Doc Rivers already pointing to playoffs

NEWPORT, R.I. -- With a three-hour practice session on Sept. 28, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers suggested his team had begun preparations for an opponent to be determined on April 15.

There are exactly 200 days between those two dates and, in that span, the Celtics will play 90 games, while mixing in roughly 75 practices. According to Rivers, every moment during that span will be utilized to ensure his team is playing its best possible basketball when the first round of the NBA playoffs begin around Tax Day.

"We view camp as getting prepared for the first game and getting prepared for the playoffs," Rivers said. "The first day of practice is our first playoff practice."

If the Celtics learned anything last season, it's that regular-season success is not a foolproof measure of postseason potential. But don't misinterpret that mindset. Rivers has gone out of his way to stress that Boston won't be satisfied to do what it did last year, playing .500 basketball over the final four months of the season, then flipping a switch while marching to the cusp of an NBA title.

No, the Celtics covet as much regular-season success as they can get this season. And their quest began Tuesday.

"Some of the things [Rivers] stressed [at a team dinner Monday] was that we can't turn it on like we did last year," Celtics forward Kevin Garnett said.
"There has to be more consistency, so that's our primary focus, being consistent."

On Tuesday, Rivers sought to gauge exactly where his team was.

Rivers pushed his veteran squad through the three-hour session inside the sweltering Rodgers Recreation Center on the campus of Salve Regina University. That's an eternity for a team that has sought to limit wear and tear by reducing practice times in the new Big Three era.

But Rivers also wanted to stress that being a veteran team will not be an excuse for not working hard.

"We're going to have to work," Rivers said. "We're not going to use the veteran thing as an excuse not to work, we just can't. Experience is great if we use it, but we can't use experience as a crutch. That's what we've got to stay away from."

The Celtics limped through the final hour of the session and Rivers scolded the team for not being in the shape he expected at this point (this despite imploring his team to take it easy this summer given last season's extended playoff run that lasted until June 17).

Even on Day 1, Rivers is finding ways to challenge his team to be better. They responded positively Tuesday.

"It was long, but it was great," Garnett said. "Camp is always difficult. It's one of those things where, no matter how great of shape you come back in, you're never in 'Doc Rivers shape.'"

Echoed captain Paul Pierce: "It doesn't matter what you do in the summer, you can play pickup games, lift all the weights you want, run all the track you want, but it's never enough to get you ready for an NBA practice. The speed of the game -- the speed and the pace and the movements of the game -- guys are definitely going to be tired, no matter what you do."

One gets the feeling that Rivers would have been disappointed regardless of how the first practice played out. With 200 days to build upon, he's got to make that carrot last as long as possible.

"They didn't hold up very well, honestly," Rivers said, his voice already hoarse. "It was a long practice with a lot of talking, as you can tell from my voice. We won't go three hours every day, but we needed it today."

The Celtics clearly won't accept being just average.

"A lot has been said that we just tried to get through [last] season and rested guys," Pierce said. "We just didn't win those games. We just didn't play well. It wasn't that we were hurt; we didn't play well, even if we were.

"This year we want to play a little better, especially at home. We don't give games away. We want to win as many games as possible, get home-court advantage, and that will give us an advantage in the playoffs."

After all, the postseason is what this team is building toward. Even during the very first practice.

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