The news Wednesday from the Celtics, other than their 119-95 blowout win over the Kings (click here for a full recap), was that Kevin Garnett would probably miss another game before hopefully returning to the court Monday when the Celtics have a showdown game with the Orlando Magic.
Garnett’s setback wasn’t totally unexpected. He didn’t practice Tuesday and while there’s a chance he could show his readiness Thursday in practice, Doc Rivers is taking the long view with Garnett.
He’s doing so knowing that concern will only continue to grow as long as Garnett is held out. Just like it did two years ago and just like it did last winter. That’s inconvenient, but it’s also no reason to push a player back before he’s ready to play, especially one as important in the big picture as Garnett.
“There’s no conspiracy here or anything like that,” Rivers said. “He’s just taking a little longer than we wanted it to, but it’s not a big deal.”
Almost buried beneath the mounting Garnett speculation is another injury that may prove even more worrisome. (Assuming, of course, that everything the Celtics have said about Garnett’s calf strain winds up being the case). That would be Jermaine O’Neal who missed Wednesday’s game after his knee swelled up.
“I’m concerned,” Rivers said. “He’s [played three] weeks now and a practice and his knee swelled up. First of all it has to be extremely frustrating for him because he worked his butt off to get back and he was playing well. And secondly, we all have common sense. That’s a concern. Why is this happening? We have to figure that out.”
O’Neal missed 19 games because of his knee and didn’t exactly endear himself to the Garden faithful with his extended absence. But when he returned he gave the Celtics a much-needed shot-blocking presence and a defensive anchor for the second unit.
For better or worse, the Celtics need Jermaine O’Neal to be functioning this spring. If his knee injury is going to be a constant concern, then that is a very big deal for the Celtics because they still don’t know what Kendrick Perkins will be able to give them when he comes back and Shaquille O’Neal’s play has tapered off dramatically since late December.
Rivers had a plan for the O’Neals, but it has already been blown up and modified as the injuries have mounted and lingered. “We had a strategy going into the year with Jermaine and Shaq, but we didn’t account for the other guys going down,” Rivers said. “That’s where it kind of got a little dicey and still is.”
The Celtics need three centers for the playoffs and for the time being they have two. Both of whom, it should be pointed out, have their own injuries. That’s their biggest concern right now. Not Garnett.
Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s game:
SEMIH ERDEN TO THE RESCUE
There’s a lot the Celtics still don’t know about their rookie center from Turkey. They don’t know how much his balky shoulder is affecting his play because they don’t have a track record to base it on. They also don’t know if Erden will become a solid rebounder. His numbers on the glass have been underwhelming, but he had a career-high eight against the Kings.
“I don’t know yet,” Rivers said. “I think he can. We don’t really know how much the shoulder affects him with rebounding and stuff like that. He’s a rookie. He’s learning that the NBA is a hard league and you have to play hard every night.”
Erden also matched a career-high with 10 points and also logged 33 minutes because Shaquille O’Neal once again spent the night in foul trouble. Erden didn’t know that his number would be called. No one did. His performance under those circumstances was particularly pleasing to Rivers.
“The two things are is he was ready, which is the most important thing,” Rivers said. “The other thing, it’s tough for him because he didn’t know, hell I didn’t know. It’s a good job by him especially for a young player. Most young players, they would think I’m not playing today and not come with the right mental approach.”
The more they learn about him, the more there is to like and his importance will only continue to grow as long as O’Neal remains sidetracked.
PAUL PIERCE DOES HIS CAPTAIN THING
Early on it looked like Paul Pierce was ready to channel his 2002 self and take this game over by himself. He scored 15 points in the first quarter and there was literally no one on the Kings who could guard him.
Pierce finished with 25 points in 26 minutes of action. He shot 10-for-14, grabbed six rebounds, dished three assists and had four steals. He also locked down Francisco Garcia and held him to seven points on 3-for-9 shooting.
“Paul knew last game that none of us as a group came with the right mental approach,” Rivers said. “That’s what leaders have to do and that’s what he did.”
Pierce didn’t talk after the game. Neither did Ray Allen or Shaquille O’Neal. In some ways he let his play do the talking for him because that was exactly the kind of effort the Celtics needed the last few games.
THIRD QUARTER AWAKENING
After a first half in which the Celtics couldn’t make layups and couldn’t stop sending Carl Landry to the free throw line, they came out and made sure the Kings put away any thoughts on a comeback.
The Celtics outscored Sacramento 33-18 in the third quarter, outrebounded them 10-5 and made 15-of-21 shots on 10 assists. Eight different Celtics scored in the third quarters. None of them had more than six points or five shots.
Credit Rajon Rondo and Nate Robinson with the shot distribution. “I complimented Nate and Rondo because the shots were everywhere,” Rivers said.
Additionally, the Celtics clamped down on defense.
“We have been lacking the last couple of games,” Robinson said. “As a team we dug down deep. We were like, ‘We have to rebound and get stops and run.’ We did that and got a lot of easy buckets tonight.”
The Celtics needed this one. No matter that they were playing a bad west coast team that arrived at 3:30 in the morning after playing overtime the night before. That’s just semantics. As the injuries pile up and the best-laid plans are torn asunder, they’re searching for any bit of good news.