WALTHAM - With Paul Pierce conducting, the rookies sang a discordant "Happy Birthday" to Kendrick Perkins, who turned 21 yesterday. The stoic big man cracked the slightest smile, acknowledging later he stopped celebrating birthdays a long time ago. He had no plans to celebrate, just rest for tonight's game against San Antonio. Besides, Perkins figured he had already received a pretty good present: increased playing time, at least for now.
"Some nights I may play 20 minutes, some night I may play four minutes or I might not play at all," said Perkins, who scored his first points of the season Wednesday against the Grizzlies with a pair of free throws. "It's tough sometimes because one game you feel like you've played pretty good, then the next game you might not play at all. But like Coach says, any decision he makes is for the team. It took me a while to realize that. It's good that I'm getting a chance to play now."
Like Perkins, a handful of reserves never know what to expect come game time. Coach Doc Rivers continues to tinker with the rotation, searching for more consistency.
"[Minutes for bench players] is something we want to be more consistent with," said Rivers. "The reason we haven't been consistent is Al [Jefferson] has been injured. Al's been on the road. Then, we get foul trouble. One area we have to improve in is to stop fouling. We've got to play defense without fouling and play good defense. Slide the feet. We have to be better in that because that gives us better consistency. But we have to stay physical."
A brief look at the rotation: Perkins has been the beneficiary of tweaks to the rotation, playing 24 minutes 59 seconds in a loss at Charlotte last Saturday. Veteran Dan Dickau has supplanted rookie Orien Greene as backup point guard. Jefferson has had his minutes steadily increase from a foul-laden regular-season debut against the Knicks, though much of his playing time has come in the second half. Justin Reed has gotten steady minutes, even though he was not considered part of the regular rotation when the season started. Brian Scalabrine hovers close to 10 minutes per game, but said he doesn't deserve more playing time at the moment. Meanwhile, Rivers again announced he is trying to find more minutes for rookie Ryan Gomes.
Trying to break down numbers comes with disclaimers this early. First, it is too early to draw conclusions about the rotation after four games. Second, Rivers was clear throughout the preseason that he would try different combinations to find the best chemistry and conceded that experimentation could carry over into the regular season. And it has. Third, foul trouble as well as injury (Jefferson's sprained left ankle) and personal issues (Jefferson attending a family funeral in Mississippi) have skewed the distribution of playing time.
Despite the disclaimers, the bench players seem to expect fluctuations in minutes in the short term and possibly the long term.
"It's only frustrating when you lose," said Scalabrine. "If you win games, then we're doing the right thing. What [Rivers] has been doing is the right thing. As a player, you have to adapt. You never accept your role. You just have to embrace your role. I hear he wants to get to a solid nine-man rotation. I've just got to embrace my role and go from there.
"I'm fine with [unpredictable playing time] because it makes you not become complacent and comfortable with the situation you're in," said Dickau. "You've got to stay on top of your game and stay prepared and continue to know what the other team wants to do. You've got to go out with the mind-set that you need to perform that night, rather than just coast."
Gerald Green, the team's top draft pick, watched Wednesday's game in the locker room with video coordinator Jamie Young on television. Rivers said it wasn't punishment or part of a larger lesson about the NBA game.
"I'm letting him do what he wants to do right now," said Rivers. "We didn't have him in there taking notes or anything like that. Usually, there will be nights when I'll allow him to [stay in the locker room], or his dress code looks so bad that we don't want him on the bench" he said, jokingly. "There will be some of those nights coming."