WALTHAM — The Celtics might have reached a turning point in what has been a frustrating adjustment period. They have shown somewhat shocking signs of vulnerability in getting off to a 1-2 start, including their first double-digit loss in a home opener in 13 years.
But Kevin Garnett has been seeing progress as the Celtics prepare for Wednesday night’s game against the Washington Wizards.
“I think, as far as our system and guys getting our system, we’re still a work in progress,” Garnett said after practice Tuesday. “Continuity-wise, as a whole, I don’t think we’re where we want to be, obviously. But, you know, we put in a new system, new guys. You’ve got to expect there’s going to be some type of bumps in the road, and we’re no different from that.
“The last two days, we’ve been playing with an edge, and it’s just about consistency. I’m always worried about the consistency with this team and where we are with some of our habits. When you stay with those consistencies and when you get away from them — it’s all about consistency.”
Garnett delivered a motivational talk to the Celtics after a 99-88 loss to Milwaukee Friday, the team’s worst home-opening defeat since a 103-92 setback against Toronto Feb. 5, 1999. The speech appeared to work as the Celtics started strong (though they faded late) in an 89-86 victory over Washington Saturday.
“Habits,” Garnett said of the key to improvement. “When we practice, man, we practice the way we play. Since I’ve been here, coaches come in here, you do your job, know your role, do your role to the fullest, accept your role and practice hard.
“And we’re not going to change. While I’m here, we’re not going to change our approach. When I’m not here, that’s another story. That’s the way we are.”
Coach Doc Rivers is planning for the long run and will continue to limit Garnett’s playing time. Garnett is averaging less than 29 minutes per game; his longest stint so far was 31 minutes, 43 seconds in the season opener at Miami.
In fact, Rivers said, he will not compromise on the minutes of both Garnett and captain Paul Pierce, placing responsibility on the second unit.
“I’m not going to let them do more,” Rivers said. “I’m going to play Kevin about the same amount of minutes, Paul.
“[Rajon] Rondo, you can go anywhere. But if we can’t win with [Garnett] off the floor, we just won’t win. And I told our bench that. We’re going to play the minutes that I’m giving them, and the bench is going to play the minutes they should get. And they’ve got to do something or we won’t win — it will be that simple.”
The Celtics spent much of Tuesday’s session working on half-court defense.
“Doc does a good job explaining your role and telling you what area you need to be in, what you need to be in this system,” Garnett said. “It’s up to you to accept it. After that, either you do or you don’t — been that way since I’ve been here, pretty sure it will be that way as long as Doc is coach.
“This is a free-form offense, free-form defense. The only thing that systemizes is that you protect the next guy, and we’ve been doing that.”
Garnett is also finding his place on the team. He has alternated between being assertive on the post and a facilitator in the offense.
“Doc Rivers is Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett is Kevin Garnett. He’s the captain,” said Garnett. “I listen to whatever he says. This is his ship.
“In the flow of the offense, I try to use my discretion and IQ and be aggressive at times. Rondo says something to me, it’s immediate. Other than that, I get the ball moving.
“Since I’ve been in the league, my flaw — if you want to call it that — is that I’m too unselfish. I think that’s absurd, but who cares, anyway? That’s what I’ve been, that’s what I am for, what, 18 years? And it’s gotten me this far.
“This is November, we still have 50 more years or 50 more months to play. I’ve never been a fast starter but a decent finisher. And I’ll find the way.”
The Celtics’ offseason acquisitions were supposed to ease the burden on Garnett, Pierce, and Rondo.
“Take Kevin out, you’re not going to get Kevin,” Rivers said. “That’s why he’s on the bench. I don’t think that’s been an issue. Like when he was off the floor last year, it had a dramatic [effect].
“I don’t think that’s been the case this year. I think the guys that have come in have tried to do what they should do. I think the other guys with him have to do more, too.”
Said Garnett, “At this point, it’s about understanding the rhythm and the lineups, Doc’s throwing lot of different lineups out there. Continuity and chemistry is something you have to get with those lineups. And we’ll get that.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.