C’s take fresh approach
Stevens plots key rest stops along way
Brad Stevens will be serving two calendars as he leads the Celtics this season — the one that indicates there is a game on that given night, and the larger one that notes the length of the NBA season.
And how long the Celts want it to be for them.
Therefore, look for the coach to keep an eye on minutes within a particular game, and even give players nights off here and there when it best suits the overall plan to be playing — and playing well — deep into the postseason.
Stevens really didn’t have to worry so much about that in the recent past. “It’s happened organically,” he said, referring to injuries that sidelined some regulars.
But he will be looking to keep people fresh.
“We’ve done that with Al (Horford) on a number of occasions the last couple of years — Kyrie (Irving), on a couple of occasions,” Stevens said. “We did it late in the year. The most important thing is if there is something where a person needs that day off from a health standpoint early on, then they get it. That’s a medical decision and that’s something that probably is decided well in advance.
“But if we’re all healthy and we’re all given the green light, we’ll play and then see how we’re doing as the season goes along and see how that all adds up. But if there’s an intense stretch of games — eight games in 12 days, 13 days — and we deem later in the month that Al should sit a game, we will. Or Kyrie, or Gordon (Hayward).”
The coach has already perused the schedule and has picked out some rest stops, and more will be dictated by circumstances. There will be an early crunch of games, with Tuesday’s opener followed by a back-to-back in Toronto and New York Friday and Saturday. That set leads into a run of three games in four nights, with Orlando coming to the Garden a week from Monday.
For now, Irving and Hayward, both coming off injuries, are ready for whatever the schedule says.
“The plan is for them to play in back-to-backs,” said Stevens. “Gordon will probably be a little limited early from a minutes standpoint — not in any big way, but we’ll probably have to manage that just because he’s been out for so long, when you talk about the 13 months.” Hayward is OK with that. “We have discussed it, and I think we’re going to talk further about it,” he said. “But it’s something we’ve got to look into.”
Hayward then touched on the operative concept, saying, “We’re trying to play until June, not just the beginning of the season. So it’s something we have to talk about.”
And something Hayward has to accept as part of his reality, following his lower leg fracture in the 2017-18 season opener.
“That’s part of the patience and part of the things that can get frustrating when you go through an injury like that,” he said. “There’s still more that you have to go through. It’s not just like last year is over. It’s a process. And I want to be playing my best basketball at the end of the year. We’re going to discuss that and manage that.”
Overall, he said, “Yeah, I’m doing well. I think with each day of practice I’m getting more comfortable out there on the court. My body feels better. I think the first week was rough on me because it was so much, so fast. But I think I’ve had some time now and my body feels a lot better.”
Hayward has been dealing with some back pain and received a cortisone shot earlier in the week. But he still hopes to play through that first stretch of games.
“That’s the plan,” he said. “I think we have a staff that’s going to help me manage it and determine how much I’m going to do. I trust them, and as a competitor I want to be able to do everything, so we’ll see. Sometimes, as I’ve already found out, sometimes that’s not the case and you’ve got to dial it back a little bit. But that’s why we have the staff that we have.”
The Celtics are well equipped to get through rest nights, given that it will be difficult for Stevens to squeeze all the players he might like to use into the rotation.
But, he added, “I think you always want more depth. The reality is when we were playing in the playoffs last year, we probably didn’t have as many curveballs that we could throw because we had a number of guys (out). Not only did we have a number of guys out, we didn’t have enough to decide if anybody was inactive or not by the end of it.
“I think any time you have more depth, you have more options. But the other side of that is when you don’t have as much, everybody knows what they are going to get to do every night. That’s the challenging part. We’re all empathetic to that, but at the same time, the main thing is the main thing, and that’s to win the next game.”
Speaking of winning, Hayward had a thing or two to say about his ping-pong prowess in the Celts’ new facility: “To set the record straight, I’m at the top of the ladder. I have not been beat by anybody here in a series. I’ve been beaten a game, but I’ve not been beaten a series. That’s the real truth, if anyone tries to tell you different.”
He also defended having his own paddle by saying, “You have your own golf clubs, you have your own tennis racket. Like, it’s the same thing.”
TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE: Celtics coach Brad Stevens is going to keep an eye on player minutes throughout the season, to make sure his team is as fresh as can be come playoff time next spring.