It's a Pierce and Walker World

March 27, 2002

   WALTHAM - Less than 24 hours after becoming the first player besides Antoine Walker or Paul Pierce to lead the Celtics in scoring twice this season, Erick Strickland became synonymous with team depth. You don't often see the Celtics go deep into their bench. But Monday night was one of those games in which someone other than the cocaptains had to step up.

Just how rare an occurrence is that? Well, in 71 games, Pierce has led the Celtics in scoring 45 times; Walker has led the Celtics 24 times in scoring, 39 times in rebounding, and 33 times in assists.When Strickland led Boston with 23 points in Monday's 87-82 victory at Miami, it was the first time since Feb. 5, 1997, that someone other than Walker or Pierce had led the Celtics in scoring against the Heat. That night five years ago, Rick Fox dropped in 33 points.

The Celtics actually may have the depth they desire, but they seem to prefer keeping it stored like fine china, bringing it out only for special occasions.

"I'm not a believer in having to find minutes because a guy had a good game," said coach Jim O'Brien. "I think you earn your minutes over the course of a longer period of time. I would not get caught up in one game.

"That being said, I think Erick has given us a consistent effort. He's always been there defensively. And I'm going to put the best combination of players that I can on the court in any given situation. I'm very objective about that.

"Depth is never a problem. It's a luxury. It's only a problem for guys that have to go through the pain of maybe not playing as much as they would like to.

"But from the coach's standpoint, it's wonderful to have depth. I think the worst thing you can do with depth is try to please everybody. You have to go with the guys you think are going to win in that particular situation."

Sometimes that's easier said than done. Players who don't get the time to show what they can do often become sullen, instead of keeping themselves prepared. But Strickland, Eric Williams, and Walter McCarty have not let recent dramatic fluctuations in their playing time become a sore point. Rather, they have made the most of what O'Brien gives them.

"People don't understand how much these guys want to play," said O'Brien. "They're really very competitive little kids at heart, from the standpoint of just wanting to get out there and compete. They have a lot of pride.

"Another example of somebody who has been ready is Walter McCarty, who went through a long period of time where he wasn't getting much playing time. Now, he's getting more and more playing time.

"It's a credit to guys like that that they have that attitude. It really makes your whole franchise stronger because you don't have people pouting. That really decreases the energy, if you pout.

"If you just come and say, 'I'm going to work hard at practice, I'm going to work on my game, and if you call on me, I'm going to be ready,' I think that's a great attitude to have."

It's an important attitude to have as the playoffs approach. As the Celtics were reminded Monday night, you never know what you will need to win a game.

. . .

Tony Battie sat out practice yesterday with swelling behind his right knee that is related to the small right calf tear he suffered a little more than a month ago. O'Brien expects his center to be ready to go tonight against Golden State . . . The game against the Heat April 10 at the FleetCenter has been moved back from 7 to 8 p.m. because TBS decided to carry it. It's the third Celtics game in a week that has been rescheduled because of national TV considerations. Last Sunday's Celtics game was moved up to noon for NBC, and this Sunday's Bucks game likewise will start at noon for NBC.

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