and tear, especially in Paul’s situation.’’

Ainge isn’t in denial, but the Celtics do need to test their younger players. They recalled Bill Walker yesterday from Maine of the Development League, and it’s about time he gets an opportunity to show why he was one of the top high school players in the nation a few years ago. His stint with Maine allowed him to get back into shape and gain confidence.

To use Walker, Giddens, and Lester Hudson solely in blowouts is useless at this point. The season is a marathon, and the Celtics need to build confidence in their bench, and if that confidence isn’t there, there should be a change. The Celtics’ bench has played well in stretches, and the return of Tony Allen from injury has been a needed salve, but we haven’t seen enough from Brian Scalabrine and Eddie House, while Marquis Daniels (left thumb surgery) is out until at least the All-Star break.

Principal owner Wyc Grousbeck told the Globe that the Celtics aren’t going to release a player to sign another one because they are at the 15-player limit.

“We’ve got a roster of 15 players. We’re not going to be cutting anybody,’’ he said. “We don’t have any open roster spots. We’ve got guys to practice. I’m glad to see Tony Allen’s playing very well and we’ll have to have people like Tony to step it up.’’

With the Celtics having so many expiring contracts, teams are going to run up Ainge’s cellphone bill with trade offers. There is one intriguing player potentially on the market: Knicks guard Nate Robinson, banished by coach Mike D’Antoni because of his game antics. But Robinson’s production cannot be denied, and Boston has always been a place where former malcontents become good guys.

Wallace has blended in well with his new teammates, while Stephon Marbury’s stint in Boston was more about his lack of production than his attitude. The Celtics would be well-served looking into acquiring Robinson, who has been limited to 12 of New York’s 28 games and is looking for a trade or buyout.

Robinson has intimated that he would like to play for the Celtics - the team shares that interest - and Ainge has enough expiring contracts to deal for Robinson, who makes $4 million. But the Knicks could only take back $2 million in salaries because Robinson is a base-year compensation player.

A few weeks ago, Ainge contemplated bringing in Allen Iverson, and Robinson is a younger, more energetic version who would quickly become a fan favorite in Boston. In a five-game stretch at the conclusion of November, Robinson averaged 18.8 points and 58 percent shooting. Following a scoreless, 11-minute outing Dec. 1 against Phoenix, Robinson was benched and hasn’t played since.

With Glen “Big Baby’’ Davis returning in the next two weeks, the bench is certain to be reenergized. But Tuesday’s win over Indiana was a perfect example of why the Celtics need more bench help. In order to rally in the second half, Rivers played Pierce and Ray Allen each 40 minutes. The bench combined for 16 points, 6-for-17 shooting, and 47 minutes, while Shelden Williams, Giddens, and Hudson did not play.

If it takes that much effort to beat Indiana in December, what is it going to take for key April games to seize the No. 1 seed?

“That’s Doc’s choice and Doc’s decision to who he’s going to play,’’ Ainge said. “We know that our best players are in their 30s. It’s never been my objective to win 68 or 72 games. We want to win every game but we want to do it without wearing guys out night in and night out, not forcing guys to try to play 82 games to accomplish some regular-season goal. Our objective is to be prepared physically and have chemistry by the time the playoffs start.’’

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com

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