Celtics' practices have notoriously been very intense. I remember Glen Davis talking about how scrimmages were sometimes harder than games because everybody knew the sets and players' tendencies. After five straight days of implementing the team's offensive and defensive system, Doc let the players go at it a day before their first pre-season game against Fenerbahce Ulker.
Check out Celtics.com's play-by-play of today's "games":
Game 1 – 6 minutes
Dionte Christmas banged in a 3-pointer from the top of the key – off the glass, no less – to help the third unit win the first game by a score of 14-11. The first-second unit hybrid team had a chance to tie the game on the final possession, but Pierce and Rajon Rondo each missed 3-pointers.
Game 2 – 6 minutes
The first-second unit must have been motivated from that loss in Game 1, because it came back strong in Game 2. Boston’s top players won the second contest by a score of 12-8, and Milicic shined toward the end of the matchup by successfully defending guard Dionte Christmas on the perimeter, then blocking his shot attempt, to seal the win.
Game 3 – 1 minute
Rivers created a situational contest by putting one minute on the clock and giving the third unit an 86-83 lead. Garnett began the game by making just one of four free throws (he actually should have shot 0-of-4 from the line, but he capitalized on a lane violation by Fab Melo) to bring the score to 86-84. After that performance, Rivers joked to Garnett that, "They’ll be coming out with hack-a-Garnett pretty soon."
Jamar Smith made a free throw for the third unit to make it 87-84, and then Rondo was put on the line with just a few seconds left in the game. He made the first shot, then attempted to miss the second, but the shot accidentally fell through the net to make it 87-86. Rondo nearly stole the inbounds pass to Kris Joseph, but Joseph corralled the pass and kicked it ahead to Christmas, who dribbled out the clock to give the third unit a 2-1 series advantage.
Game 4 – 4 minutes
Rivers put four minutes on the clock and instructed his players that they would be drawing up the plays during timeouts. Jason Terry drew up the first play for the first-second unit, which led to a wide-open jumper for Garnett. Terry would score on his unit’s next possession to make it 4-0, and then Rob Kurz scored on a driving layup for the third unit to make it 4-2.
Then the highlight came.
Rondo drew up a play during a timeout and it worked to perfection. Jeff Green ducked to the basket and caught a perfect pass from a teammate and slammed home a reverse dunk that got some teammates fired up. Pierce tacked on a free throw to make it a 7-2 game, and that was the final score.
It's great to hear that the scrimmages we're competitive and that the team wasn't just going through the motions. I'm not even sure that's possible with Rondo and KG on the floor. There are a few insights to what Garnett calls "Hump Day." First, the first unit was comprised of the starters plus Jason Terry, Jeff Green, and Darko Milicic. The first two are a given, but Darko's inclusion is important to note. Even though Chris Wilcox sat out with a strained back, it's clear that Milicic has leap-frogged Jason Collins in the depth chart and might be used before rookies Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo. As Peter May points out, Darko is taking advantage of his "seventh fresh start." As he's said, he's no longer trying to prove himself as the second pick of the draft, but instead focusing on how he can contribute to a championship while working withing the framework of his talents and the Celtics' needs.
"I tell him every day, 'You're no longer Darko. You're a Celtic,' Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "And one day, we asked him what his name was and he said, 'Celtic.' And everyone just started laughing. All I'm trying to do is get him to forget about trying to be something he isn't -- and just be someone for the team."
Rivers added, "He's got a lot of stuff on his shoulders and we're trying to unload all of that. You go in front of Carmelo and all you're going to do is hear that. That can get old. We're trying to get him to move out of that."
What's helped is that he's been very receptive to Garnett's tutelage and looking to fill that very specific role on this team:
"I'm excited to learn from him, but I'm excited to learn from everybody else, too,'' Milicic said of Garnett. "That's what Boston is all about. It's not about one guy. It's about everybody. Whatever my job is going to be -- if I have to get into the game and kill somebody, I kill him."
Garnett said he has been a Milicic fan for a long time and that he was eager to introduce the center to the so-called "Celtic Way." He sees what Danny Ainge saw when Ainge made the offer (a one-year deal) to Milicic. He sees what Rivers sees. There is talent in there.
"Right now, he probably lacks a little bit of self-confidence,'' Garnett said. "And I will help with that. I'll do as much as I can to influence him and encourage him. But it's going to take something from him, too. He's never been around a team like this. He's never been around guys like this. He's never been in a situation where there is so much energy and encouragement."
I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but it sounds like Garnett is using Darko's surly disposition to the team's advantage and molding him into an enforcer. It worked with Kendrick Perkins and it might work with Darko Milicic. We'll have to wait and see, but so far, it looks promising. As talented and deep as the Celtics look on paper, they still lack that meanness and gritty swagger that that 2007-2008 championship team had. With Perk and Posey, every night was a dog fight and the more guys you can have on your bench that are going to do the dirty work, the better.
It's also huge that the second and third teams are staying competitive with the first team. In those four game scenarios, they split the series 2-2. It's hard to say how that projects for the rest of this season; can guys like Dionte Christmas, Jared Sullinger, Fab Melo, Kris Joseph, and Jamar Smith crack the lineup or will they continue to showcase their talent in practice and in Maine? Barring injury, the team is two-deep with veterans at every position and coupled with the fact that Doc rarely plays young guys, the rookies just might have to wait another year, but that's OK. Unlike some of the other powerhouses in the league, the Celtics have a farm system in place for the future. With his career winding down and an eye for a possible move to the front office when his playing years are over, it's a position that The Captain appreciates:
"When you have a third team that can come out there and push the first unit and the second unit, it's only going to make your team better," said Paul Pierce. "Usually your third team is the team that's always getting blown out, losing every game, but that's not going to be the case here."
And that future could be coming sooner rather than later with Rondo and Garnett showing off their football skills after practice:
Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 4, 2012
Chris Wilcox (back) misses third straight practice. KG finishes by hitting Rondo with 90-foot pass, using football. Tight spiral, too.— Mark Murphy (@Murf56) October 4, 2012