Celtics Still on Learning Curve

November 07, 2005

With the exception of a couple of losses, coach Doc Rivers and executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge got what they wanted from the Celtics' first three games: plenty of pressure-packed playing time for a young team. But considering it came as a result of two overtime contests and a last-second loss to defending Eastern Conference champion Detroit, a case of "be careful what you wish for" may be developing. The question is whether the Celtics can learn from their late-game mistakes, to back up postgame resolve with better play down the stretch.

"To me, [the Charlotte] game hurts far more than [Detroit], as crazy as that sounds," said Rivers, who did not hold practice yesterday. "[Against Charlotte], we had to win and we gave it away. That's all our fault, coaches, players, everybody." 

Boston squandered a 12-point lead to Charlotte with 5:39 left in the game Saturday night before falling, 107-105, in overtime.

Even though the team won't continue at its current pace, averaging two overtimes every three games (at that rate, Boston would play a little more than 11 extra games this year), the good news is that it appears the rookies and second-year players in need of experience will develop quicker with games that come down to the final minutes.

For the first time this season, Rivers used every available player against the Bobcats, with Justin Reed (12 minutes 49 seconds), Kendrick Perkins (24:59), and Dan Dickau (21:46) earning more time than expected. Al Jefferson (19:24) also played solid minutes, though he appeared tired at the end of regulation and missed two free throws with 14 seconds remaining that could have won the game. Jefferson did not dwell on the misses. Like the rest of the young players, he saw the loss to the Bobcats as a learning experience. But at some point, hopefully soon, Boston expects to have some lessons down.

"I guarantee you, I'm going to miss two more," said Jefferson. "It's part of the game. If it's Game 7 in the playoffs, yeah, they'd haunt me. I wished I would have made them now, but they're not going to haunt me."

The first three games underscore the benefits and costs that come with an eager, young, athletic team. The bad news is veterans like Paul Pierce and Ricky Davis may lead the league in minutes and be exhausted by the All-Star break. Entering yesterday's games, Davis ranked second in the league with an average of 45.3 minutes per game, a shade behind Allen Iverson (45.5). Pierce was seventh, averaging 42.7 minutes.

"It's not getting old," said Davis about playing a lot in games that come down to the wire. "I love the close games. It helps the team grow. It helps you grow as a player. The more close games you have, the better you are in the long run."

Davis's statements echoed those from his teammates. The Celtics have handled their two losses by remembering the long-range plan. At the moment, it's comforting to think about a brighter future filled with easier wins. That may not be the case a couple months, or even a couple weeks, from now.

The Celtics, who host Memphis Wednesday, know they cannot afford to lose more games like Saturday night's. Just two games separated the No. 6 team in the East from the No. 9 team last season. If theCeltics have a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter against the Bobcats, they need to put the game away.

Charlotte outscored Boston, 25-16, in the fourth quarter. The Celtics committed nine turnovers in the quarter: four bad passes, two traveling violations, two offensive fouls, and a steal by Gerald Wallace.

"We've got to value the basketball as a team," said guard Delonte West. "We don't value every possession as if this turnover or this mental lapse will cost us the game. That's what we have to do from tipoff until [the end]. We've got to value every possession."

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