By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
The Time Is Now for Celtics’ Reserves
BOSTON, MA.—If Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers expect the Celtics to have a successful season – which means advancing to the playoffs and not getting swept – then they are going to need quality minutes from a group of four players who are all under 23 years of age: point guard Marcus Banks, who is the eldest of the young guns at 23; rookie Tony Allen (22); 2nd year player Kendrick Perkins (20); and rookie Al Jefferson (19).
Aside: Celtics also have rookie Justin Reed (22) on the roster. Reed has seen a total of 14 minutes of action since making his NBA debut on November 23rd. And with a roster full of swingman, Reed won’t log much more throughout the rest of the season.
Doc has no other choice but to play the young guys now. And he knows it. Give them the experience while it’s still early in the season. Picture Doc not playing not playing the youngins’ at all. Picture the starters all broke up at the end of the season – especially Raef LaFrentz – because they’ve been averaging 40 minutes a game. Now picture Doc trying to fit the young group into an injury-plagued lineup as the Celtics fight for the eighth spot and the right to play in May. Rivers has the foresight to see such a picture, which is why he’s throwing the group into the fire now and giving them the burn. He wants them to bloom in the springtime.
CelticsNation got their wish and Al Jefferson got the shock of his career – which adds up to this season – when Doc inserted the Emerald Jefferson into the starting lineup against the Knicks on December 22nd in place of the injured Raef LaFrentz, (sprained left ankle).
“He (Coach Rivers) said, ‘You know you starting tonight?’ and I said, ‘I know now,’ revealed Jefferson after the 114-109 victory against New York.
CelticNation have been anticipating the day when they would see the Emerald announced in the starting five. And with injuries to LaFrentz and Tom Gugliotta, Doc had no other choice but to look to his rough gem. “Of course, I would like to start every game but I take it day by day,” said Jefferson. “I hope that (somebody like) Mark (Blount) or Raef (LaFrentz) don’t ever get hurt so I don’t have to take their spot and start. But if they do, I want Doc to know that I got his back.”
The Emerald took advantage of the promotion by scoring 12 points and was 4-for-7 from the field. Jefferson also added five rebounds (two offensive rebounds), a blocked shot, and only committed one turnover in the 20 minutes that he logged – the turnover is the most impressive stat to your writer seeing how the kid was playing varsity high school basketball just last year.
Injuries to the frontcourt also opened the door for seldom seen Kendrick Perkins, as the Big Perk recorded a career-high 25 minutes against New York. Prior to Wednesday’s game, Perkins’ previous season-high was eight minutes. He accomplished that feat twice: once against the Knicks on November 6th and a second time against Sacramento on December 5th. “I’ve been saying that you’re going to see Kendrick sooner than later,” said Coach Doc Rivers. “I’ve said it the last two games because he’s been picking up his play in practice. But I can tell you with confidence that you were going to see him anyway.”
Perkins responded to the extended time that he had on the floor by grabbing a career-high, 13 rebounds (three from the offensive end). When asked about his comments on being the team’s leading rebounder for the game, Perkins nonchalantly said with confidence, “I should have had 20 rebounds. I missed a lot of them though. But I think it was a good start.”
Doc even trusted Marcus Banks enough to keep him on the floor during the closing minutes of the fourth quarter against New York when the game was still on the line. To the delight of Coach Rivers, Banks obliged by coming up with back-to-back drives on Jamal Crawford to give the Celts a three point cushion (89-86). He did show immaturity when he went to the well too often and drew an offensive foul while trying to take Stephon Marbury. But he later came up with a steal and converted two free throws (96-87), outhustled Marbury for a loose ball, which led to a Paul Pierce slam (98-87) and then converted a shot from the deep end to give Boston a 104-93 lead. The Knicks managed to stage a comeback but the Celts were able to hold them off and Banks was on the floor the whole time.
“Marcus Banks was terrific,” Doc complimented. “He’s been running the pick-n-roll the way we’ve been trying to. And with his speed, instead of playing around with the ball and dancing, today (against the Knicks) he came off the screen and used his speed. That’s to his advantage and he did a great job of that.”
“It’s a confidence builder for me because I haven’t really been put in too many situations where I finish the game,” explained Banks. “But today we came away with the victory; I finished the game out; and it gives me the confidence … if I get the chance again, the opportunity, I’m going to do everything in my power to finish out the same way.”
If the game against the Knicks was any indication of things to come, CelticNation will be more anxious than a toddler on Christmas Eve for the young players to realize their potential and the young guns are just as anxious to show the world that they belong in the League. “Most of the time I’m just really anxious,” explained Banks. “That’s why I get out and I’ll be really really sped up because I want to do so well. And I’m worried about trying to impress the coach so I can stay on the floor instead of just going out there and settling down and playing the game that I am capable of.”
All the young ones realize that the key to their success is patience, observing the veterans, listening to the coaches, and constantly trying to improve their game. Of the four young players, the road has been the toughest for Kendrick Perkins. After being selected by the Celtics as the 27th player picked in the 2003 NBA draft, the Texas native could only manage to log an average of 3.5 minutes per game in the 10 games that he appeared in 2003. For the rest of the year, he was on that sham the NBA calls the “injury list”. And now that the Emerald Al Jefferson is on board, Big Perk has been forced to watch the rookie receive minutes ahead of him. “It was hard,” admitted Perkins. “But, like I told somebody, I had to stay positive and focused. I had to stay ready. If I play two minutes I’m going to give them a reason to play me four. It’s kind of hard when he only gives you two minutes. But when he gives you your time to shine, you just got to go after it.”
“I talked to Doc like a week ago,” added Perkins. “He told me what I need to do. I probably should have done it earlier in the year anyway. I probably would’ve gotten on the court a lot faster. But I went and asked him what I needed to do to get on the court and he told me ‘defend and rebound.’ So that’s what I’m going to do.
Perkins showed his determination for getting on the court early when he showed up to training camp. “My body fat was like 26 or 27% (last year). I got it down to like 14%,” he boasted.
When asked if he can feel the difference, he responded by saying, “Yeah, I can. When I’m running up the court, I feel a whole lot better. I think last year was the best thing for me sitting out. You know I seen a lot and learned a lot.”
“Every day we’re learning more and more about each other,” added Banks. “We’re starting to play more and more together. We’re starting to understand the more we play together (as a team), the better the outcome.”
The chemistry that is starting to be built on the court actually started off the court. “We’re friends,” says Banks. “At first it was just business but now we’re having lunch and dinner together.”
Doc knows the young players are going to make a ton of turnovers and mental mistakes. But you can’t imagine how hard it must be to give the kids some slack when you have somebody like Kendrick Perkins faking a pass to Paul Pierce – of all people – then clanking a 13-footer off of the rim while Boston was clinging to a 101-91 cushion with only 4:52 remaining in the game. The mental lapse caused Doc to jump from his seat and give Perkins a verbal chastising that I’m sure he is all too familiar with by now. “I thought I might come out the game,” Big Perk admitted. “Because he said to me, ‘Let me introduce you to your teammate. This is Paul Pierce over there.’ I told him, ‘My bad coach. I just got caught up in the moment.’
When asked to comment on Perkins’ play, Doc responded: “He had one bad play to me and that has been the reason that he hasn’t been playing. When he caught the ball, he should have swung it to Paul. Instead he pump faked to Paul Pierce and went on his own. And I told him, ‘Nobody is ever going to remember you at this point in your age for your offense. They’re going to all remember you for your defense and your shot blocks and your rebounds. You do that well and they’ll (the media) write about you.’
“I think we’re going to be pretty good. I really do,” predicts Doc Rivers. “Our young guys are very good basketball players but they’re going to be young. You look at Perk: he had a couple of turnovers where he brought the ball down. It’s what you teach early on until they keep doing it. With those long arms, he should never bring the ball down. You look at Al (Jefferson) a couple of times getting lost in the pick-n-roll coverage. But then you look at all the good things that they do. The more minutes they play … they’re all going to keep getting better. The one thing I will say about this team is that we’re going to be better later. Other teams that we’re playing are who they are right now. And they might get a little bit better but I think we’re going to get a lot better.”