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Saturday, May 29, 2010
Celtics take well-earned break

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Had the Boston Celtics swept the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals, the Green would have been staring at an obscene nine-day break before the start of the NBA Finals.

That would have tied for the third-longest rest period in Finals history. And while history suggests no particular detriment to an extended break, the Celtics have struggled coming off large breaks so it's reasonable to wonder if that would have worked against them.

So when the Magic rallied for an overtime triumph in Game 4, one line of thought suggested staying in game mode for a couple extra days wouldn't be the end of the world for these Celtics.

Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce is pleased not only that he's going to the NBA Finals again, but that he and the Celtics get some time to rest up.

But no one could have predicted the carnage that occurred in Game 5, where Boston emerged with an injury list typically reserved for the football team in Foxborough.

Still, the Celtics soldiered on and closed out the Magic on Friday night in Game 6 with a 96-84 triumph at TD Garden and will enjoy a modest five-day break before tipping off on the road Thursday against the winner from the Western Conference finals.

Boston players probably didn't want to be dusting off their grills or opening their swimming pools on Memorial Day weekend. But as it turns out, they'll be doing just that and still have a chance at bringing home Banner 18.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers gave his team two days off from practice and the team won't get back to work until Monday morning.

"I'm glad we're going to get done and get some rest," admitted Rivers, whose ability to balance rest and practice has helped put this team in position to win its second NBA title in three years. "[Rest] may be the most important thing going into the next series."

To be sure, the Celtics won't be able to avoid the gym completely, nor will the players and coaches want to. Injured players were told to go in Saturday morning for treatment, and one can assume that list would include at least Rajon Rondo (back), Rasheed Wallace (back), Tony Allen (ankle), Glen Davis (concussion) and Marquis Daniels (concussion).

But those are merely the more glaring injuries. Kendrick Perkins is playing with a sprained right wrist. Brian Scalabrine -- thrust into an active role for the foreseeable future with Daniels in rough shape -- is slated for offseason shoulder surgery but is delaying that to be available for these emergency situations.

And then there's captain Paul Pierce, who nursed knee, foot, thumb and shoulder injuries during the regular season. He's still banged up, but he managed to put up 31 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in Boston's Game 6 triumph.

"I know I need [the rest]," Pierce said with a smile after Friday's game. "I've got a couple injuries that I kind of want to cure up over the next couple of days. Just minor stuff like foot, back, stuff like that. But nothing major for me.

"Running into Dwight Howard really doesn't help your body none going through a series like this. When you're constantly going over screens that he's setting, it wears on you."

No one knows the perils of Howard more than Pierce, who endured at least three hard fouls at the hands of Orlando's elbow-swinging center. Pierce went down hard in Game 5, aggravating a right shoulder injury that has nagged him since late March.

Two days off this weekend might ultimately feel as good as the nine-day break the Celtics would have achieved with a sweep.

"It'll definitely help me," said Tony Allen, who twisted his ankle in Game 2 and has looked a step slow, forcing Rivers to consider reducing his playing time until he's right. "Guys are going to take advantage of the rest. Still get in, get their shots, and do what we've been doing to prepare for the next series."

Like most "days off" this season, the Celtics all will likely file into their training facility in Waltham this weekend. Allen noted earlier in the playoffs how the team earned a much-needed day off, yet each and every player showed up at the gym to work on something in their games.

Then there's the matter of the next opponent. The Celtics are almost assuredly going to sit down in groups Saturday to scout the Lakers and Suns in Game 6.

The Celtics probably wouldn't be upset if that series went to a Game 7, leaving their next foe a little short on rest, all while Boston licks its wounds.

In the end, this two-day break falls in line with a plan that Rivers deployed in the final months of the regular season that put a premium on rest and recovery over pushing an aging team too hard.

"That stretch the last month, we formed a game plan, and I thought it was the right plan," said Rivers. "Obviously, it didn't look right because we were losing games, but guys were resting and conditioning, and I thought that was the only chance we had. Because the one thing I did learn through the injuries, we were not good enough injured, and we had a chance to get healthy. There were no guarantees, but we had a chance to be healthy. So my gamble was, let's take health, and we lost some games, but we got healthy."

These healthy Celtics are four wins away from another world title. They're not about to mess with what works and will gladly enjoy the weekend off.

"Kevin [Garnett] came into the year where he had surgery during the offseason, so we knew he was going to require more rest," said Ray Allen. "All of us, at some point, were up and down, so we thought about rest more than anything. It was like, let's get ready for the playoffs.

"As much as we wanted to win during the regular season, you could see everybody's focus was on taking care of their bodies. Even if we dropped a game, you knew the next day in the practice facility, if you needed treatment, guys were in there getting treatment. If you had to hit the weight room to get your body strong, guys were in there doing that. If we had days off, guys were staying home getting their rest.

"Despite what our record was and despite what we were going through, everybody was focused and wanted to be where we are today. And I think we invested in that throughout the course of the season, regardless of what our regular-season record indicated."

Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.