Commentary

Too much of a good thing?

For the soaring Celtics, the waiting might be the hardest part

Updated: April 27, 2011, 8:53 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Can too much rest be a bad thing? Allow Jermaine O'Neal to provide the cautionary tale (while drudging up a few bad memories for Boston Celtics fans).

It was April of 2004 and the Indiana Pacers, fresh off compiling an NBA-best 61-21 record, had earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round matchup with the eighth-seeded Celtics, who limped into the playoffs with a mere 36-46 record in Jim O'Brien's final season.

Indiana proceeded to obliterate Boston, sweeping the series in four games with an average margin of victory of 16.8 points, never winning by less than 13. The final of those victories, a 90-75 triumph on April 25 at the FleetCenter, pushed the Pacers through to the conference semifinals, but with a Miami Heat and New Orleans Hornets quarterfinal matchup pushed to seven games, Indiana wouldn't play again until May 6, a whopping 11-day break.

"We were off for almost two weeks and they actually gave us too many days off," O'Neal said. "Some guys went on vacation, literally, in the playoffs."

[+] EnlargePaul Pierce
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonPaul Pierce appeared relaxed and upbeat before the Celtics' practice on Wednesday.

O'Neal recalled Wednesday how some players trekked down to New Orleans to catch some of the action in person before the Heat finally emerged from the grueling series. If Indiana had been anywhere near as sharp as it should have been, he said, it would have dispatched Miami about as easily as it trounced Boston. Instead, that series went six games and took its toll on the Pacers, who fell to the eventual NBA champion Detroit Pistons in six games in the conference finals.

Jump back to the present, when the Celtics are in the midst of what will be at least a six-day break from game action while waiting for a second-round series to begin. Sure, that's roughly half the delay Indiana faced back in 2004, but add in the fact that Boston's starters rested the final two games of the regular season and the Celtics' big four have played in a mere four games since an April 10 loss in Miami.

"We're an older team, so we accept the rest," O'Neal said. "But we gotta do our job."

The Celtics were hoping the two-day mini-break was the perfect length, but O'Neal admitted with a smile that he was interested in what coach Doc Rivers had up his sleeve for Wednesday's session. With the Heat-76ers series still undecided as the Celtics practiced, and with Rivers pledging not to focus on an opponent until one emerged, Boston could only concentrate on correcting its own issues.

"We're prepping for ourselves," Rivers said. "We're not going to work on anything with Miami today, we're just going to work on our stuff. … [The Heat are] up 3-1, clearly you're looking in that direction, but you can start work for both [potential opponents]. Really for us, look at our defense, it's not like we're going to change it. We just have to get to doing our defense better."

Simply playing better -- or at least without as many lulls in consistency -- was probably the biggest key to Boston dispatching New York in four games. Now the Celtics know they need even more consistency moving forward.

All of which gave the start of what's going to be at least a three-practice week the feel of training camp.

"It's just like getting the cobwebs out at the beginning of the year," Glen Davis said. "Today's a cobweb day, get all the cobwebs out, get a rhythm going, get a lather going, start sweating and things like that, and get on with our playoff run."

But could this layoff be just a touch too long?

"For me, I can't have too much rest," Davis said. "Because, you know me, I need to run, do something every day. I like the rest because your body gets to heal. Like today, I was doing my workout and I felt great. But at the same time it's like, [exhales from a deep breath], you know? You've got to do something. I like to do something to keep in shape and just make sure I have my wind."

Rivers shrugged off the notion of too much rest, noting, "There's nothing you can do about it. It's not like we can say, 'Hey, listen, we want to start now.' Let's just take advantage of what we have."

It should be noted that, thanks to resting their starters for those final two games, the Celtics essentially enjoyed six days off before opening the Knicks series and look how that turned out.

Still, O'Neal is sure to remind his teammates about the need to stay focused in the face of a long layoff. Even Ray Allen knows there's such a thing as too much rest.

"There's always such a thing," Allen said. "If you slept too much, you get groggier in the morning when you wake up, so you've got to do extra to get your body going. This team, with these guys on it, everybody's in the weight room, you see guys getting their shots up. People are going to keep their bodies together the way they need to keep them together."

Because no one on the Celtics wants to start their summer vacation in May.

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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