WALTHAM, Mass. — The court at the Celtics' practice facility was all but cleared following Thursday's shootaround, save for a few members of the coaching and support staff engaging in playful pick-up games. At the other end of the floor, one player was locked into a serious tutorial, getting some last-minute tips before the regular season expires.
JaJuan Johnson, who has struggled to find playing time with the Celtics this season, got some tips from former Celtic Danny Ainge, now the team's president of basketball operations. Although Ainge was a guard in his 14-year NBA career, he showed Johnson an array of ways to use his pivot foot to get good position in the post. The post is a place the 6-foot-10 first-round pick seldom ventured this season, preferring to stay outside for his solid mid-range jump shot. But the more diverse Johnson can make his game, the better chance he has of making an impact in his second season.
"He just came over and asked me a few questions and asked if he could show me a few things," Johnson said of Ainge. "I just enjoy learning from these guys and I'll continue to do that."
Johnson never seemed to get into a rhythm as a rookie, paying for a shortage of practice time that prompted Celtics coach Doc Rivers to call 2011-12 a "lost year" for some first-year players. Johnson did not play more than eight minutes in a game for more than a month from March to April, and the dearth of playing time cost him. His field goal percentage dropped to 33 percent after the All-Star break from 54 percent before.
The playoffs typically are not a time for teaching but for teams to tighten their rotations and focus on the eight to 10 players who are likely to contribute when the games matter most. These playoffs might be different. As opposed to the condensed regular season, the Celtics are expected to have a more regular schedule of practices, shootarounds and walkthroughs between games. Those could provide more opportunities for Johnson and fellow rookie E'Twaun Moore to learn on the court, not to mention the chance to witness postseason basketball up close.
"Any time we get a chance to practice this year, I really enjoy it because they're few and far between," Johnson said. "I'm excited for the playoffs just to see how it is and the atmosphere, and to see how these guys act in the playoffs. It's going to be kind of cool to see."
The longer the Celtics stay alive in the playoffs, the more chances Johnson will have to observe and get extra instruction. For Johnson, it is just another incentive to hope the Celtics go far.