Going to great pains to get healthy
While wearing practice gear and a white knee sleeve, superstitious injured forward Kevin Garnett told his fellow fallen teammates who were in the locker room during Friday night's win against Cleveland to sit in the same spot for good luck yesterday. The antsy sidelined Celtics also couldn't help but be Sunday morning quarterbacks about what was happening wrong on the TD Banknorth Garden floor as their teammates battled the Magic. Having heard enough, limping guard Rajon Rondo spoke up on behalf of the healthy during Boston's 86-79 loss to fellow Eastern Conference power Orlando.
"It's crazy," injured forward Brian Scalabrine said. "If someone misses a shot, we're like, 'Man, someone should have done this or that.' Rondo is like, 'We're back here and they are back there, so we can't really tell them what to do.' And he's right. We're back here playing backseat quarterback."
Garnett is hoping to be back next Sunday at Milwaukee at the earliest from his sprained right knee suffered Feb. 19 at Utah. Scalabrine is out until probably early April because of post-concussion syndrome. Guard Tony Allen is projected to be out until the playoffs after thumb surgery. Glen Davis sprained his right ankle yesterday, which left him on crutches and listed as day-to-day.
But of all the injuries, the biggest loss for the Celtics right now is the invaluable Rondo. He suffered a right ankle sprain Friday night and was a late scratch against Orlando. While the All-Star trio of Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce are the headliners, the 6-foot-1-inch floor general is the engine of the defending champions and is averaging a well-rounded 11.7 points, 8.4 assists, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.9 steals. With newcomer Stephon Marbury (4 points, 0 assists, 3 turnovers) still very rusty, having had only two practices, the Celtics were outscored, 22-15, in the first quarter yesterday and were down, 51-33, at halftime, with three assists and 11 turnovers.
"It affected us getting into a good rhythm early, getting good shots and creating the flow in the offense," said Ray Allen, who had a game-high 32 points and a season-high tying nine rebounds. "Early we didn't have a good flow and we turned the ball over. We didn't get in offensive sets."
The good news is Rondo said his injury isn't serious. While it's uncertain whether he will practice today, he is optimistic he will be back in the starting lineup Wednesday at Miami.
"It wasn't that bad," Rondo said. "I'm planning on [playing at Miami]. I'm getting treatment. I don't want to miss [another] game."
The trickledown of the injury issues should be a great concern for Boston, which can't add another player because it has the maximum 15 now. While the Celtics are down to 10 healthy players, it's really seven since three basically don't play. Guard Gabe Pruitt played two minutes against Orlando, while rookies J.R. Giddens and Bill Walker were DNPs. Making it even tougher is that Marbury and fellow newcomer Mikki Moore still are getting used to the plays and their teammates with very little practice time after joining the team less than two weeks ago.
"It's just going to take me some time," a frustrated Marbury said. "Trying to get familiar with the system is still a challenge, but the guys are working with me every day, while coaches are telling me to be patient."
Moore, who was scoreless with four rebounds and three fouls yesterday, said, "I'm not there all the way. I'm trying to get used to the guys and used to the way basketball is played here. But I have to get that rust up off me."
Allen played 45:47 yesterday while Pierce (16 points, 8 rebounds) played 45:23. Coach Doc Rivers had been hoping to keep Allen and Pierce in the 30-35-minute range to keep them fresh for the playoffs. But since Garnett has gone down, Allen has played at least 40 minutes in four of eight games while Pierce has played at least 39 minutes in five of the last eight.
While Giddens and Walker are still green, it's probably a good idea to give them some minutes now just to lessen the load on Allen and Pierce. After Rondo missed his first game of the season yesterday, Pierce, Allen, and forward-center Leon Powe are the only Celtics who have played in every game.
"We got to play basketball," said Allen, 33. "I'm not worried about it. We have to just get as much rest as we can on off days."
It's a testament to the heart of the Celtics (49-15) that despite their injuries they are just one game behind Cleveland (49-13) and still two games ahead of Orlando (46-16).
As they attempt to get healthy, don't be surprised if the Celtics suffer some losses that could affect their standing in the race for No. 1 in the Eastern Conference. But with a repeat championship in mind, it makes much more sense for Boston to get healthy now despite the playoff seeding ramifications.
"Somehow we have got to make it through the rest of the season," said Pierce, 31, who has had some knee trouble this season. "So I think the most important thing right now is grinding out these games and trying to get healthy into the playoffs.
"That's our focus, getting the guys that need to get healthy out onto the court, because once the playoffs start we are going to need everybody if we're going to make this run."
Said Allen: "Last [season] it was like, 'Young guys, you have to go sit behind the bench,' it was so crowded. It's a different challenge that we're facing right now. We're in a position where we are learning more about ourselves in this juncture of the season.
"Thankfully, Tony Allen is the [only] major casualty where we know he is going to be out for the [regular] season. But thankfully, we know some of these guys are going to be back."
Marc J. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org