Celtics currently losing their veteran gamble

191544.jpg

Celtics currently losing their veteran gamble

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

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.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn.

Bradley could miss 'a little more time' with Achilles injury

Bradley could miss 'a little more time' with Achilles injury

BOSTON – Wednesday’s 117-106 loss to the New York Knicks was the fifth time in the last six games that Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley was out because of a right Achilles injury.

Well, it appears the 6-foot-2 guard may miss a few more with this injury.

“I can see him missing a little more time,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said following Wednesday’s loss. “I just think maybe he came back a little bit too early, whatever the case may be.”

Bradley was expected to play against the Knicks, but was a last-minute scratch.

Celtics big man Al Horford said he didn’t find out Bradley was out until the team was on the floor doing pre-game warmups and he didn’t see him.

“He was really sore,” Stevens said of Bradley. “Went through our walk-through and then came on to the court and did some stuff and was more sore today than he has been. I think he did treatment the whole game.”

This latest setback for Bradley is part of a growing narrative that has dogged him throughout his career which has included him missing games to injury in each of his six-plus NBA seasons.

Bradley came into this season once again hoping to be as injury-free as possible, only to see that dream dashed with this right Achilles strain he's suffering with currently.

Still, there’s no downplaying the significance and value the Celtics have in the 26-year-old. This season, he is second on the Celtics in scoring at 17.7 points per game and leads them in rebounds with 6.9 per game with both being career highs. In addition, he averages just under 35 minutes per game which is also tops on the team.

Marcus Smart has been Stevens’ choice to replace Bradley in the starting lineup when Bradley has been unavailable, and that’s not likely to change between now and Saturday’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Horford on rough night vs. Knicks: 'They deserved to win. They played better'

Horford on rough night vs. Knicks: 'They deserved to win. They played better'

BOSTON – With the night’s outcome all but a foregone conclusion, Al Horford’s last basket of the night got a sarcastic round of applause and a few jeers from the few fans that decided to stick it out for the final few seconds of Boston’s 117-106 loss to the New York Knicks.

Horford finished with a season-low five points for the Celtics (26-16).

Connecting on just 2-for-14 (or 14.3 percent) of his shots also represented the worst shooting night percentage-wise in Horford’s nine-plus NBA seasons.

“I struggled bad offensively,” said Horford who still managed to dish out a game-high 10 assists. “I tried to do anything I could to help us. It just wasn’t going for me.”

But as poorly as Horford shot the ball, he was more bothered by his defense and for that matter the Celtics’ team defense.

New York came into Wednesday’s game having lost 11 of its last 13 games and spent most of the night playing like a team that’s thirsty for a win.

They shot 50.5 percent from the floor, 40 percent on 3’s and dominated the glass 57-33 which helped fuel New York’s 24-12 advantage in second-chance points.

“We have to do a better job of holding teams to one shot,” Horford said. “That’s the first thing. I have to do a better job at protecting the rim. I know I can recall a couple instances where I needed to be there and I wasn’t impacting the ball as much as I would like to. I know I have to be better on the defensive end.”

Horford’s struggles on many levels mirrored the problems experienced by the rest of the Celtics.

“They punked us,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who led all scorers with 39 points. “They were the harder playing team on both ends of the floor. That was the definition of this game; they played harder than us.”

For most of the night, the New York Knicks were making all the big plays defensively and clutch shots offensively while the Celtics consistently failed to get that one defensive stop or knock down the one jumper that could have at least shifted the game’s momentum closer to being in their favor.

Boston rookie Jaylen Brown believes the Celtics didn’t take the struggling Knicks as seriously as they should have.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Brown who came off the bench to score 12 points for Boston (26-16). “It’s a game we should have won. We underestimated our opponent. We are a better team than that even though we played bad we still had a lot of opportunities to win the ball game.”

Horford had a different take on how things went down on Wednesday.

“I don’t think we overlooked them,” Horford said. “But I think we kind of … consciously or not, we felt we were going to win this game like, ‘We’ll struggle a little bit, but we’ll figure it out and win it.’ It didn’t work like that. In the fourth, we were right there. They made a couple shots. They deserved to win. They played better.”

And as the Celtics found themselves on multiple occasions having a chance to tie the game or take the lead in the fourth, it would have been fool’s good if they somehow managed to squeak out a win on Wednesday night.

“We didn’t deserve it,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder who had 21 points. “When you don’t deserve it, the basketball gods don’t bless you.”

But there’s plenty of season left to be played, and the Celtics – as we saw on Wednesday – have plenty of room for improvement.

Especially Horford, particularly when it comes to getting back on track shooting the ball.

“It was at the point where I didn’t have it,” he said. “That was tough. So I tried to impact the game in other ways whether it was setting screens or giving people shots, stuff like that. That was definitely tough for me because they were good looks. They just didn’t go in.”