Dr. Phil had not infiltrated the media pack. Nobody was searching for the source of Kevin Garnett's intensity from his childhood. Postgame interviews had not been replaced with psychologist's sessions. With every member of the Celtics' regular starting lineup dealing with some level of pain, the most important matter after the Celtics' 87-74 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the regular season finale was how each player felt, physically.
For Rajon Rondo, it was his lower back. For Paul Pierce, it was a sprained left big toe in a series of nagging injuries the captain has played through this season. For Mickael Pietrus it was his surgically repaired right knee. For Garnett it was an old hip injury that decided to recur.
Each and every one responded in a similar manner as Garnett.
"I feel really good," Garnett said. "I'm looking forward to the playoffs, you know?"
None of the Celtics would admit that they were experiencing enough pain to keep them from playing. In the last two weeks, however, the players began to be more honest with coach Doc Rivers, admitting that the stress of the condensed 66-game season was wearing on their bodies. Almost every player, save for the youngest and fittest, sat out at least one game down the stretch. Even Garnett — one of the hardest players to sit down without a fight — came to Rivers before Tuesday's game against the Heat and acknowledged his hip was acting up.
Rivers' patience and the players' honesty appeared to put the Celtics in as good of physical shape as possible heading into the playoffs. Ray Allen, who missed the final nine games with loose bodies in his right ankle, is the only member of the Celtics rotation who is definitely out for Game 1 in Atlanta.
That does not mean the injury concerns are over, though.
Pierce's injured toe bothered him again early in Thursday's game, provoking Rivers to quickly yank the forward out of the game. Pierce eventually returned but played only seven minutes, while Garnett looked spry in an 11-minute cameo. Rondo looked to be laboring at times and had his back wrapped when he went to the bench, but the pain did not keep him from handing out 15 assists.
Another key player, backup center Greg Stiemsma, rested his sore right foot and is expected back for the playoffs, but his absence was yet another sign that Rivers will have to monitor his players' condition for as long as the Celtics' playoff run lasts.
"It's going to be the same way, we've got to be careful with them even in the playoffs," Rivers said. "It just doesn't take much right now, it seems like, for a guy to not be able to play the next night, so we have to be very careful."
Rivers may have enjoyed his players' truthful stretch, but that is about to come to an end. Rondo already had a cold, postseason-ready look in his eye Thursday when he was asked how the troubles with his lower back may limit him in the playoffs.
"I plan on playing as much as possible," Rondo said flatly.
The healing power of the playoffs can be miraculous. Ask the Celtics, and every ache or pain suddenly feels a lot better.
Powered by WordPress.com VIP