Practice report: Defense still the focus

WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Celtics aren't putting a time frame on when they'll turn into the team they know they can be, but they do know more consistent efforts on the defensive end will help get them there.

So it wasn't a shock to see Tuesday's practice, open to the media, deal heavily with defense, as Boston focused not only on communication and the typical rotations, but some of the more subtle tendencies they hope will become more common in games.

Things like closing out on shooters, correct positioning around the free throw line and the elbows and protecting the baseline were some of the most frequently discussed topics during Tuesday's session.

"Well we're getting it. It's just going to take time," coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought we were a lot better today. We work on a lot of principles and tendencies. Offensively, it's just moving the ball.

“Defensively, just running the coverages and talking. It just takes time."

The Celtics spent the majority of the 90-minute practice working in a halfcourt setting, going through drills and motions that stressed the defensive tendencies the coaches felt needed to be worked on.

"Just staying consistent with your system, staying disciplined, and just knowing your assignment," Jason Terry said of what the defensive work was like Tuesday. "That's just what we're working on, and it's repetition. If you don't do it during practice, you won't do it in a game. So we're just putting an emphasis on it here, and hopefully it'll carry over to the game tomorrow."

Read on for a handful of other notes from Tuesday's practice.

* Assistant coach Mike Longabardi stood out among his counterparts, as he facilitated the defensive instructions. Holding a position on the staff similar to that of former assistant coaches Tom Thibodeau and Lawrence Frank, Longabardi's responsibilities are more specific compared to other members of Rivers' staff.

"Well he's been around (the defense). He's been in the office next to mine, honestly, and he communicates it well," said Rivers. "And I just want him to be focused on that, and that's what I do. Whoever is my defensive guy, that's their only job. All the other coaches do everything. They help with the defense, they help with the offense.

“But, whoever I make the defensive coach, that's his job, and I want him to take it personal. When teams score, he does."

* Rookie Jared Sullinger received plenty of praise from his coaches and veteran teammates throughout training camp and the preseason, and Tuesday saw Kevin Garnett come through with another lofty compliment: a comparison to former Celtics big man and team favorite Kendrick Perkins.

"He's a great rebounder, his IQ is unbelievable, he can pass the ball. He reminds me a lot of Perk, man, when we had Perk here," Garnett said of Sullinger. "Obviously not the defensive player that Perk was, but as far as IQ, moving the ball and being unselfish, he's a great teammate."

Sullinger seemed pleasantly surprised when informed of Garnett's comments.

"It means a lot. Especially coming from Kevin," said Sullinger. "When Kevin gives anybody praise, I mean, he really likes you, I guess. So, it's a blessing. But at the same time, I've got to keep working, and that's pretty much my motto, just keep working."

* Rajon Rondo and Courtney Lee engaged in a trick-shot contest after the team's practice. Rondo sat on a pile of floor mats on the left sideline and calmly banked in a shot from roughly 25 feet away. After seeing his backcourt mate sink the first shot, Lee took up the position and also made his first attempt. Rondo told Lee he'd miss his next 19 attempts, and, sure enough, Lee couldn't get another one to drop.

"I'm 1-1 right now. Rondo got me from sitting down on the side and I won the halfcourt shots," Lee said. "It's just a good way to get some extra competing after practice, that's all. But it's fun."

* The Celtics will be back on the court Wednesday night when they host the Washington Wizards at TD Garden at 7:30 p.m.