November 08, 2005
WALTHAM - Known for his high-flying, acrobatic dunks, Ricky Davis seldom faces questions regarding his defense. So when it was mentioned that the shooting guard is tied for second in the league in steals with 3.0 per game, he smiled broadly, somewhat surprised anyone noticed. Along with a goal of leading the Celtics in assists, Davis wants to lead the league in steals. Apparently, he aims high on both offense and defense.
"If I can lead the league in steals, maybe I'll be classified a little bit as a defensive guy," said Davis. "I've been offensive-minded for a while, but give me a chance to get down and guard the best player every night, get in the passing lanes, and get a couple steals each night."
Upon hearing of Davis's plan, coach Doc Rivers joked, "Don't encourage him."
Rivers doesn't want Davis, or any member of the Celtics, taking what could be costly gambles on defense. But he applauded the intentions. Davis has been one of many Boston players stepping up on the defensive end with statistically impressive results, though some lapses in judgment and focus have saddled the team with two losses in their first three games.
Despite being young, the Celtics have made major strides when it comes to rebounds, steals, and blocks. They also have improved in opponents' field goal percentage. Much of the improvement can be attributed to effort. Players eager to prove themselves and young, tireless legs can be a difficult combination for opponents to handle.
Boston is tied for first in the league in blocks (8.7 per game), second in steals (11.3), third in rebounds (47.7), and 11th in opponent field goal percentage (.427). The most dramatic improvement is in rebounding, where they ranked 24th with 40.8 per game last season.
"We're playing hard [on defense] probably 99.9 percent of the time, but it's about playing smart and understanding the little nuances of the game," said Paul Pierce. "Sometimes I think we get caught in situations where we're playing so hard that we make mistakes. If we can play just as smart as we're playing hard, then we'll be an even better defensive team."
Everyone expects Mark Blount to lead the team in blocked shots (2.33), but it may come as a surprise to learn that Delonte West is right there also with 2.33. The 6-foot-2-inch point guard credits timing, positioning, and long arms. On the boards, Pierce leads the team with 8.0 rebounds per game, but Davis (6.0), Blount (6.0), Raef LaFrentz (5.7), and West (5.3) are not far behind. Rivers claims he almost fainted when he looked at the box score from Saturday's Charlotte game and saw that Davis pulled down 10 rebounds. Rebounding numbers for the big men can get better, along with overall defensive consistency.
"We have to improve on the little mistakes that we're making offensively and defensively that are allowing easy baskets," said Rivers. "First quarter, second quarter, end of halftime, we didn't block out, they get an extra rebound and get a bucket. All those add up. They don't seem that important when you're up 12, but at the end of the game, if it's close, you're wishing [you had the rebound]."
According to the coaching staff, Charlotte scored 28 points off bad passes and defensive gambles that didn't pan out in the 107-105 overtime loss. While the Celtics outrebounded the Bobcats, 42-39, Charlotte grabbed all the key rebounds near the end of regulation and in overtime.
"If you have young guys out there, they're usually so anxious out on the court that they play a little too hard on defense," said West. "They commit fouls. But at the same time, that's the defense that puts you high in certain categories."
Al Jefferson will miss practice today to attend to a family matter. He is expected back for tomorrow night's game against Memphis. Although the family matter created understandable distractions, said Rivers, that was not the reason the power forward did not play in the first half vs. the Bobcats. Rivers wanted to get Jefferson more focused and remind him "that other people are trying to get his job, that there are no guarantees." . . . Orien Greene is receiving daily treatment for a left foot sprain around the inside arch. He sustained the injury a couple of weeks ago but managed to play through the pain. Greene underwent surgery on the foot to repair a fracture in July, but he said the injuries are not related . . . Wondering where Ryan Gomes went after playing just 2 minutes 5 seconds against Charlotte? Rivers said Gomes must continue to battle Justin Reed and Brian Scalabrine for playing time. Right now, Rivers prefers the two veterans on the floor. "I've got to find a place for [Gomes], but right now there's not a lot of room," said Rivers.