Doc to Team: Play D or Don't Play
January 10, 2005
Before Saturday night's game at Chicago, Celtics coach Doc Rivers was asked for the keys to victory. "Transition defense and rebounding," said Rivers. Then, he thought about his answer and added, "How many more games do we have? Well, you can put that down for the rest of the season."
It may take the 48 remaining games for Rivers to convince his team that defense should come first, though he hopes to accelerate the process by dispensing playing time only to those who show they're with the program."If you don't defend, you don't play on this team anymore," Rivers said after the Bulls defeated Boston, 102-91, at the United Center. "I convey [that message] enough. They know. They saw it [Saturday night]. You've got to play defense. We're going to score in our sleep."
When the Celtics play the Magic tonight at the FleetCenter, that dictate will be put to the test. How will the starters respond after effectively being benched during the fourth quarter against the Bulls? Will the team find a way to remedy its rebounding woes after having yesterday off from practice to think about things?
The players were in no mood to discuss such matters as they dealt with another disappointing loss, though they could not help but acknowledge that poor defense has cost them a number of games this season.
"Obviously, we're having trouble holding teams under 100 points a game," said Raef LaFrentz. "So something isn't right. But you can't jump to put your finger on it; everybody has their own opinion. It wasn't the defensive effort that caused [Rivers] to bench folks. The reason he benched folks was that the second group went on a run. They were really playing well. So why not stick with it?"
The bench did play well against Chicago, outrebounding the starters, 24-18, and putting Boston in position for a fourth-quarter comeback. The reserves also moved the ball well as Marcus Banks led the team with eight assists. The bench finished with 15 assists, compared with eight for the starters.
"What do we need to do? Rebound. Defend. And score more points than the opposition," said LaFrentz. "The rest of it you can ask the coach [about]."
There's no question the Celtics know what they need to do, but they repeatedly have failed to rebound and defend, figuring they can rely on their ability to score to win games. Boston ranks seventh in the league in scoring with an average of 100.5 points per game, and fourth in field goal percentage at 46.3 percent. On the other end, Boston is 28th in the league in opponents' scoring, allowing an average of 100.4 points, and 19th in opponents' field goal percentage (44.7 percent).
The scoring averages don't bother Rivers because he understands an up-tempo game means both teams will score a lot. Rivers seems more frustrated by the Celtics' effort on the glass. Boston ranks 27th in the league in rebounds with 40.4 per game. Rivers also wishes better transition defense was more of a habit.
"All I know is there are a lot of guys trying," said Gary Payton. "If the coach feels we are not defending well, so be it.
"[Against Chicago], we played a zone and they were finding their wide-open people. Give them credit. They moved the ball well to find wide-open shots and knock them down. We came down and didn't execute our offense well like they did."
Rivers likely would take issue with the end of that comment as he continues to emphasize defense. And those who don't see it his way apparently will have plenty of time to sit and watch from the bench.