By A. Sherrod Blakely
WALTHAM Before the season kicked off, Celtics coach Doc Rivers had a pretty good feeling that he would be down a big man or two at some point.
But Rivers never saw this coming.
Roll call, please.
Kevin Garnett has missed eight straight games - and counting - with a right calf strain.
Jermaine O'Neal has soreness in his left knee that has limited him to just 17 games played this season. It's to the point now where the Celtics' big man is considering additional surgery on the knee.
Rookie center Semih Erden has battled a series of injuries all season, but is now being limited by a sore groin injury that may keep him out of Friday night's game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
"Hey, it's what we are," said Rivers.
When you throw Kendrick Perkins into the mix of injured Celtics big men, you get a vision of a team that has shown amazing resiliency, all things considered.
But it also speaks to the high-stakes gamble Danny Ainge and the Celtics took this summer in assembling this roster.
When most of the elite teams in the NBA bolstered their rosters with younger, more athletic talent on the perimeter, the C's mindset could not have been any more different.
In addition to re-signing veterans Paul Pierce, 33, and Ray Allen, 35, the Celtics also beefed up their front line with the additions of Jermaine O'Neal, 32, and Shaquille O'Neal who at 38 years of age, is the oldest player in the NBA.
There's no disputing the team's success thus far this season.
Boston (29-9) has had the best record in the Eastern Conference for most of the season, and the C's have done it basically with a patch-work lineup of veterans who have been in and out of the lineup because of injuries.
"We knew our big guys would not play every game," Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, told CSNNE.com in an interview earlier this month. "We needed a whole team of centers to get through the year, especially with Perk's condition. That's sort of panning out."
But even Ainge could not have anticipated the depth of this team at center, would be tested so mightily, so quickly.
"It started happening a little earlier than we hoped," he said.
While the goal is clearly to be as healthy as possible when the postseason arrives, that challenge becomes even more daunting with each passing day with the team's injury total seemingly on the rise.
Boston did get some good news - sort of - on Thursday.
Garnett was able to participate in more than half of the team's practice, which was the most he has done with the C's since suffering his lower leg injury at Detroit on Dec. 29. The C's had initially anticipated he would return by Wednesday's victory over Sacramento, but the team is content on keeping him sidelined for at least one more game.
"He looked pretty good," Rivers said of Garnett's practice. "Besides his wind and stuff, his movement was very good. I want to see him in another practice. He's getting close."
The same can not be said for O'Neal, whose left knee may require surgery.
Appearing on WEEI's Dale and Holley show on Thursday, O'Neal said surgery "was definitely something that we talked about the first time I was out for an extended period of time."
The Celtics kept him out of action for six weeks to rest the left knee.
He was only able to return for two weeks before the knee began giving him the problems that now have his future up in the air.
O'Neal said that surgery is something that will get done, either in-season or during the offseason.
"You don't want to miss an extended period of time," O'Neal said. "I already did that. So, you make your decisions as a player. You listen to the staff, and if they have a certain way, then you try that. And if that doesn't work, you've got to go with the next-best scenario."
With his status up in the air, Rivers was asked if the Celtics might look outside of their current 15-man roster for help in the frontcourt.
"We have 15 players, so right now we probably wouldn't do that," Rivers said.
The plan is to treat this setback just like they've treated previous ones - ride it out until some of the injured bodies get healthy.
"We've been dealing with this all season, so it's not that big a deal to us," Boston's Marquis Daniels told CSNNE.com. "We're here for each other, pick each other up when we're down. But when one man goes down, that means somebody else has to step up. It's been like that all season for us."
Yes, it does seem a bit risky to bank on players continuing to step up when teammates are down.
But it's a risk that the Celtics are more than willing to take as they continue to focus on one thing -- Banner 18.