WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics opened training camp with three specific areas of focus: limiting turnovers, pace of play, and rebounding. All have one thing in common: Maximizing possessions.
The Celtics have always been a defense-first team, but they've shot themselves in the foot by struggling in those three facets of the game. Turnovers and sloppy ball-handling have limited Boston's offensive chances (as Rivers noted, his team is actually pretty good when it gets a shot at the rim). Those missed opportunities put a larger strain on the defense, which hasn't helped its own cause by being atrocious on the glass and allowing second- (and third- and fourth-) chance opportunities.
Boston essentially is trying to get out of its own way.
"Nothing has changed at all, we’re still about defense," said Rivers. "Having said that, you can still score. You know, when you’re on offense, you’re not playing defense. And really, we need to just increase our pace. But we turned the ball over too much last year. I thought, over anything, that hurt our offense -- when you look at our efficiency, when we actually got a shot up at the basket, we were pretty good. I would like to increase the pace of play a little bit. I just think we’re a little different of a team, we can run more pick-and-rolls with multiple guys, so that’s what we want to do."
The Celtics ranked 21st in the league in pace (90.4 possessions per 48 minutes), 26th in scoring offense (91.8 points per game), 25th in turnover percentage (14.7 percent), and 20th in defensive rebound percentage (72.4 percent) last year. All that worked to negate the efforts of a defense that ranked first in opponent field goal percentage (41.9 percent) and second in defensive scoring average (89.3).
Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo has stressed a desire to value the ball more this season and Rivers has emphasized that to the team as a whole. Boston made great strides last season, particularly in the playoffs, to limit their giveaways and it played a huge part in their run to the cusp of the NBA Finals.
"I thought we made a change in the second half of the year, where we cut our turnovers down," said Rivers. "And in the playoffs we did a great job, and I thought we were just more selective who we passed it to on the elbows, as far as the bigs. Before, we would pretty much pass it to any big and run action. In the second half of the year, we basically designated passers and pickers, and I thought that made a difference."
As for pushing the pace, Rivers bottom-lined it by spotlighting Boston's offseason additions: "We haven’t had guys that really wanted to run. And I think we have more of those guys now. So that helps."
A handful of other notes from Day 2 of camp:
* Lee battling thigh bruise: Rivers revealed that starting shooting guard Courtney Lee is battling a minor injury at the start of camp, but it hasn't kept him off the floor. "Well, he’s still working it out, he got injured about two weeks ago with a thigh bruise, so he’s kinda slowly getting back in to it. But what I’m expecting to see [from Lee] is an all-around player. I think he does a lot of things well that helps our team. He can play multiple positions, terrific shooter, terrific defender, terrific team player. He does a lot for us."
* Wilcox limited on Day 2: Rivers cautioned Saturday that we need to remember that Chris Wilcox underwent heart surgery nearly four months after Jeff Green, so he's a little further behind in terms of recovery. After pushing him full throttle on Day 1, the Celtics limited Wilcox on Day 2. In the portion open to reporters at the end of Sunday's session, Wilcox did not engage in skeleton drills and appeared to be dressed as a first-unit backup for rest purposes on earlier drills. That allowed rookie Jared Sullinger to spend more time at the 4 with the second unit.
* Rivers plans to keep 15: It's not much of a surprise, but Rivers confirmed the team is hoping to keep 15 players out of camp. Barring an unexpected surge by camp invites Micah Downs or Rob Kurz, that likely leaves Jamar Smith, Dionte Christmas, and Kris Joseph competing for two open spots. The younger players have been splitting second-team reps over the first two days, and it's far too early for anyone to have truly distinguished himself in camp. As for carrying a full roster, Rivers noted: "We usually do carry 15, whether all 15 stay with us or a couple may go down to D-League, that’s something we’ll figure out later. You can only dress 13, which I’ve always been against. I think you should be able to dress 15 if you have 15 healthy players. Clearly, being on the competition committee doesn’t give me full power. That hasn’t changed. So we’ll keep 15, I’m pretty sure."
* Speaking of the competition committee: Rivers was part of the committee that pushed through a change this year that will allow the league to penalize floppers upon postgame review. Said Rivers: "It will be interesting how it’s instituted. One of the things I thought we did good job of was taking it out of the officials' hands. It’s hard enough for them to call a block and a charge. We don’t need them calling flops as well, that’s just too much. You call it later. I think early on, it should be of well use."