WALTHAM — The Celtics have lost the bench battle in the first three games of the season. And Jason Terry is hoping to even that score in games against Washington, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee this week.
“That’s frustrating and I’ll take that squarely upon my shoulders,” Terry said of the Celtics’ reserves having been outscored, 131-87.
“And this is a new week. I’m looking to, hopefully, we can get three consecutive games outscoring their bench. We’ll see what happens but that’s the goal. We try to take it game by game but we’ll take it week by week. Last week was a disappointing one for us but this is an opportunity and that’s the beauty of it.”
Said coach Doc Rivers: “They have to become a team. I keep telling you guys, just because you bring guys together doesn’t mean they’re going to play well right away. It’s just going to take time. The bench is nowhere near where they need to be or where they, hopefully, will be. That’s not a concern, that’s just being realistic.”
The Celtics finally found a winning formula in their third game of the regular season, an 89-86 victory against Washington, but they are still performing below expectations, according to Rivers.
“We had a great first half in Washington, that is what we needed to see,” Rivers said after practice Monday. “But we didn’t sustain it and I just think everyone is starting to figure out to be a good team you’ve got to actually work at it. It’s hard work and you don’t just show up, because you’ve got good names on a piece of paper, and become good. You have to work at it, you have to work hard at it, and it’s exhausting.”
The Celtics host the Wizards Wednesday. They are surrendering 101.7 points per game and opponents are shooting 48.1 percent from the field.
“I thought we played defense,” Rivers said of Saturday night’s game against the Wizards. “We got into the ball, there was pressure. I mean, the first seven, eight minutes they struggled to get a shot off, let alone score a basket. But then, as the game went on, you could see us slowly moving away from it. And I don’t know if that’s breaking old habits from other places or that’s conditioning. When you watch it on film, you think it’s a little bit of both.”
The Celtics concluded their workout with a no-dribble, halfcourt scrimmage. Asked about conditioning, Rivers replied: “It’s a good drill at the end of practice, it’s good conditioning, too. Clearly, execution of it wasn’t very good. I don’t know, I think we’re better, have to keep getting better.
“I think we’re in good enough condition to be a good defensive team. I think that’s more of the buy-in and trust and communication. I’m not that concerned about rotations and that stuff. Like I say, only five guys can play at a time and then, Kevin’s going to be the same and the big that takes his spot — it’s not that difficult. But the more important thing is finding the right group with each other.”
Terry is averaging 8.7 points per game on 38.1 percent field goal shooting.
“No question, it’s a work in progress,” Terry said. “I stay optimistic. I’m going to score, I’m going to figure it out — believe me when I tell you I’m going to shoot the ball and take advantage of every opportunity.
“That [win over Washington] was big for us, but it’s not always about the end result. We’re looking to try to play 48 minutes of good basketball and if that results into a win, which, the majority of the time it should, then we like it. But if we go out there and play a game like we did last game, where we have a 25-point lead, they come back, and we have to close it out with a tough, grind-it-out game, and we get the win — we like the result but, the way we got it, we think we’re much better than that.
“We’re not going to take too much away from it. If any one thing, it’s that we have to play 48 minutes. We have to play Celtic basketball, which means defensively setting the tempo, getting up into people, being strong, being physical. We did that for about a half there in D.C. Obviously, we let them back in the game because it wasn’t a full 48 minutes of that. It’s a work in progress. We’re nowhere near where we’re going to be come April.”
Terry was among the Celtics who arrived for workouts in early September, hoping the team would get a headstart on the opposition.
“No question, we thought it would be a lot smoother,” Terry said. “But, again, it isn’t as easy as you think a lot of times. It’s good we’re going through it and what we’re going to do is look back on this journey and say that we had to go through something. This is definitely challenging. For me, I have higher expectations for my performance and we’ll get there.”
Other potential contenders have been struggling, also.
“They got new pieces,” Terry said of those teams. “Even Oklahoma, what they did — made a trade right before they got started — so there’s an adjustment period here for everyone involved.
“We’d like for it to happen fast but sometimes you’ve got to do things slowly, just so you get every little, small detail. And that’s why we’re working hard, trying to shore up the things that we know we’re going to need down the stretch. And that’s setting good picks, little things, getting each other open, knowing who we want to get the ball to, and defensively, knowing your assignment and executing within the system.”
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Rajon Rondo is averaging 41:30 of playing time per game.
“I’m concerned, not as far as him getting tired, but I don’t want him to save himself on the floor,” Rivers said. “So, there’s a minutes number for him, we don’t know what it is, where he can play his minutes at a full pace — instead of knowing he’s going to be on the floor too long and then he starts pacing himself. We need him to be a fast, quick, aggressive player. I think it’s in the 39s, 38s, not that much lower than 40, but in that area.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.