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Celtics adjust on fly

Newcomers must get up to speed

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / February 28, 2011

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SALT LAKE CITY — It will take the Celtics a while to adjust. For one, Kevin Garnett knows it won’t be the same in the paint.

He and Kendrick Perkins were like watchdogs, communicating in their own language, keeping elite scorers out of the lane. With Perkins traded to Oklahoma City Thursday, Garnett will have to try to teach that language to Nenad Krstic. Square one. New canvas.

“It’s just like Perk and I the first day,’’ Garnett said. “It’s got to be something that both sides want to do.’’

Krstic is nothing if not open. He and Garnett talked for a long time at Krstic’s first shootaround, before Saturday night’s 99-92 win over the Clippers. The Celtics face the Jazz tonight in Salt Lake City.

“Just trying to get into his head, teaching him our schemes and different things,’’ Garnett said. “I just need someone to be verbal. I need someone to communicate. You don’t necessarily have to be the loudest, but I need you to know how to communicate and he did a good job of that.’’

The Celtics have 25 games left to figure out how to incorporate Krstic and Jeff Green into their system. Meanwhile, the Eastern Conference — particularly the Atlantic Division — is suddenly flooded with more superstars. The Celtics’ conference lead over the Heat is down to percentage points, and they will have to bring along the new players while trying to hold on to the top spot.

“We’re going to still try to win games, as many as we can,’’ coach Doc Rivers said. “We still want home court, we know it will be more difficult now because we’re going to lose some rhythm here. But we still want to win some games while we’re learning. Let’s not use this as an excuse not to play well or not to win games.’’

While Green and Krstic are learning, Rivers said he will be as well. One of the revelations from the first game after the facelift was that Green was versatile, but Rivers had yet to come up with enough ideas how to use him.

“I’m new to this system,’’ Green said. “When I’m versatile the way I am, it’s kind of tough to try to figure out where to put me. Doc’s a great coach. I know he’s going to put me in positions where I can go out and succeed. I’ll go out there and play my hardest wherever he puts me.’’

Rivers tried Green with a couple of different lineups Saturday night. The first was late in the first quarter with a more traditional second unit: Delonte West, Von Wafer, Chris Johnson, and Glen Davis, with Green at small forward. In the third quarter, Rivers put Green in with West, Davis, Rajon Rondo, and Paul Pierce, with Green playing power forward but at times bringing the ball up. He scored both of his field goals in that lineup, knocking down a baseline jumper off a pass from Rondo and turning a feed from Pierce into an easy layup as the Celtics pulled away.

Green finished 2 of 5 for 7 points in 18 minutes.

“We know he can play a few positions out there,’’ Pierce said. “It’s going to take time to really understand his game, what he likes to do. I just know some of what he likes to do [from scouting reports], but it takes time to study a player and understand what he’s going to give to this team. The role that he had on one team is one thing, but when he comes to another team, sometimes that changes.’’

Rivers tried to make the first game as simple as possible for the newcomers. Play simple. Play free. If you’re open, shoot. Everything else was a bonus.

But Krstic gave Rivers an early surprise.

On the Celtics’ first possession, Ray Allen pulled up for midrange jumper and missed. Krstic grabbed the rebound, went back up with it, missed, grabbed his own rebound, went back up again, and converted. Rivers turned to his assistant, Lawrence Frank, and said, “Does he do that all the time?’’

Frank, who coached Krstic for four years with the Nets, replied, “If he did, I’d still be in New Jersey.’’

Krstic finished with 9 points and six rebounds, all on the offensive end. The Celtics don’t put a premium on offensive rebounds (they’re last in the league).

“He does do that,’’ Rivers said. “He has length and he has the ability to do that. So it was good to see.’’

What remains to be seen is how long it takes the new pieces to come together.

“We’ll see,’’ Rivers said. “It’s going to take some time.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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