|Kevin Garnett congratulates guard Avery Bradley on his inspired play. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)|
Grueling stretch ahead for Celtics
Bradley excited while Rivers still cautious
TORONTO - Avery Bradley has no problem with the Celtics’ compacted schedule. That’s understandable, since Bradley, at 21, is the youngest player on the roster and also one of its most eager members as he makes up for time lost in an injury-plagued rookie season.
The Celtics meet Toronto Friday night, the start of their back-to-back-to-back stretch. They play at New Jersey Saturday and at Charlotte Sunday, and also at New York Tuesday, making it four road games in five nights.
“I think it will be fun,’’ Bradley said. “We love the game of basketball. We are getting ourselves ready, getting ourselves mentally prepared. We are going into every game as hard as we can.’’
At least the end of the regular season will be relatively easy on the biorhythms and body clocks, since the Celtics’ final 11 games are in the East. Last month, the Celtics’ had an eight-game road trip with games in four time zones.
But no one is quite sure how to approach such a concentrated amount of contests.
“I’ve talked to some coaches who have already been through it,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “It’s amazing how wide that horizon is. I wish I hadn’t called any of them because it does nothing but confuse you even more.
“I’m just going to play it by ear and watch our guys. There’s a chance they will all play in every game. There’s a chance three or four will play in one game or we split it up. We’re all over the place on that one, I can tell you that.’’
Before the Celtics took an 88-86 overtime win over Atlanta Wednesday, Rivers talked of using 12 players in the game. He also planned to limit the minutes of Mickael Pietrus, making his first appearance since sustaining a March 23 concussion. But Rivers went nine deep and Pietrus played 29 minutes.
At 34-24, the Celtics have a three-game lead in the Atlantic Division over Philadelphia, which took a 93-75 win over Toronto Wednesday.
“With the amount of games in so little time, it may not come down to the best teams winning these games,’’ Rivers said. “It will be the teams that survive.
“I don’t like the way they did that with the season. I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think that’s how you should end the season. Who can survive going through 100 games in 101 days?’’
The Celtics seemed to be fading near the halfway point of the season but have been rejuvenated since the All-Star break. This is despite losing Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox to season-ending injuries and physical conditions and playing seven games without Ray Allen (ankle) and 10 without Pietrus.
The Celtics, who are 19-7 since Feb. 28, have been able to find winning combinations. And Bradley has set the tone with a one-man, full-court pressing defensive style.
The Celtics lost to the Raptors, 86-74, Feb. 10 when they were in the midst of losing seven of eight games.
“We just need to go in there and play with energy,’’ Bradley said after Wednesday’s game. “We’ve been playing with a lot of energy.
“My role is to go into the game, get everyone else going, and that’s what we are going to do in Toronto - try to get that energy up.’’
Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.