Pregame: Pietrus progress, Philly prattle

BOSTON -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers that Mickael Pietrus passed a baseline concussion test, the first step in his return to the basketball court.

Rivers didn't have many details, including exactly when Pietrus passed the test (he said it occurred while the Celtics were out of town for games against Chicago and Indiana) or a timeline for his progression from here (Rivers earlier had said it might be another week after he passed his tests before he could return to activity). But the coach admitted it's an encouraging sign in Pietrus' recovery from a grade III concussion suffered last month in Philadelphia.

"He feels good," Rivers said. "I think, personality wise, he's talking -- and talking loud again -- that’s a good sign."

Pietrus has been at the Garden for each of the team's last two games, wearing sunglasses and a hood to aid with light sensitivity last Sunday against the Heat, then shedding that garb for a visit for Wednesday's game against San Antonio. He was spotted in the Spurs' locker room after the game joking with friends. Pietrus is back at the Garden for today's visit from Philadelphia, and Rivers continues to suggest he's itchy to get back to work.

Rivers has also hinted that Pietrus could be in line to join the starting lineup if he's able to shake the rust and get enough games in before the end of the regular season. When the Celtics initially thought about moving Ray Allen to a bench role, it was with the idea of leaning on Pietrus as the starting shooting guard. Rivers said it would be a luxury once Pietrus is back to have both him and second-year guard Avery Bradley to choose from in that role.

"Again, as I was trying to tell you [in recent weeks], we only talked about it for two years as a staff, but we’ve never had anyone to step forward," Rivers said of moving Allen to the bench. "We’ve always wanted a stronger bench. At least for the last year and a half, we’ve talked about it. Now with Avery and, hopefully if we can get Mickael back, then it’s phenomenal, you have either guy you can play in the lineup and use the other guy off the bench. That would be the best-case scenario for us. Again, right now, we’re just going to do Avery because we don’t know what Mickael is going to do."

As for Sunday's visit from Philadelphia, a key Atlantic Division clash with the Celtics owning a two-game cushion atop the standings, Rivers suggested he didn't stress the importance of the game to his team.

"It comes up in every meeting, somebody will say something about it, but I don’t really focus on that, I never have really," Rivers said. "I focus on us being a better team. Guys know. Hell, they all know it -- they know what the game means. If you've got to use that as a motivation ploy, then your team is really going to be screwed up in a lot of ways. But our thing is, we've just got to keep grinding and playing better."

Given the way that Philadelphia has struggled in recent weeks, a three-game division lead with 10 games to go would essentially cement the Celtics in the driver's seat for the Atlantic crown. The division winner would claim no worse than the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.