Injuries finally catch up
Team’s thin bench not up to the task
ORLANDO, Fla. — The inexplicable part about the Celtics’ 14-game winning streak was how they managed to string those wins together despite injuries. With each win, it sounded like coach Doc Rivers was bracing himself. They were winning, he’d say, but they weren’t improving.
Eventually, the injuries would catch up to them, he figured. Last night, even though Jermaine O’Neal was back, the thin bench showed. Rajon Rondo (ankle) and Kendrick Perkins (knee) were in street clothes. Semih Erden (flu) dressed but didn’t play. Delonte West (wrist) was back in Boston.
They suffered an 86-78 loss to the Magic, knowing that health issues were catching up to them.
Nate Robinson has taken on Rondo’s starting point guard duties, and last night he played 43 minutes. Glen Davis played a season high 39 minutes, including every second of the fourth quarter.
“But listen, nobody’s going to cry for us,’’ Rivers said. “It’s not just Rondo being out. It’s the combination of not having a bench either. It’s more than just Rondo. It really is. We always thought we could lose one of those three guards. We knew it would be difficult if we lost two of them.
“That still doesn’t mean [we shouldn’t win.] Rondo’s going to be out until he’s 100 percent. I’m not going to push him back. We’re not going to push anybody back, and we’re just going to find a way.
Rivers put rookie guard Avery Bradley on Gilbert Arenas in the second half. Bradley was whistled for two fouls in five minutes, but Rivers was still pleased. “Defensively, I thought he was phenomenal,’’ Rivers said. “He gets fouls because he’s Avery Bradley right now, but that’ll improve.’’
The Celtics streak was the longest in the NBA this season. By snapping that streak and San Antonio’s 10-game streak, the Magic became the first team to break streaks of 10-games or more in consecutive games.
Back on board Last year, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he “felt sorry for people who have nothing to do on Christmas other than watch an NBA game.’’ This year, he felt completely different.
“I think the NBA is important to Christmas that what we really need to do is increase from five games to 10,’’ he said. “We need to start them at midnight on what would have been Christmas Eve, and play them all through the day so that there’s not a minute of Christmas Day when there’s not an NBA game on TV,’’ Van Gundy said. “It’s great. The NBA is Christmas.’’
The Celtics faced the Magic for the second straight Christmas, and the game works out perfectly for Rivers, who gets to see his family in Winter Park, Fla. But Van Gundy’s idea didn’t sound like a bad one to Rivers.
“We’re close anyway,’’ Rivers said. “How many games is it? Six? Five? So we’re on our way. All we have to do is probably add three more games and we’ve got it.
“The midnight game, that would be phenomenal, because I’m up anyway,’’ said Rivers.
Off the mark The effects of seven weeks off were evident in Jermaine O’Neal’s return. He went 1 of 4 from the floor, but his biggest issue was timing, either not being ready for passes or bobbling them.
“It looked and felt like it was my first game back in almost two months,’’ O’Neal said. “Sometimes your mind is moving a little bit faster than your actual body. I left quite a few passes behind me that were very good passes. But you expect that. I’ve only had three practices, four practices. So I look forward to trying to build from it. It’s all about timing, it’s all about getting into the flow of things.”
O’Neal played just 10 minutes, and Rivers could sense O’Neal’s attitude dipping.
“You could see he was kind of down,” Rivers said.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.