Upward youth movement is Celts' goal
Coach Doc Rivers, whose team opens its season tonight, has plenty of young, talented players who he hopes can help Boston reach the playoffs.
01:00 AM EST on Wednesday, November 1, 2006
BY KEVIN McNAMARA
Journal Sports Writer
WALTHAM -- As his team's final preseason practice came to a close yesterday, a relaxed Glenn "Doc" Rivers talked about his expectations for the Boston Celtics.
The third-year coach knows his team is young. Nine of the 15 players on the opening-night roster own just two or fewer seasons of NBA experience. That list includes vital pieces of the pie like point guards Sebastian Telfair and Rajon Rondo, shooter Delonte West and big men Ryan Gomes and Al Jefferson.
But Rivers thinks his kids are all right. He's not guaranteeing a playoff berth or even stating that this group can better last season's 33-49 record, but heading into tonight's opener at the Garden against the New Orleans Hornets, Rivers is anxious to see what his team can do.
"They're a hard-working group," he said. "We thought that from the start and they proved that to be right. They get along, they work hard, but we don't have any losses or wins yet. I always thought it was easy to get along right now. We'll see how they get along when nine or 10 of them play and two don't, or five don't."
Asked what the biggest concern with his team is, Rivers said, "Our consistency. When you have so many guys who haven't played a lot of NBA basketball, you worry about consistency. Last year we won two games in a row (five different times). That was it. That hits that point home. In some ways we're younger, but I think we're better. We're more experienced."
The Celtics that fans will see starting tonight are different than last season's group. The biggest difference comes at point guard, where Telfair and Rondo, both of whom were acquired on draft night, will split duties. There's a chance that West will run the team at times, but Rivers seems excited about the ability of his two young, fast and confident point guards.
"I like both of them. They have great vision and great speed. I like the fact that for 48 minutes we can play at the same speed," he said.
The Celtics played at a faster pace in the preseason and appear to have enough parts to jump start what was already a pretty explosive offense.
Defensively, however, the team has major concerns. The biggest come inside, especially since veteran 6-foot-10 center Theo Ratliff (back woes) isn't ready to play right now. That'll put a huge load on the shoulders of third-year veteran Kendrick Perkins, eight-year veteran Michael Olowokandi and Jefferson.
"(Ratliff) was the last line of defense and I haven't seen him (on the floor) in three weeks," said Rivers. "That's where we need Perk and Al and even Ryan (Gomes). We have to keep Perk extremely aggressive early and in the game without fouling."
Rivers wouldn't name his starting lineup, but the best bet looks like Telfair and Wally Szczerbiak at guard, Paul Pierce and Gomes at forward with Perkins at center. West and Tony Allen will spell the guards, with Jefferson and perhaps high-flying Gerald Green helping out up front. Rivers said he's likely to switch bodies at the big-forward and center spots most often.
"We may go with different starting lineups on different nights, but for the most part, when we go small, we don't care what they have in there. It's a game of chicken. We're going to do it regardless of who they have," he said.
After tonight's game, the Celts host Detroit on Friday. Boston plays nine of its first 14 games at home and needs to improve on last year's shaky 21-20 home record.
"It would be great (to get off to a quick start) but it's not going to make or break our season," Rivers said. "I think we're going to be a much better team the second half of the year, whether we have home games or not. It's a team that's really starting to come together and the young guys are still growing. Obviously if we get off to a great start that would really set us up for the second half because I think we're going to be a much better team by the midpoint than we are now."
Star scorer Paul Pierce was in a joking mood yesterday, wearing a colorful mask and long, black hair while he addressed reporters. He hopes Halloween's jovial mood stays with him as the youngsters grow up with him this season.
"It's hard to say right now," Piece said. "You don't know if you're better until you go out and play. I think we're more talented but you don't know much until you go out and play."