THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Glad to mix it up a bit

Some good signs from the reserves

Celtics center Semih Erden notches one of his two blocked shots last night, this one against the Cavaliers’ J.J. Hickson. Celtics center Semih Erden notches one of his two blocked shots last night, this one against the Cavaliers’ J.J. Hickson. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 26, 2011

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The Celtics’ second unit at the start of the season was to be Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis, Jermaine O’Neal, Nate Robinson, and Delonte West. Last night, only two of those players — Davis and Robinson — were available for the Celtics’ 112-95 win over Cleveland. But the way the reserves performed was a positive sign for Celtics.

Though the Cavaliers hardly presented a huge test, this was a game that gave Kendrick Perkins a chance to ease his way back into action and for Luke Harangody and Von Wafer to show they belong on the court. The offense did lose focus without Rajon Rondo on the floor, but the second team had 12 assists and 18 field goals, an indication of an unselfish mind-set.

Should Perkins’s recovery from knee surgery continue, the Celtics’ starting lineup will be able to capitalize on continuity. But the reserves likely will continue to be an unpredictable mix. Daniels missed the game for personal reasons and his status has not been officially announced for the Celtics’ road trip, which starts tomorrow in Portland, although he is expected to be on hand. Both Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal have been in and out of the lineup. West has missed games because of a suspension and broken wrist.

“We have kind of been, I don’t know what words to use, but less than ourselves over the three or four months we’ve been together, just waiting [for Perkins],’’ said Ray Allen. “We have had great success with the guys we’ve been using, but we haven’t had the lineup that has been consistent in the past 3 1/2 years where we have won some big games, including a championship. It was great to see him back on the floor . . . [it] just makes us that much stronger.’’

With Daniels and West unavailable, Rondo went extended minutes in a blowout.

“When we get the Ds back, we’ll be ready to go,’’ Robinson said of Daniels and (Delonte) West. “We got a piece of the puzzle, Perk, back. He’s got to work on his free throws — other than that he looked good. Perk is running a lot, treadmills, asking guys every day to go the pool with him — the pool workout is unbelievable. But he deserves it, nobody deserves it more than him.’’

The Celtics were able to make the Robinson-Rondo combination work against Cleveland.

Said Robinson, “I know Rondo’s going to be there to pick up full court, so I just try to turn my man as much as I can, and try to turn him to where he’s at — because I know Rondo, he gambles a lot, which is a good thing because it keeps the offense honest. And we just try to make them do things they don’t like to do.

“Rondo is one of the smartest players I’ve been around and he makes it easier out there playing. He calls the play at the perfect time — he’s a hell of a player. He gets guys in the right spots, makes the right passes, you can’t ask for more.’’

That Celtic backcourt could be vulnerable over long stretches against elite teams. Even the Cavaliers’ Manny Harris was able to occasionally exploit mismatches.

But the Celtics have been resourceful. Lineup combinations that would have been unimaginable a year ago seem to be clicking.

“We’re just gritty,’’ Robinson said. “Whatever it takes to pull out a win, we’re just trying to find a way to do it. We have a few games we should’ve won we gave away, let slip away. But we always bounce back, continue to play team basketball, and the Celtic way, which is playing hard and playing together, and having fun out there.’’

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

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