As rumors continue to swirl over the next two months regarding every available veteran player possibly coming to Boston to help the defending champs add depth, the current reserve corps will be scrutinized nightly.
Throughout the season, the bench has sometimes struggled with holding leads, but more often has battled with holding momentum. With some notable exceptions — last Sunday in New York being one of them — the starters set the tone for the game. The bench doesn’t necessarily lose ground on the scoreboard, but by the time the first five returns, they often have trouble re-establishing themselves against a suddenly emboldened foe.
As Doc Rivers tries to limit the regular-season minutes of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, the coach has looked to go more often with a second unit void of a go-to star on the court.
Success, however, has been limited.
“I think the big thing for us was that we weren’t sharing the basketball,” said Eddie House, the most established veteran on a largely inexperienced unit. “We have to take the mindset of playing defense first and letting the offense come to us. Everybody is going to have plays called for him on the second unit. But if you don’t have the shot, you have to move the basketball and get a better shot.”
Though Rivers has said he has told starting point guard Rajon Rondo to call his own plays most of the time, possessions on the second unit appear more structured, possibly leading to some of the stagnation. When a player who might get only three or four shots a game has a shot called for him, he’s going to think harder about giving it up.
“Sometimes we have the ball stick,” said Leon Powe. “The coach calls a one-on-one play, a post play, or a slice hole for Tony [Allen]. But he just keeps saying that if we don’t have anything, to move it quickly. Make sure it ain’t sticking on one side of the floor, so we can get everyone touching it and get their defense shifting from side to side.”
Powe said the goal of the second unit offensively is to keep the whole court active.
“There isn’t one established guy already that when we get the ball we just go to him,” he said. “We try to move it around and make sure everyone touches the ball. What happens when one guy doesn’t touch the ball, he stays on one side of the floor [not in the play]. That’s when there’s turnovers or there’s bad shots. We don’t want that.”
One subtle move Rivers has made to recharge a key member of the unit is to get Glen Davis involved earlier in the rotation. That has helped the backup big man, who has struggled at times as an option in the all-reserve corps, giving him more minutes with the starters.
“It’s a great experience when you play with guys like that because they know the game,” Davis said. “When they show they have faith in you, it builds your confidence up as well. Most definitely it does because they get you in the flow of the game. You pass, you pass, you pass. Then when you’re open, you’re ready to shoot.”
They won’t back down
Following their 91-86 victory over the C’s on Dec. 30, the Trail Blazers boasted that they pushed back on the swagger-swelled Celtics, and the bullies backed down.
Kendrick Perkins didn’t see it that way.
“I thought we beat ourselves,” he said. “We’ve been pushed before — we are the champions. They are trying to do what we are doing. I think it took their coach [Nate McMillan] to motivate them to fight back. Out of all the games, we beat them two times last year. We are 3 for 4 on them the last two years, so it’s about time they pushed back.”
Powe noted that it’s up to the Celtics not to fall into that type of trap against squawking squads like the Blazers and Knicks.
“They tried to be physical with us, but that’s nothing new,” he said. “We don’t care about that. But if we allow their physical play to get us talking, and saying stuff back to them, and getting us out of our game, now that’s a different story.
“Coach talked about that with us. It’s OK to fight back, but you fight back on the basketball court. Don’t let anybody take you out of your game. That’s what we got away from in that game [against Portland].”
Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports