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Celtics Notebook

Teams set in their own ways

Thibodeau brought blueprint to Chicago

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 8, 2011

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CHICAGO — When he left the Celtics for the Bulls’ head coaching job, Tom Thibodeau took the blueprint for the Boston offense with him. So when the teams meet and Doc Rivers barks out a call from the Celtics’ bench, it’s more than likely that Thibodeau will yell the same call not too long after.

“Our guys were laughing about it,’’ Rivers said. “I would say 70 percent of our calls are the same. At least we’ll know if somebody on their team messes up, we’ll know where they should be, and vice versa.’’

In that sense, playing the Bulls is like facing their mirror image. There are obvious differences — the Bulls have a shoot-first, MVP-caliber point guard in Derrick Rose, the Celtics have pass-first All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo. But the teams usually know each other’s next move because it’s the move they would make.

“I think that’s what makes it difficult for both teams in a way because literally 70 percent of their offense is our sets,’’ Rivers said. “That makes it difficult because that means they run against our sets every day defensively.’’

Rivers said he doesn’t use decoy calls or rename sets to throw Thibodeau off the scent. In their first three meetings, the Celtics averaged 97.7 points, the Bulls 95.7. Last night, Chicago prevailed, 97-81.

“I don’t think we change much for anybody,’’ Rivers said. “We’re going to do what we do, and they’re going to do what we do because they do what we do. Then, you just play the game.’’

In some ways, the Bulls remind the Celtics of themselves in 2008. “They look cohesive,’’ said Kevin Garnett. “They knew what they were doing. Their schemes are identical to ours. If not identical, you see the similarities. They have fresh players, they’re new together, it’s exciting, it’s new.’’

Paul Pierce added: “They do a lot of similar things that we do. You’re not going to beat them with the first, second pass. You’ve got to set screens, come off a little bit harder. That’s the difference right there. They wanted it more than us tonight.’’

Seeing the Bulls hold them to 38.4 percent shooting, Rivers joked, “I would love to look like that.’’

O’Neal eyes Sunday Shaquille O’Neal (strained right calf) could return Sunday when the Celtics go to Miami to fend off the third-place Heat.

After missing 26 games with an inflamed Achilles’ tendon, O’Neal returned last Sunday but played just six minutes in the win over Detroit before limping off the floor.

He didn’t make the trip to Chicago and will likely miss his third straight game when the Celtics host the Wizards tonight.

“He’s feeling better,’’ Rivers said. “He’s doing great, from what I hear. He looks great on the floor. Unless those cones get him. Those cones are dangerous. I’ve tripped over a couple of them.’’

Consistent problem It’s late in the season for an identity crisis, but the Celtics are still trying to establish exactly who they are with the playoffs just a week away.

A night after sending a message to a possible playoff opponent in Philadelphia, they took one on the chin to the Bulls, getting dominated in every phase.

“We have been inconsistent, and we have to play better,’’ Rivers said. “We have to play with a better sense of urgency as a habit, and if I have a concern, we’ve had this ‘Turn off/Turn on’ thing and I don’t think with this group that works.’’

Rivers said typically the team has a sense of its identity going into the playoffs. Asked if that sense was missing, Rivers said, “I would say that’s true, yeah.’’

The deadline trade that sent Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic is one of the obvious reasons.

“We made all the moves,’’ he said. “So it’s tough to know who you are. We knew that when we decided to do this, but we’ll discover that.’’

Where they stand There’s a game of musical chairs going on for the last playoff rotation spot, and Sasha Pavlovic and Von Wafer are circling the seat. Pavlovic’s strength — defense — makes him a more appealing option for Rivers, while Wafer is more aggressive offensively.

But Pavlovic’s mental toughness has worked against him. “I think Sasha can be a terrific defender,’’ Rivers said. “I don’t think he’s there yet, but I do think he can.

“Sasha’s biggest problem is Sasha. I’m on him a lot right now and it may help him this year, it may not, but Sasha should be a good NBA player. But he just lacks the mental part right now, where one bad play, he’s gone. I’ve heard that in the past, so that’s my project: to try to break that barrier for him.’’

Pavlovic played the final three minutes last night. Wafer didn’t make the trip to Chicago. He would have been inactive.

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

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