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Minutes Madness Continues

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A Daily Babble Production

If yesterday's game didn't provide the right opportunity for Doc Rivers to rest his star swingmen at the benefit of his youngsters, it's hard to imagine what will.

With their starting point guard a late addition to the ever-growing scratch list, the Celtics rolled out onto the New Garden floor a sleepy bunch on Sunday afternoon.  The Orlando Magic proceeded to wipe the floor with them in the first half, outscoring the Celtics 17-2 over a 6:30 span en route to building a 22-point lead that was cut to 18 before recess. 

During this time, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen sat for a total of less than five minutes (4:50) between them.  Rookies Bill Walker and J.R. Giddens along with second-year man Gabe Pruitt totaled 2:13 of playing time, all belonging to Pruitt. 

That was the extent of the rest for the stars and the run for the youngsters for the afternoon.  Pierce and Allen didn't sit a moment in the second half, totaling 45:23 and 45:47 of playing time respectively.

The second half, I can understand to an extent.  The Celtics made a big run in the fourth quarter and gave themselves a legitimate shot to pull the game out, cutting the lead as low as three and getting Ray Allen a look at a potential game-tying shot from the left corner in the final minute.  With such a small margin for error in the second half, one can understand Doc Rivers' reluctance to pull Pierce or Allen from the floor once the team made a concerted push to get back in the game.

All that is arguable.  Especially considering the Celtics' current injury situation, perhaps Rivers would be best served to pull the reins in on Allen and Pierce even in the latter stages of games.  Perhaps risking a few (and how much of a risk is two or three minutes for the youngsters at the beginning of the fourth quarter?) losses would be a reasonable price to pay for ensuring more consistent rest for the guys who absolutely need to be fresh come playoff time.  Homecourt is important, health more so.

However, this business in the first half just doesn't add up.  The Celts were getting killed.  They weren't doing anything right at either end of the floor.  The Magic's swingman-heavy lineup caused major defensive issues for the Celtics' second big man on the floor.  After a 15-point first quarter, the offense totaled seven points in the first half of the second.  It's hard to believe that a few minutes of Bill Walker trying his hand at the three or four or a couple of minutes of J.R. Giddens or Gabe Pruitt in the backcourt could have made this mess all that much worse. 

Sure, it's easy to say this in hindsight of a game the Celtics wound up losing anyway.  Perhaps the reaction here would have been a bit different if the C's had climbed all the way atop the mountain and won the game.  But as I watched the game and chatted with my buddy and fellow CB member Slick, the two of us spent the second quarter exchanging variations of "Why isn't Doc mixing this up and using this fiasco start to rest his guys a bit?," some more printable than others.  

Maybe if the young guys played even two or three minutes, the game would have gotten even more out of hand, and the Celtics never even would have had a chance to get back in the game.  But that is far from a certainty as there is a chance they could have provided an energy spark for the group as well.  What is definite is that a few minutes apiece would have been quality experience for those players and additional rest for Sugar Ray and The Truth.

I've resisted this topic for most of the season because I'm willing to trust that the coaching staff has a bit better idea of what it has than I do when it comes to unknown commodities only previously seen in practice, preseason and garbage time (not that the coaching staff doesn't have a better handle of the known commodities also, but I can at least fool myself into thinking I have a clue in those instances).  None of this is to say that the Celtics have the next Michael, Larry and Magic on the bench in Walker, Giddens and Pruitt.  In fact, it isn't even about my one-time goal of "seeing what we've got" anymore.  It's just about rest for the weary.  Because this is far from an isolated incident.

Paul Pierce has made multiple comments over the past month about the need to limit both his and Allen's minutes to prevent them from burning out down the stretch.  Given the Celtics' current health problems (add Rajon Rondo and Large Baby to the list that already included Kevin Garnett, Brian Scalabrine and Tony Allen), preserving the energy of the the two healthy All-Stars seems all the more imperative.  Last week, Doc publicly took responsibility for Pierce's insufficient rest after PP logged 41.1 minutes per game in the month of February.  Allen played a season-high 37.3 minutes per game that month as well.  Just five days before yesterday's disaster, Rivers pledged to use his rookies to hold the fort in brief stints until Allen and Scalabrine return.

I'll believe it when I see it.

Other thoughts from a difficult-to-watch loss:

  • Leon Powe, charge-drawer extraordinaire: four taken in the first half.  Wow.  He really does a fine job of getting to the spot and setting his body.  In addition, he seemed to be the only non-Ray Celtic with a pulse for much of the day, crashing the boards and scrapping for buckets and free throw attempts inside.  Another solid performance from The Show.
  • Ray played excellent basketball.  Not only did he lead the team with 32 points and nine rebounds, but his 17 fourth-quarter points were more than any other Celtic scored for the game.  While that paints a disheartening picture of the rest of the group's offensive output, credit Ray for putting this team on his back in the final period and doing nearly everything in his power to bring it all the way back.  Along the way, he had several pretty baby jumpers thanks to jump-stops and up-fakes in the paint.  He refused to give up on plays and followed up two of his own misses for offensive rebounds.  A fine game for the perennial All-Star.
  • I know it's early, but I can't shake the feeling that I'd rather light $378,683 on fire than pay it to Mikki Moore to play basketball, at least as far as the defensive end is concerned.  Yes, as mentioned earlier, Orlando's lineup creates match-up problems for the bigs not assigned to Dwight Howard.  That didn't make it any more pleasant to see Mikki once again getting blown by, not blocking, altering or discouraging shots, jumping at every fake and committing bad fouls.  He deserves some time to get acclimated to the Celtics' system, and I'm not writing him off (just in a particularly grouchy mood after the loss), but he sure is frustrating to watch right now.
  • Another sub-71 percent game from the foul line (17-for-24).  Textbook way for a team to help beat itself.
  • Infuriated Infant, welcome to the walking wounded.  Get well soon.
  • In the game's final minute, Leon Powe made illegal contact with Rashard Lewis and impeded his progress on a cut.  That's a foul.  And it was correctly called as such.
  • Highlight of the afternoon: Hearing the New Garden crowd triple its intensity level as the Celtics closed the gap late in the game.  The adrenaline rush that accompanies a big run for the home team never gets old.