The Catch 22 for Bradley and Doc

Avery Bradley desperately needs practice, a lot of practice. . At this point in Bradley’s development he could really use two weeks of constant play in Maine and two weeks of constant practice with the Celtics.  On the other hand Doc has zero healthy point guards (if you consider that Avery is still not at 100% after his off-season ankle surgery). Rondo is playing through pain and the word is that he played so long Wednesday night because he was afraid he couldn’t come back in if he left and cooled down. Since Nate was already sidelined with a sore foot, the cupboard was about bare and Doc’s options were down to the inexperienced Bradley who can only run a small portion of the offense, robbing small forward to let Marquis or Paul play out-of-position at the one, or letting Rajon gut it out. And you can be pretty positive that Avery isn’t going to get any team practices in the one day off before playing Chicago, or Saturday before New Jersey on Sunday. In fact Tuesday is the only likely practice day in the next 10 days. So like last Sunday when Avery came in for a chalk talk practice, or Monday when the second unit came in for a session before the starters arrived, or maybe some cramming in the back of the team plane, Avery Bradley is what he is, the closest to healthy and farthest from ready point guard available. Learn quickly Rook, the team may need you any moment.

The Catch 22 for Rivers doesn’t stop with his rookie point guard. Doc rather consistently comments of the essential nature of practice to avoid slippage in the team’s execution of both offensive and defensive schemes. The team’s list of healthy players under 30 is down to
Davis, Wafer, Daniels, and Harangody. With the busy schedule of the regular season, a good day to practice comes along about once every two weeks. Rest, healing, and practice are mutually incompatible needs. Likely Rivers will continue to teeter atop the fence giving his aging vets as much rest as possible, tutoring the rookies at every opportunity, and tightening up the schemes in the rare practice days available. He’ll continue tapping the brave performance of his rookie center, hoping he can hold up until J.O. and/or Perk make it back. He will continue to play Bradley spot minutes trying to spell his injured points without crushing his rookie’s spirit by letting him struggle to much in his currently half-ready state. He will continue to give Von Wafer small spurts of minutes in hopes he comes around to a consistent defensive effort and some kind of balance between his own offense and that of the team.

Under other circumstances there might be three Celtics’ rookies playing with the Red Claws right now. The problem is that Boston is struggling to put twelve healthy bodies on the bench each game. Most of the time there are one or two in short pants (and wrappings, tape, and/or braces) that Doc hopes he doesn’t have to play. Instead of the hoped for 10-man rotation, Rivers is cobbling together a make-shift 8- or 9-man grouping to get through the night. This has meant longer minutes for his aging veterans than he, or they, or we would like. The second unit that regularly extended leads in preseason now regularly gives them up. Too often the fourth quarter is more nail-biting time than garbage minutes. The stellar record of the 2010-11 Celtics speaks volumes to Doc’s making do with what he has available for any given game. It trumpets the value of the Celtics’ system of spreading the load and trusting your teammates. And it should make us all appreciate the surprising contributions of the Big Shamrock and the Turkish Tornado, both of whom were expected to be bit players going into the season. Finally it should leave us in awe of the Big Three, no make that the Big Four, fighting the good fight—not always hitting on all cylinders but fighting gamely, gutting it out in crunch time, and often making the critical shot even on a rough night (Allen was 2 for 11 before draining his game-clinching 3-pointer with seconds to go).

I fully expect Rivers to continue his successful navigation of the iceberg laden waters of the NBA schedule in spite of the biggest impact on his game plan often coming from the trainer’s room report. Sometimes it seems he must be doing it with smoke and mirrors. Consider the injury list going in to the Friday game against Chicago (who is hoping to make a run with the return of Gooden)—Center: Perkins-out indefinitely, J. O’Neal-out indefinitely, Erden-labrum; Guard: D. West-out indefinitely, Bradley-ankle, Rondo-hamstring, foot, Robinson-foot. By my reckoning that is nearly half the team out or at reduced effectiveness. And that is not mentioning the bodies of four thirty-something starters who you know are stiff and sore after the back-to-back’s with long minutes to put away the Trailblazers. Consummate pro’s that they are, none will mention their aches and pains, and when some reporter brings it up, they will respond with “It’s a long season and everybody plays with a few dings.” And come Friday night they will march out onto the floor and grind down another “younger” team. Isn’t it nice to have heroes that you can truly admire?