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Celtics focusing on balance, chemistry

WALTHAM -- Paul Pierce and Jim O'Brien met before and after practice yesterday to discuss the state of the Celtics. The captain and head coach regularly talk about issues ranging from personnel to plays to practice. O'Brien said he solicits opinions from Pierce on "how he feels about the direction that we're going and how he feels about his game and what I can do to make life a little bit easier on him."

While O'Brien would not divulge the specifics of yesterday's conversations, the captain's struggles in the fourth quarter against New Jersey Friday night would be an obvious topic. Both O'Brien and Pierce acknowledge there was a problem with costly turnovers, a result of Pierce trying to do too much and playing too many minutes in the Celtics' 94-87 loss.

Now, the team must take steps to ensure Pierce and his teammates perform better in tight contests.

"We're discussing not only everything about the team," said O'Brien, "but showing him some things that will make things somewhat clearer to him from the standpoint of decision-making, how to look for different things based on the lineup that is on the court with him. There's a lot of things we can do. We'll discuss with the whole team how to best take advantage of Paul when he's on the court."

This has been an ongoing discussion. Asked what the team could do to make the game easier for Pierce, Raef LaFrentz said, "That's going to be the challenge of the year."

The expectation remains that, with time, the team chemistry will develop and Pierce will find a better balance between passing and shooting. After all, Boston has played only five games.

But O'Brien did have immediate ideas yesterday.

"I played him too many minutes [against New Jersey]," said O'Brien. "I will not do that. I contributed to Paul's difficulties. He expects to be a great defensive player, a great rebounder, a great scorer, a great leader, and it's a hell of a lot easier to do that when you have somewhat of a freshness about you. And that's my fault."

Pierce played 43 minutes against the Nets. He is averaging 39.6 minutes a game with a high of 45 logged Nov. 1 at New Orleans. For his part, Pierce remains patient, looking forward to applying what he's learned to tonight's game against Sacramento.

"[We talked] more about knowing who I'm on the court with, trusting in my teammates," said Pierce. "Sometimes I get caught up in between whether to pass or whether to score the ball. I'm really making some bad decisions right now. But I think everything is going to come together.

"Right now, we're trying to develop our team chemistry. There are a lot of new players and I'm expecting it to get a little rough right now. Guys have to get used to being on the court together.

"Coach O'Brien can only devise so many schemes that we work out of. For everybody to be better as one, it's important that everybody understands everybody's strengths and weaknesses that they're on the court with at that time."

One player very familiar with Pierce's game should be back in uniform tonight. Eric Williams expects to return from a bone bruise in his right knee, despite some lingering tenderness. It is no coincidence that the Celtics' three-game losing streak occurred without Williams, who brings toughness and defensive leadership.

Williams tested the right knee yesterday and pronounced himself "80 to 90 percent good to go." Before declaring himself 100 percent, he wanted to see how his knee felt this morning.

But after watching the last three games, Williams is eager to return.

"We've got to start the game physical because down the stretch that's what's going to help us get over," said Williams. "You've got to send messages to teams. You've got to let them know they're really going to be in a fight, physically.

"You've got to set a tone. And that's what we ain't doing. We ain't setting a tone. We're just going out there trying to play basketball and hoping that something happens and then we get going."

The Celtics know they have to make things happen for Pierce; they can't just wait for him to take over.

"The problem thus far in the season, with the pressure that we're facing as a team, is getting [Pierce] open and getting him the ball at the right time," said LaFrentz, who's playing through an infection that surfaced last Tuesday and is being treated with daily doses of IV antibiotics. "Either the ball is ready to be delivered and we're not getting him open, or we get him open and the ball's not ready to be delivered. We've got to get those things together."

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