January 4, 2005
Whether or not Gary Payton would play last night was truly a game-time decision. At 6:37 p.m., the Celtics announced that he would not dress and that second-year point guard Marcus Banks would start. But before Payton rested, he had an unusually busy night.
6:03 p.m.: Coach Doc Rivers, trainer Ed Lacerte, and Payton go into Rivers's office for a brief discussion.
6:07 p.m.: Rivers meets the media for his regular pregame briefing and says of Payton, "I don't know yet. He says he's going. My gut says he's not going. That's all I can tell you. This whole thing scares me because it's a hamstring." Meanwhile, Payton is back in the training room having his strained left hamstring wrapped.
6:15 p.m.: Payton takes the court for stretching and what could loosely be described as a "workout," mostly with assistant coach Kevin Eastman. He moves with and without the ball, though clearly not to the satisfaction of those watching. After about 10 minutes, Payton, Eastman, and Lacerte head back to the locker room, where the final decision is made. As a result, Payton ends his consecutive-game streak at 305.
In the end, Rivers said, it was largely the coaches' and medical staff decision. They decided he was not moving well enough to play.
Asked why they even considered risking further injury in the first place, Rivers said, "This is a game where players play."
But not Payton last night.
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It was hard to know what frightened Rivers more: the prospect of playing without Payton for a few games or watching Banks, Ricky Davis, and Jiri Welsch divide point guard duties. With Delonte West still recovering from a broken right hand, the Celtics' point guard rotation was already one short.
"Marcus is a point guard, so that doesn't scare me a whole bunch," said Rivers. "Marcus has to be more consistent and he has to play better for us. I think more minutes will help any player, and that should help Marcus. Then, after that, we've got Ricky and Jiri. That's tough. It throws you out of your offense either way you go, and we don't have a backup point. Really, both of them have to be in at the same time. If one's getting pressured by a point, then you can give the ball to the other to bring the ball up the floor. So that's what we'll do."
That said, Rivers doesn't see the need to carry a fourth point guard.
"Sometimes you get caught, where you get in one of these situations where two of your point guards are down," said Rivers. "Most teams only carry two point guards. I carried two my entire time in Orlando and was only burned one time for like four games."
Davis sees the absence of Payton as an opportunity. He feels comfortable handling the ball, despite limited practice time at point guard.
"The chance to bring it up and feed guys on offense is fun," said Davis. "It's cool. I'm prepared. I've got a handle on the ball. I know all the plays. At the right situations in the game, I know who to call and who to get shots. You still have to stay aggressive. You've just got to make the right decisions. Point guards make big decisions that can cost a game. You've got to be mentally prepared more than anything."
Rivers cautioned that New Orleans wasn't to be taken lightly, despite the 2-26 record it brought to town. "Everybody's dangerous to us," said Rivers. "They really are. We're not exactly setting the world on fire. I think we should be three or four games better than what we are right now. The realistic side of it is that we're not. Anybody can beat us and we've proven we can beat anybody." . . . The officiating crew dwindled to two when Ron Olesiak took ill and did not return after halftime . . . There was some interesting banter between Rivers and official Joe Forte after rookie Al Jefferson was called for a blocking foul. Rivers said to Jefferson, "Joe will give you a charge, Al. He likes you." Forte's response: "I like everybody. I spread love."