Musings from a drizzly Los Angeles before All-Star Weekend:
Originally, this space was going to be filled with some analysis of what Delonte West’s return might mean to the Celtics. But as of this afternoon, it was still unclear whether or not he’d suit up tonight after tweaking his wrist yesterday in practice (as Brian notes below, he missed shootaround and is doubtful for tonight’s game). The aggravation doesn’t seem like anything that would push his return back beyond next week but with this latest blow to Boston’s health, all this optimistic talk of getting healthy we’ve heard the last few weeks has given way to a more sobering thought.
Can the Celtics still win a championship if they never get healthy?
The answer is probably yes, if the injuries are confined to the supporting cast. As long as Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett are healthy, you could plug in a series of different bodies for the fifth through ninth spots in the rotation and still see the C’s clutching the hardware in June. You need depth to get through a regular season but in the playoffs, the starters will go longer minutes and carry most of the burden of pushing this team from one round to the next.
As the Spurs have shown us for the last decade, fitting a car with new tires is a lot easier than the reverse. So, whether it’s Rip Hamilton or Nate Robinson backing up Allen or Troy Murphy or Glen Davis subbing in for KG, or some of the other possibilities Danny Ainge is considering behind the scenes, the crucial factor is to have enough support around the Celtics’ essentials to allow them to put their imprint on a game.
Mike Miller left the Heat’s game with Indiana last night after taking an elbow to the head, the third straight game where he’s sustained a similar injury (he was KG’s “revenge-pick” victim on Sunday after Rondo got stood up on the other end of the floor).
There are some eerie reminders of the Marquis Daniels injury with Miller’s situation, particularly in an era when everyone is more cognizant of the long term damage head injuries can inflict. Hopefully, it’s nothing more than a series of unfortunate coincidences and Miller returns soon.
Of course, the Heat’s supporting cast around their top-three players is far thinner than the Celtics, with fewer replaceable parts available to step in and fill gaps. And while the Bosh-James-Wade trio is formidable, they’re going to need backing come the playoffs. If Miller isn’t taking that last possession three-pointer on Sunday, Miami’s options thin out considerably behind him.
To wit: the Heat got just 8 points from their bench on Sunday, and Miller had 5 of them. By contrast, Boston’s thin bench (only Davis and Von Wafer scored) had 26.
Doc Rivers was on WEEI yesterday and had some interesting thoughts on Garnett’s continuing influence on Rondo. Asked whether the contentious Celtics-Heat battles would be forgotten when Miami and Boston’s all-stars suit up in their common Eastern Conference jerseys, Rivers said:
“Kevin and Rondo don’t really like anyone on other teams. It’s funny how Rondo has kind of adopted Kevin’s belief that you shouldn’t like the opponent. It won’t be a lovefest, I can guarantee you that.”
Rivers went on to note that his players would, in fact, get along with the rest of the all-star team for that one day before parting company, but it looks like the Celtics’ identity as a nasty, combative team will outlive Garnett’s tenure in the Hub.
Rivers also noted that he’d manage the Celtics’ minutes closely in Sunday’s game. Rondo’s expected to play the most, followed by Allen, with Pierce and Garnett playing fewer minutes. He also joked he’d play James and Wade about 47 minutes each, and have them employ a full-court press on defense.