Injuries force Celtics to alter plans
WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics entered the 2010-11 season gushing with optimism thanks in large part to a revamped bench constructed with eyes toward adding the sort of depth the team lacked last season, when it hit a wall at the worst possible time -- during the NBA Finals.
With the addition of veterans Delonte West, Jermaine O'Neal and Shaquille O'Neal, this was coach Doc Rivers' preseason take on Boston's bench:
"It's important that we have a deeper rotation [this season], it's better for the playoffs. We'll probably shorten for the playoffs, but to get there, we really need a bench. And we need a great bench. For us to have an honest chance of winning this whole thing, our bench has to be huge during the regular season. They're going to have to win games for us some nights."[+] EnlargeLayne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesDoc Rivers has used his starters more than he'd like, but he doesn't have a lot of options.
On Monday, Rivers watched his team limp through a practice session with only 11 available bodies. In the back room, West was prepping for surgery on his broken right wrist, which will sideline him indefinitely; Jermaine O'Neal was getting treatment on a sore left knee that has yet to show signs of allowing him to get back on the court; and Kendrick Perkins was swimming laps in the pool as he rehabs from offseason ACL surgery.
On the court, point guard Rajon Rondo could rarely rest in 5-on-5 drills despite just getting over a sore left hamstring and battling plantar fasciitis in his feet, while rookie center Semih Erden gutted out another practice with an ailing left shoulder that Rivers openly admits will eventually require surgery.
And this is Rivers' outlook on bench play now:
"You come into the year with a plan, and you've got to change the plan sometimes. That's something we're doing as a staff, too. The 10-man unit is not going to work right now. It just can't. We went into the year, and I told you, I believe it's really important for us to have [a deep rotation] because it allows us to get rest. But with injuries, it's unrealistic."
So it's back to the drawing board for Rivers and his staff, who are resigned to the fact that they will have to extend the minutes for all their starters (except maybe 38-year-old Shaquille O'Neal, who has already been forced to stretch a bit given the lack of serviceable bodies up front).
The situation is not ideal. It adds another hurdle (or two or three) in Boston's quest to capture the world title that slipped away in the Finals last June. But NBA seasons hardly go as coaches plan in July or August.
"We'll still try to keep minutes down, but we'll have to sub differently," said Rivers. "Again, it's not what I wanted to do. Really, the way our starters play, I'd rather extend their minutes together. But it's not going to work out that way. So we just have to sub in one of our bench guys earlier and hope this doesn't affect the starting group. We'll find out."
Entering Monday's action, the Celtics had three players in the top 25 of minutes played this season: Rondo (fifth, 39.2 minutes per game); Ray Allen (14th, 38); and Paul Pierce (23rd, 36.3). Boston is already leaning heavily on its starters, a group that ranked sixth in the NBA in minutes played per game through Saturday's action, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
While Rivers isn't thrilled about the starters' additional minutes, his players are prepared for any uptick in play.
"Everybody knows that they're going to be extended a little bit, not just [the Big Three]," said Garnett, who ranks 70th in the NBA at 33 minutes per game. "Until we get guys back, we have to anticipate playing some more minutes.
"You're talking to a guy who played 40-plus [minutes] before. My preparation doesn't change."
That sentiment is echoed by Rondo, even amidst injury woes that forced him to miss three games last week and have the medical staff keeping a close eye on his ailing feet.
"I've been playing a lot of minutes," Rondo said when asked about West's absence adding to his workload. "I want to play as many minutes as possible, I think it's that way for every player. If I'm willing and my health is fine, I want to be out there as long as I can."
And the way Rondo sees it, no team in the NBA is at full health after the first month of the season.
"You go with what you've got, it's as simple as that," said Rondo. "Nobody is practicing with 15 [healthy] guys. Other guys are injured. But there's no excuses. We still have good core guys that are healthy."
The Celtics are being forced to go to Plan B, and while Rivers doesn't sound nearly as optimistic as he did a month ago, he knew his team would have to contend with injuries. He's hopeful the team can get back to Plan A down the road, but even Rivers knows it's more likely he'll be forced to come up with a Plan C.
That's the NBA, where it's usually the teams that are able to adjust on the fly and hit the curveballs that play in June.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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