Fighting through some early problems
After Wednesday’s debacle against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a game the Celtics admitted they took lightly and in which they began straying from team principles, Doc Rivers called a meeting yesterday morning to remind players of their roles.
During the first two games, certain veterans had been trying to relive their glory days, looking to score in the post, calling for the ball instead of positioning for a rebound, or creating their own defensive assignments.
Rivers reminded the players that they are Celtics, there are strict guidelines and egos cannot get involved in decision-making. Shortly after the meeting, Von Wafer and Delonte West challenged this concept by going Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather in the locker room at the Waltham practice facility.
The meeting and the fight were staunch reminders that this season’s Celtics remain a work in progress, regardless of how long the core has been together. Following a workmanlike 105-101 victory over the improved New York Knicks, the Celtics reflected on a long day.
First, the fight. Fights during practice are normal in the NBA so players weren’t angry, but privately several players were irked that news of the fight, with explicit details, reached the media just hours after it occurred.
Shaquille O’Neal won’t go Matlock and investigate the leak, but what was stressed to the younger, Twitter-happy players was to keep quiet about team issues, which will result in smoother relations among pla yers.
As for West, the veterans promised Rivers they would help keep him in line, but they obviously didn’t expect him to challenge authority this quickly. He views Wafer as a rival for playing time once he is eligible to come off the suspended list Nov. 17 against the Washington Wizards.
The two were involved in a heated two-on-two game after Monday’s practice that had to be halted by assistant coach Lawrence Frank, and there were ill feelings between West and Wafer throughout training camp. Still, West’s actions are disappointing considering this could be his last chance in the NBA.
O’Neal said pointedly he was the lone player West respected in the Cavaliers’ locker room last season, and he is one of the veterans who promised team president Danny Ainge he would watch over the troubled guard. He said he had a stern conversation with West following the fight.
“I can’t talk about what goes on in the locker room, you know that,’’ said O’Neal. “We have [talked]. Everybody goes through certain situations. I’ve been [around] 20 years and I’ve seen it before. Before I got here, me and [Kendrick Perkins] used to be at each other’s neck just like that, but I think that everybody now has to do what’s right for the team. He’s been talked to and we just got to move on.
“This is a tight-knit group, the most tight-knit group I’ve been on this early [in the season] as a team. So it ain’t nothing.’’
It’s uncertain how the team will embrace Wafer, if at all. The decision to cut Stephane Lasme and keep Wafer was met with resistance in the locker room, and the rest of the players are hoping that Wafer adheres to team rules and keeps issues in house.
Prior to last night’s game, Wafer said he didn’t know anything about an altercation with West. That was a good start. The team made it a point to avoid talking about a fight between a suspended guy and the 15th man.
Rivers had more important things to address, such as roles and responsibilities. He even jumped on O’Neal about sticking to his task of defense and rebounding.
“[Rivers] does what every good coach does, he got in guys’ faces and said this is what I need you to do,’’ O’Neal said. “Everything he said was correct, even with me. He said, I’m not looking to get 20 points from you every night, I’m looking for you to be an enforcer, got to do a better job on the pick-and-roll. He said you got to play whatever minutes I put you in, and that’s fine with me.’’
Rivers said he holds this type of meeting a few times a year, but the Cleveland loss was a concern. The Cavaliers were playing their home opener and had something to prove following “The Decision’’ by LeBron James. Cleveland lost at Toronto by 20 last night.
Boston’s letdown was inexcusable, and the players obviously required a stern reminder that the only way the Celtics will overcome the Heat and Lakers is by playing together, and coming to grips with their limitations.
“We didn’t want to get into that habit we got into last season, where we are losing to teams we’re supposed to beat,’’ Paul Pierce said. “Coach just wanted to give the speech a little earlier than he has so everybody was pretty clear. The good thing about this team, you have so much talent, so many guys could do so many things that we’re asked to sacrifice our game for the good of the team. Of course [many guys] could do more but that’s not what this team is about.’’
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com.