Pretty soon, Doc Rivers will leave people with no choice but to listen to him. He tried warning everyone that Avery Bradley was a gifted offensive player, and his words came to be true. He has also raved about the positive atmosphere in the locker room this season, predicting the good vibes would win the Celtics a few games they otherwise would lose.
One of those games may have come Sunday. With Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce resting on the third day of a three-game, three-night road trip, a squad made up mostly of role players and reserves controlled the Charlotte Bobcats in a 94-82 Boston win.
"You could see before the game that they wanted to win this game, because when you sit guys, people assume you're just going to show up and play," Rivers said. "Our guys, you could see in their demeanor in the locker room, I didn't know if we were going to win or not, but I knew we were going to play hard and the right way."
Brandon Bass and Bradley shared the team high in scoring with 22 points apiece, and center Greg Stiemsma continued to grow as a defensive force with six blocked shots in 28 minutes of work.
Rajon Rondo left his imprint, as one would expect, scoring 20 points and dealing 15 assists in his 22nd consecutive game with 10 or more assists. Aware that the Celtics would be without their top three scorers on Sunday (shooting guard Ray Allen missed his 10th game in the last three weeks with a swollen right ankle), Rondo volunteered to go the full 48 minutes, according to Rivers, who responded that that was the plan all along.
Rondo ended up playing 43 minutes, 14 seconds. Other than his departure with 77 seconds remaining, when the game was well in hand, Rondo only left briefly when he tweaked his right arm going for a steal in the third quarter.
"I thought Rondo was sensational," Rivers said. "He really didn't want to come out of the game. He was terrific. Avery was terrific, Brandon. Those are the three guys, before the game, who we said we had to get points out of, and we did. So that was nice. I just thought everybody else played their role."
When the night began, it seemed possible that the Celtics would concede a few points in the standings to the Atlanta Hawks, with whom they are jostling for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Celtics (36-25) were missing three future Hall of Famers against the Bobcats (7-52), while the Hawks had a full day of rest before taking on the Raptors at home.
But the Raptors, who beat the Celtics on Friday, again made an impact on the Eastern Conference playoff race by topping the Hawks 102-86. Combined with Boston's win, the Hawks' loss enabled the Celtics to take a half-game lead over Atlanta in the standings.
Bass seemed confident the Celtics sans Big Three would be able to maintain the momentum that has now netted Boston six wins in its last seven games.
"When somebody goes down, we've got a group of guys that have got to step up," said Bass, who added three blocked shots despite playing with a sore hamstring. "That's what we did."
From the safety of a hotel room in Manhattan, where they dined on a nutritious room service spread of chicken breast and green vegetables and drank only water — in Rivers' hopeful imagination, that is — Pierce and Garnett watched the game. They let their coach know that they liked what they saw.
"I already have texts from both," Rivers said. "I don't know where they were at watching it. I probably don't want to know where they were watching it, but they watched it and they both were very happy about it. That has to give them confidence."
Confidence should have been in high supply for the players who were present in the Celtics' locker room on Sunday. Next up is a division clash Tuesday in New York, but with a shorthanded roster in Charlotte, the Celtics may already have shown that if they could make it there, they might be able to make it anywhere.