Finding combinations hasn’t been a lock

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / November 21, 2009

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It’s the curse of having too many options, too many players, too many possibilities.

Before the season, when it seemed like Doc Rivers could pull a lineup out of a hat, Rasheed Wallace half-jokingly called the coach “The Mad Scientist.’’

But after the Celtics’ 83-78 loss to the Magic last night in the teams’ first meeting since Orlando bounced Boston from the playoffs last May, Rivers seemed to be trying to figure out the right formula.

The number of options the Celtics have make it easy to second-guess Rivers. The number of stars they have makes it easy to notice when one isn’t on the floor.

When the fourth quarter started at TD Garden, the Celtics were down, 66-59, and Rivers put Brian Scalabrine, Eddie House, Wallace, Marquis Daniels, and Ray Allen on the floor.

In a way, he felt their play justified his decision.

“We made a run,’’ Rivers said. “So it wasn’t a hard one.’’

Allen worked the pick-and-roll with Wallace, and Wallace (who missed all eight of his 3-point shots) was as effective as he had been all night, using the plays to drive to the rim.

Rivers didn’t put Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett back in until 6:23 was left in the game.

Rajon Rondo was on the bench until the 1:41 mark.

After the game, Rivers was asked where Rondo was for the first 10 minutes of the fourth, even though it was the Celtics’ inability to get a stop in the final minutes that cost them the game.

“If you’re in Doc’s situation, it’s damned if you do, damned it you don’t,’’ said Wallace. “If you don’t have Rondo in there, you’re going to have people say, ‘Why didn’t you have Rondo in there sooner?’ Then if you do have Rondo in there, [it’s] ‘Why’d you have Rondo in there so long? Or ‘Why’d you have Kevin in there?’ It is sort of a gift and a curse. But that’s the woes of being a head coach.’’

One repeating theme during the Celtics’ recent struggles is that they haven’t gotten off to fast starts. The Magic jumped out to a 17-6 lead in the first five minutes, making seven of their first eight shots and three of their first four 3-pointers while the Celtics missed seven of their first nine from the floor.

“Teams are coming out and attacking us and we’re not coming out and delivering the first blow,’’ said Kendrick Perkins. “We’re just kind of relaxed, waiting for teams to hit us, then we hit back.’’

Rivers cared less about the way his team started the game, and more about the lack of chemistry during it.

“We are making it up at both ends of the floor, Rivers said. “We’re not executing. We’re not trusting each other. And, we’re going to win games still, but we’re not going to win against good teams. It’s just not going to happen. We’ll get it, but right now it’s just not going to happen.’’

Perkins, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter, didn’t want to overreact.

“I just feel like if we get to making the extra pass, getting into setting the pick-and-rolls and you’re playing freely with no agendas, I think guys play at their best,’’ he said.

But as far as deciding who should be on the floor, the responsibility rested with the coach.

“That’s something that the coaching staff has to do,’’ said Daniels. “That’s not the players. We just go out there and play basketball and the coaches have a job to figure out who’s the right combination.’’

When he looked at the lineup he had on the floor in the final quarter - particularly House, Scalabrine, and Daniels - Rivers said, “Those three guys gave us the urgency and the energy that we need to play with every night.’’

Rivers said finding the combinations that would give him that urgency more often is an issue he is aware of.

“Every once in a while when we get the right mix of guys out there - and right now, God knows who that’s going to be before the game - that group functions well. But we’re not functioning well. We don’t deserve to win games like this.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at

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