|Getting the new Celtics to play like Celtics||03.24.11 at 5:28 pm ET|
There’s really no precedent for what the Celtics are trying to accomplish in a post Kendrick Perkins world. While other teams have added complementary parts to the equation at the trade deadline or even one large piece to the puzzle, the Celtics turned over a third of the roster, while also trying to re-introduce three important cogs who missed a combined 134 games because of injuries in Delonte West, Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal.
That’s a lot of change for a team that prides itself on its consistency. For years they knew exactly what they wanted to do, and how they were going to do it. When something went wrong it required a subtle tweak more than a complete overhaul.
Step one is the relatively straightforward assignment of having the new players learn the system. That takes time and repetition, but at the end of the day basketball is basketball and it’s not like there’s a hundred different ways to defend the pick and roll.
More than the schemes and the playbook, however, the biggest challenge is more intangible than tangible and it’s the biggest question hanging over the team for the next three weeks: How do you get the new faces to play like Celtics?
“The most important thing Doc [Rivers] is trying to teach them is how we play, how the Celtics play,” assistant coach Armond Hill said following the team’s practice on Thursday. “How we move the ball, how we play defense.”
Added fellow assistant Kevin Eastman, “Every team that is vying for championships, they have a DNA. Part of our DNA is not just the set that we run or who we go to, but it’s how we do it. The how is every bit as important.”
Ask any of the veteran Celtics and they will echo the coach’s thoughts.
“Getting them to understand the level and disciple and professionalism and all the other things that come with being a Celtic, Kevin Garnett said on an interview with WEEI’s Mut & Merloni [Listen to the audio here]. “The responsibility of playing hard every night. We’ve set that precedent here.”
They have been around each other so much over the last three and a half seasons that their approach has become second-nature. That doesn’t mean they don’t mess things up on occasion. Just look at the last minute of the loss to Memphis on Wednesday where the execution broke down. But when things go wrong, they have a deep understanding of the how and the why and it becomes a matter of fine-tuning the process to get the desired results. There’s a level of trust and familiarity involved and that simply can’t be distributed and absorbed like a playbook.
That, more than the wins and losses, is what the last three weeks of the regular season is all about.
Von Wafer returned to practice for the first time since injuring his foot in a game against the Warriors on March 4. Wafer was able to go through the full practice and said he will be reevaluated by trainer Eddie Lacerte.
“It felt pretty good,” Wafer said. “It started getting better. I just have to get a little trust in it and stop thinking about it.”
Wafer had been earning some playing time before his injury and he comes back to an uncertain situation with Jeff Green and West taking minutes behind Ray Allen.
“I’m just trying to come back stronger,” Wafer said. “If I get to play I’ll play. If I don’t, either way I won’t be disappointed because you never know what to expect.”
Just as one player returns, another departs. Troy Murphy sprained his ankle at the end of practice and wasn’t on the floor during the portion of practice that was open to the media. There was no immediate update on his condition.
In a twist, Rivers turned over the media duties to assistant Armond Hill and Kevin Eastman.