Rivers Gives Celtics Down Time

October 13, 2005

Somewhere over the Appalachian Mountains in central Pennsylvania, Doc Rivers decided to cancel yesterday's practice. It was a 50-50 chance he would do so when the Celtics left Mellon Arena late Tuesday night for the flight home from Pittsburgh.

   Maybe Rivers liked enough of what he saw in the Celtics' first exhibition (a 96-86 loss to the Cavaliers, who were minus LeBron James) or he recognized the team needed a rest (a 17-2 lead quickly faded, the running game became a walking game in the second half) or maybe he needed a day with his assistants to sort through the list of improvements the team must make (second-unit chemistry, turnovers, 3-point-shot selection, playing prescribed roles, not forcing the action, etc.). A little bit of all three likely led Rivers to schedule the offday.

        As with all preseason games, there was a mixture of good, bad, and "What were they thinking," in the Celtics' first exhibition. But in the end, Rivers and the players know little more today about the team than they knew yesterday or the day before.

   They knew a first unit filled with experienced players would be slightly ahead of the curve, and it was. They knew the second unit, without Ricky Davis and with rookie Ryan Gomes and inexperienced veterans Kendrick Perkins and Justin Reed would struggle, and it did. They knew Paul Pierce would contribute in many ways, and he did with 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. They knew turnovers would be commonplace, and they were with 16 for 12 points. They knew shooting would be a little rusty, and it was (32 for 80). They knew top pick Gerald Green could dunk, and he did, for his only field goal of the night.

   "It's kind of what you expected from the first preseason game," said Pierce. "There was a lot of inconsistent play, a lot of turnovers. But it's just the first game. Ever since I've been in the league, that's usually how the first games go. It's a learning curve. We've got to learn from our mistakes. It was good to get that first game behind us. We'll be ready for the next game."

   There will be some changes when the Celtics play the Raptors tomorrow night in Manchester, N.H. Rivers plans to start Dan Dickau at point guard, but the coach may also want to consider other ways to bolster the second unit for the future. In the first exhibition game, the value of bringing Davis off the bench was obvious. He gives the second unit an offensive focal point. Against the Cavaliers, there were too many backups trying to force shots. Perkins, Reed, Gomes, Brian Scalabrine, and Dickau went a combined 8 for 32 from the floor. While Reed did finish 3 for 6 for 10 points, Rivers is looking to him for defense, not as the leading scorer on the second unit.

   A nice surprise was the play of Marcus Banks. He played all 10 of his minutes in the fourth quarter, though the point guard made sure he was not an afterthought. He went 3 for 4 from the floor with all three baskets coming on layups, two off the break. He also showed why Rivers calls him the best ball-pressure point guard on the team with a steal leading to one of the fast-break layups. Banks also displayed a certain maturity by not perceiving the limited minutes at the end of the game as a slight. Still, it would have been nice to see Banks create more opportunities for others. After the game, Rivers admitted that part of the problem was his play calls. Regardless, Banks did not complain.

   "I'm fine," said Banks. "I know it's preseason. I'm just here to get better and to get familiar with my teammates. I'm going to go out there and have a good time, try to make things work. I know he's messing with a lot of different lineups, so it's fine. It'd help [to get into the game earlier]. For me, it would be nice, but if not, I'll just wait until my number is called. I was just trying to run my group of guys and run the sets he wanted us to run."

   Banks, along with rookies Green and Orien Greene, are hoping for more minutes in the second exhibition. Rivers said he will try to get that done. He just needs some time to think about how he can do it with all the other concerns he has to balance and address.

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