Celtics experienced in business of adjustments

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / January 2, 2011

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TORONTO — Looking back, the Celtics have been altering plans since training camp because of injuries.

If coach Doc Rivers had his way, Jermaine O’Neal would have been the starting center going into the season. But O’Neal’s knee started aching at Salve Regina, and that plan went down the drain. Shaquille O’Neal went into the starting lineup by default.

Then, as the Celtics were getting comfortable with the luxury of throwing lobs anywhere near the rim knowing Shaquille O’Neal would pick them out of the air, the Knicks’ Amar’e Stoudemire kicked him in the knee, and the Celtics had to work Jermaine O’Neal back into the lineup.

While they were doing that dance, they were planning on Delonte West coming back from his 10-game suspension. With West as a floor general, Rivers could play Nate Robinson off the ball. But five games after his suspension ended, West broke his wrist and the Celtics had to scratch together another plan.

That was fine until Rajon Rondo’s feet started giving him trouble. Then, his hamstring. Then it was his ankle. Rivers, who was reluctant to play Robinson even at backup point, had no choice but to start him there, and still the Celtics figured out ways to win.

Now they’ve lost Kevin Garnett to a strained right calf, and again they’ll have to get the most out of what healthy bodies remain.

“You get used to playing a certain way, and you come in here and expect everything to be together like it always is, then sometimes somebody moves your cheese a little bit,’’ said Ray Allen. “That’s the kind of position we’re in, where we have to figure it out, and it’s a new challenge.

“When Delonte went out, that was a new challenge and it forced us to play one way. Then Rondo went down and we had to change again. Now, it’s Kevin.’’

Rondo and Garnett, of course, are huge pieces. Rondo has the entire Celtics system downloaded on his mental hard drive. Not only is Garnett the heartbeat of the defense, but the team established him in the post on offense.

Without them, the Celtics will almost have to morph into a different team, relying on reserves to play over their heads to an extent.

With Rondo, Garnett, and Kendrick Perkins (offseason knee surgery) out, Allen and Paul Pierce are the only starters still standing, and they sense the responsibility, whether it’s scoring or finding shots for teammates. The starters let leads go in the New Year’s Eve loss to New Orleans.

Getting the opportunity to fill in for Garnett, Glen Davis pressed against the Hornets, missing 10 of 14 shots, but he’ll be critical in keeping things together.

Players who spent most of the season watching now will be thrown into the fire. Von Wafer and Luke Harangody played more minutes against the Hornets. Avery Bradley has seen his backup point guard minutes increase.

The two most important pieces will likely be Robinson, who has had to do his best Rondo impersonation the past three weeks, and Marquis Daniels, who has floated among three positions.

Daniels is open to whatever role Rivers throws at him. Against Indiana last week, the Celtics took advantage of his mismatch at the point with T.J. Ford and Nick Collison. Against New Orleans, the Celtics thrived when Daniels played small forward instead of Pierce.

“If he needs me at the point guard, if he needs me at the 3 or the 4 or whatever it is, just come in and try to do my job,’’ Daniels said. “It’s no excuses.

“Of course there are key guys that are out along with Delonte and Perk. We still have to come out there and figure out a way to win.

“We’ve done it before and we have to continue to grind it out.’’

“Everybody’s important,’’ Pierce said. “You can’t count anybody out as part of this team that we’ve got. I know Kevin’s a big cog in everything that we do, but so is Rondo, so is Delonte.

“We want to get these guys back as soon as possible. But the guys that we put out there have a responsibility to play and try to win every night.’’

The NBA fined Pierce $15,000 for throwing an object into the stands during the Celtics’ win over the Pacers Tuesday. Pierce customarily throws his headband into the crowd following games, but the league said the incident occurred with 8:02 left in the first quarter. This comes after Shaquille O’Neal was fined $35,000 for criticizing officials following the Celtics’ Christmas Day loss to Orlando.

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