Friday, February 19, 2010
Celtics could use Nate Robinson tonight
By Chris Forsberg
Celtics coach Doc Rivers emerged from the visitors locker room to meet with the media after Boston's 87-86 triumph over the Lakers on Thursday night in Los Angeles, but quickly ducked behind a nearby curtain to make a quick phone call.
Concerned it might be a personal problem, a reporter asked Rivers if everything was all right. Turns out it was a business call about a personnel problem.
The Celtics, shorthanded after making a five-player swap Thursday that sent Eddie House, J.R. Giddens, and Bill Walker to the New York Knicks, were not anticipating the arrival of newcomers Nate Robinson and Marcus Landry for Friday's game in Portland (10:30 p.m., ESPN).
But when Tony Allen strained a tendon in his right ankle -- the same ankle he had arthroscopic surgery on this past offseason, and the same ankle that sidelined him for the first 20 games of the season when he rushed himself back in the preseason -- during the first half of Thursday's game, healthy bodies became a premium for the Green.
The loss of Allen, which comes just as the Celtics celebrated finally getting back to full health, leaves Boston dangerously thin at guard, prompting Rivers to phone home to see what could be done to expedite the physical Robinson needs to pass before he could even fly to Portland for Friday's game.
Rivers noted it was still possible the team could have Robinson in uniform against Portland -- wearing his new No. 4 jersey --- but suggested it was unlikely. He jokingly asked reporters if they had a private plane that might be available to deliver Robinson to the Pacific Northwest in time for tipoff.
Allen might have been Boston's only true guard off the bench Thursday night (though Marquis Daniels can certainly aid in that role), as Boston's bigs hogged much of the bench in Glen Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Shelden Williams and Brian Scalabrine.
Boston's opponent Friday doesn't have to worry about any such issues. The Blazers have a fairly stocked roster after making their trade earlier in the week.
That deal, prying Marcus Camby from the Clippers for Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw, added some much-needed depth to a Blazers frontcourt depleted by injuries. What's more, Portland is hoping guard Brandon Roy, sidelined with a lingering hamstring issue, could be ready to play Friday night.
"Did Portland play tonight?" Rivers asked reporters after Thursday's game, before answering his own question. "No, so they're rested and waiting for us."
If Robinson isn't able to make it to Portland for Friday's game -- and even if he is, he's certainly not going to know Boston's system very well without a practice session to familiarize himself with the playbook -- how do the Celtics compensate?
Guard Rajon Rondo logged 44 minutes Thursday and, while Rivers would almost certainly love to rest him a bit on the second half of the back-to-back, it's not likely to happen. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will likely be spelled at opposite times, keeping them on the court to help handle the ball, particularly when Rondo needs a breather.
After an impressive defensive effort in Thursday's win over the Lakers, the Celtics will look to lean on their defense again. The Blazers have struggled to put points on the board this season, averaging 97.7 points per game (22nd in the NBA), while boasting league-worst marks in points in the paint (34.9 points per game) and fast-break points (8.7 points per game).
Roy could be key for the Blazers, who are 25-16 with him (averaging 98 points per game and a scoring differential of plus-3.9 points), as opposed to a 7-8 mark without him, while averaging 97.1 points per game and a scoring differential of minus-0.8 points per game.
Keep an eye on his backcourt running mate Andre Miller, too, who has been on fire in his past seven games (topping 10 assists three times and 20 points three times). Miller scored a career-high 52 points against the Mavericks on Jan. 30 (smashing his previous high of 37).
Robinson's arrival is sure to give the Celtics a much-needed shot of energy, but wins like Thursday's triumph over the Lakers have already gone a long way toward restoring Boston's shattered confidence. You could feel the excitement in the Celtics' locker room, particularly in the way their defense rescued the team on a poor shooting night.
As much as Boston talks about needing a healthy roster in order to be successful, it might be games like this back-to-back, in which it's forced to endure challenges while shorthanded, that really pull this team back together.
Heck, if the Celtics win Friday in Portland, maybe Rivers should phone Robinson and just tell him to sit tight in Boston until the team gets back Sunday night.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.