Commentary

Injured Celtics prepare for all scenarios

Boston continues to move forward despite several players being sidelined

Updated: January 14, 2011, 10:55 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the Boston Celtics re-signed Marquis Daniels this offseason, the prevailing thought was that he had a chance to thrive because Boston was so thin at the small forward position. Daniels would be locked into a role as Paul Pierce's primary backup ... so long as he could stay healthy.

Daniels, who missed 28 games last season with a torn ligament in his left thumb, the latest setback in an injury-riddled career, has lived up to his end of the bargain as one of five players on the team to appear in all 38 games this season.

Alas, the Celtics have been so beset by injuries that they haven't quite been able to live up to their part of the deal, which is why Daniels found himself spending half of Thursday's practice session at the power forward spot, bracing for the potential of having to fill that role with Boston's frontcourt, decimated by injuries.

[+] EnlargeJermaine O'Neal
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireJermaine O'Neal possibly having in-season surgery is another blow to the injury-laden Celtics.

This less than a month after Rajon Rondo's ankle sprain in a mid-December win over the New York Knicks had Daniels taking extra reps at point guard in case he had to serve as backup ball handler.

Daniels now must prepare himself to be thrust into the role as a 1, 2, 3 or 4. Maybe soon he'll be working at center.

"We had this crazy lineup of Marquis and [Glen Davis in the frontcourt] because with [Shaquille O'Neal] you never know if he's healthy or not, either," Celtics coach Doc Rivers explained after Thursday's practice. "Let's hope this never happens, but we could have a game where we'd have no Kevin [Garnett], no Shaq, no [Jermaine O'Neal] and no Semih [Erden]. That would be a lot of size."

Rivers used to joke that his team was missing 21 feet of centers when Perkins and both O'Neals were sidelined. Now the team has the potential to be missing as much as 28 feet of frontcourt talent, which would force the Celtics to thrust the 6-foot-6 Daniels into the role of power forward.

While it seems like only an emergency situation, the Celtics could easily be without three of their four available big men when the Charlotte Bobcats visit TD Garden on Friday night.

Rivers hinted Thursday that Jermaine O'Neal could be headed under the knife for a troublesome left knee, which has forced him to miss 21 games this season because of lingering soreness. Garnett practiced for much of Thursday's session, but Rivers said he'll sit out Friday's game to get a few extra days of rest for a strained right calf suffered against the Pistons on Dec. 29. Meanwhile, Erden sat out Thursday's workout after aggravating a groin pull while filling in for Jermaine O'Neal on Wednesday night against the Kings.

So, it's Shaquille O'Neal and his tender 38-year-old hips, knees and calves that separate Boston from a potential frontcourt hullabaloo.

"It's just who we are right now," Rivers said with a shrug.

The Celtics admitted they expected this -- to a certain degree -- before the 2010-11 season started. Rivers figured the O'Neals, in their advanced age, would require their share of maintenance days. That's why the team also brought Erden over from Turkey this summer, further bolstering a frontcourt preparing to be without Perkins (ACL surgery) to start the season.

But the Celtics couldn't have anticipated that the O'Neals would miss a combined total of 30 games through the first 38 contests of the year and Garnett and Erden would endure their own injuries, leaving Davis and rookie Luke Harangody as the unexpected rocks of stability in the frontcourt at the start of the new calendar year.

"We gotta get through it," Rivers said Thursday. One night earlier, he expanded on the idea saying, "We did come into this year thinking, 'We're an older team, we're going to have injuries.' But you look and a lot of young guys are getting hurt. You just gotta keep going regardless of it. Thankfully, we have enough players to do that."

Enough players for now, anyway. The last thing the Celtics want to do is rush Garnett or Perkins back from injury, so they'd be more inclined to move Daniels out of position than aggravate a current ailment.

After all, Celtics players have already missed a total of 120 games because of injury or illness this season. (Add in 10 more for the 10-game suspension endured by reserve guard Delonte West to start the season.) Focusing on starters alone, Boston has played without at least one starter every game this season with Perkins sidelined but add in 19 more games without Rondo (11) and Garnett (8).

Boston operated with what amounts to the bare minimum of 10 players for much of its practice session Thursday. By the time Rivers was able to drag Garnett off the court (he participated in more than half of the session), the team had nine bodies and was left drafting the likes of Ty Lue, Celtics director of player development, to simply fill out a 5-on-5 matchup.

The Celtics won't have that luxury during games. They've got a 15-man roster that's filled to the brim, and Boston is unlikely to dress even 12 healthy bodies Friday, especially as Rivers considers the notion of sending rookie guard Avery Bradley north to join the Maine Red Claws, Boston's NBA Development League affiliate, for extended on-court action.

Rivers is always quick to note that no one is going to feel bad for Boston, especially not when, through it all, the Celtics still boast a 29-9 mark, the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Boston isn't sitting around feeling sorry for itself, either.

Rivers pushed his team through a spirited hour workout Thursday, and the limited available bodies meant players such as Pierce, Rondo and Ray Allen could barely sneak in a breather. The players cried foul about the lack of water breaks, but Rivers said he simply likes to operate with a game-like pace.

That is appropriate because Boston's starters aren't likely to see too much downtime in upcoming games, if injuries remain an issue. To their credit, the Celtics haven't let the mounting injuries affect how quickly they bring back players like Garnett.

Could they use "The Big Ticket" on the floor Friday? Of course. But is it worth risking a long-term injury that could sink this ship for the season just to bail water from the boat for one night? Not at all.

So maybe Daniels should work on his drop step and hone those low-post moves. A stint at power forward isn't out of the realm of possibility anymore. Now Boston has to prepare for such situations, and that might be the only implausible thing about what the Celtics have been able to do amidst all the injuries.

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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