There are two ways to look at Doc Rivers ‘ statement before the Celtics took the court against the Heat. “We’re not going to catch Cleveland,” Rivers told the press without being asked about whether they could catch the Cavaliers . “We have a chance to hold on to that second spot.” (Click here for a recap of the Miami game .)
The first is this. The coach is absolutely right. There are 13 games left in the regular season and the Celtics are down five in the loss column. It’s math.
Now that kind of unprompted candor, even from one of the more honest and realistic coaches in the NBA, is not generally expected. Someone who has been around competitive sports for as long as Rivers knows there’s always a chance, and to concede anything less is to admit to defeat on a certain level.
But admitting defeat is not in this team’s nature (and they have the championship banner to prove it) so clearly this was a different sort of message. After the game, which was as good a win as his team has had in almost two weeks, Rivers talked about a jigsaw puzzle. “It’s corny,” he said. “But we were talking about it today that the only way you can put a puzzle together is with the box. You have to have the picture. So we just don’t have all our pieces together right now. They’re kind of scattered but we’re going to have a chance to put them back together and we know that. And we know the picture and that’s what we want.”
The puzzle pieces are scattered throughout Eddie Lacerte’s training room. They have hyper-extended elbows, sprained ankles and strained knees. But the picture is clearer now after suffering losses to Milwaukee and Chicago and it involves getting the home-court advantage against Orlando in the second round. That’s the puzzle they will try to solve over the next 13 games: Get healthy and stay ahead of the Magic.
That’s a different picture than what was in place a few weeks ago when there was a realistic chance at catching the Cavaliers, but that was then and this is now. There were a lot of words spoken in the aftermath of their gritty win over the Heat without two of their stars and with only three able-bodied big men, but none of them were “Cleveland.”
“One, for us to get on the same page and two, to solidify that second spot,” was how Stephon Marbury  put it. “Once everyone gets healthy I think this team will be totally different.”
“Either way, I still feel good about us winning a championship,” Kendrick Perkins  said. “I don’t care if we play home or away.”
Say this for the Celtics, when the coach talks about something like this it’s not an accident and it’s not a sub-conscious slip of the tongue. The players were briefed about this subtle change in expectations and they are on board.
“That’s the one great thing about this team,” Paul Pierce  said. “We’ve never been down. We never look at one another, point the finger at one another, and we understand that we just have to keep working. The situation is what it is and we have to go out there and put our hard hats on and our work boots on and continue to work, regardless of who’s out there.”
To that end, they milked 41 minutes out of Big Baby Davis, who has been out the last four games with an ankle injury. They had three (relatively) healthy big men and when Davis and Mikki Moore  fouled out, they turned to rookie Bill Walker  in the final minute of an overtime game.
It was, as they say, a good win. A win that clinched them the Atlantic Division, not that any of them cared because that’s not part of the puzzle they’re trying to solve.
“(The division) doesn’t really mean anything to the Boston Celtics ,” Pierce said. “They don’t put that banner up. Maybe in other arenas they put that banner up, but here, it doesn’t really mean a thing.”
Getting healthy matters. Staying ahead of Orlando matters. That was the message the coach delivered Wednesday night and it was heard, and well-received by his team.