- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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WALTHAM, Mass. -- The ball rack was in its normal spot near the weight room door Saturday morning, so Celtics players could breath a sigh of relief as they hit the gym floor for a mid-day session.
On the heels of Friday's pathetic loss to the Bobcats, one in which the listless Celtics fumbled away a 13-point fourth-quarter lead and drew the ire of coach Doc Rivers in the process, players might have been expecting a literal run through the ringer.
And while coy on his plan of attack, Rivers admitted it wouldn't likely involve a punishment-type sprint-filled session.
"I've never been a runner," said Rivers. "I don't think you get anything out of running except for running. I think what you get out of it is your guys are tired. You don't get a message across, except that the coach is mad at you. As a player, I thought those were wasted practices. I ran all day, and I just learned that he's mad. I never got a lot out of that.
"Being mad at guys doesn't do anything, either. You gotta get past mad. You gotta get them into the right place and, whatever method we do that by, that's what we're going to do."
Rivers didn't offer many hints as to the method he planned to utilize with eyes toward snapping his team from its recent funk. The Celtics have lost six of their last 10 and find themselves with a slim half-game lead over the surging Miami Heat for the second seed in the Eastern Conference (this as the Chicago Bulls start to separate at the top of the standings).
Rivers did say he didn't see the value in watching film of Friday's loss, suggesting you might as well watch "Blue Chips" or "Kazaam," purposely leaning on those films featuring injured center Shaquille O'Neal.
"You could watch that and get the same out of it," said Rivers. "It's between the ears for us. It's the mindset."
From behind the walls at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint, not a single bouncing ball could be heard, nor the usual screaming and shouting from scrimmage work. Which makes one wonder if Rivers dug deep into his coaching toolbox for something offbeat to shake his team from its March slumber.
The fact that the Celtics held a rare pre-practice media availability was a hint that there was something happening that Rivers didn't want to have reporters around following the session. You can't help but wonder if this was the sort of day where Rivers takes all the edge off his team by keeping things light before hopping an afternoon flight to Minnesota and the start of a four-game road trip Sunday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
As he said before the practice, "They know what happened, I don't need to address it."
Indeed, his players certainly seemed aware of the acid-tongued remarks Rivers made about his team following the game, dubbing them selfish and calling them out for their pouting nature during this patch of turbulence.
Rivers suggested Friday night that he didn't address his team very long after the loss, leaving the locker room quickly and allowing them to work it out amongst themselves. His veterans know they must fix this themselves.
"You come to the locker room, you look your teammates in the eye, and you [converse]," said Ray Allen. "Communication is big, because, on the flip side of it, on bad teams, you come to the locker room and you're mad at everybody. You look at the guy next to you and you say, 'He's doing this, he's doing that, and it's pissing me off,' and you get mad at the coaching staff and that's when the dissension starts. On our team, you come in, and you just have the conversations, and you might not even talk about the game last night. You just remember to stay brothers and communicate, whatever it may be, just so you know, 'Hey, we're in this thing together, regardless of what happens.'"
And Rivers' brutal honesty certainly resonated with the Celtics.
"You can't lie, and you do certain things when you know you're wrong," said Allen. "You know deep down inside you did something wrong and you're wrong about it, and sometimes it just hurts when somebody calls you out on it. I think we all know that about ourselves, when we did something, and sometimes you get put on film, sometimes Coach may say it or a player may say it, but you just have to take whatever it is and just move forward, knowing it's constructive criticism."
Captain Paul Pierce hit the floor early for some one-on-one work with fellow swingmen Jeff Green and Sasha Pavlovic. Spotting the media contingent on the sideline as the scheduled 12:30 start time passed, Pierce barked about clearing out the gym to start the session. He then announced that everyone needed to get out so the team could start practice, and it was enough to shuffle the media horde behind the curtains.
The Celtics were being peppered about Friday night and it's clear they were ready to move on.
"It's frustrating right after the game, but today's a new day," said guard Rajon Rondo. "We've got practice before we make a four-game road trip, so we've got to look forward."
Running his team into the ground would only hinder it from getting back on track against the Timberwolves Sunday, so maybe Rivers took the fresh start approach and found a way to clear his players' heads without making them gasp for air. Sure there are areas of Boston's game that need cleaning up, but Rivers knows all the on-court work in the world won't turn this skid around.
As he said, it's all mental.
"We just gotta play better and act better," said Rivers. "We'll get there, I have no doubts about that. But we're not there right now."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.
2hMichael C. Wright