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Celtics notebook

Celtics find rebounding tough against jam-packed schedule

Celtics coach Brad Stevens instructs his team Friday at Madison Square Garden. He got some more teaching time in Saturday during a practice at HealthPoint in Waltham. Mary Altaffer/AP Photo

WALTHAM — It began with a 109-101 loss in Sacramento on Feb. 20. That was the night the Celtics dived headfirst into the most grueling part of their schedule.

From that date through April 4, the schedule-makers gave the Celtics 26 games with no more than a single day separating suit-ups. Less than 48 hours between games means travel and rest have often been one in the same.

At this late point in the season, coaching staffs across the league pick up an extra responsibility as they need to manage both the physical and mental health of their players. It’s why the Celtics convened at their HealthPoint facility in Waltham for a light practice Saturday morning, a day after a 96-92 victory over the lowly Knicks at Madison Square Garden.


“Every practice that we play in, there’s a reason behind it,” coach Brad Stevens said prior to conducting his second practice in three days. “We feel like we can effectively manage their legs, most importantly, so we were off Tuesday and we’re going to be on today very light.

“The biggest thing was just to be able to manage the big picture when you practice — looking ahead, looking behind, and when are those possible opportunities to get together and just review some things, go over some things you need to, and try and be at your best.”

Stevens has worked magic with the grueling schedule, fans swapping rebuild talk for playoff chatter with the Celtics 12-9 since the opening tip with the Kings. By relying heavily on his bench and not just his starting five, Stevens has done his part to maintain his roster’s health ahead of the final 10-game stretch.

More impressive, perhaps, has been Boston’s ability to fend off mental fatigue despite the fact that every game appears to hold so much meaning, each offensive possession or defensive stand demanding so much focus.


Stevens acknowledged that he may not be able to hold off the mental fatigue for long, but if it happens, it happens. He knows his players wouldn’t be alone.

“Everybody else has played 72 games, too,” Stevens said. “Everybody’s equal. You just prepare and don’t worry about that stuff. Stay in the game, stay in the moment, focus on today.

Big challenge

The physical demand on the Celtics will not tone down in the final weeks of the season, and that includes their match Sunday with the brute frontcourt of the Los Angeles Clippers.

Doc Rivers coaches perhaps the most formidable big-man tandem in the Association, five-time All-Star Blake Griffin flanked by human highlight reel DeAndre Jordan.

“They pose problems to the best defenders and players in the league,” Stevens said. “Blake is obviously a very physical player, but he’s also a very skilled guy who’s made shots and made shots against us last game at a really high rate. DeAndre is just a game-changer with his energy, his rolling to the rim, his offensive rebounding.

“Whether we’re 6-8 on those guys or 7-foot on those guys, they’re going to have things that they try to take advantage of because they’re really good players.”

The size and strength of both Griffin and Jordan wreaked havoc on Boston during the Clippers’ 102-93 victory in Los Angeles on Jan. 19. Griffin coupled his nine rebounds with a game-high 22 points. Jordan proved equally menacing by sinking 8 of his 9 shots from the field, finishing with 19 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.


Boston’s big men know it’s on them to find early success against two of the league’s most formidable inside players.

“They’re a great team with a lot of good players and threats out there,” said Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko. “We’ve just got to go out there and play our game — play tough defense and play with a lot of energy.”

Fight for position

Prior to Saturday’s contests, five teams sat within 2½ games of the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, Boston clinging to the eighth and final berth.

It’s these tight quarters that are sure to cause nail-biting among Celtics faithful, though Jerebko acknowledged he couldn’t be having more fun.

“You’re playing for something, and that’s what you want to do,” said Jerebko, who went from cellar-dweller to playoff contender with his trade from Detroit on Feb. 19. “This is the situation I want to be in, and I love it. Every game matters, and a new one [Sunday].”

Even Brandon Bass, who remembers a time not long ago when Boston locked up postseason plans well ahead of the field, acknowledges that the chase has been a welcomed reward.

“It feels good,” said the veteran forward, “So far, rebuilding, getting better, it just feels good when you can see some type of success from hard work.”