Celtics hope practice time pays off

BOSTON -- To some, last Friday's tilt with the Indiana Pacers was a test for the Boston Celtics -- a chance to go toe-to-toe with their first playoff-worthy opponent since losing to the Miami Heat last month. Instead, it played out more like a review lesson for tests farther down the road, with the Pacers (forcefully) reminding the Celtics of key elements that factor into Boston's success -- ball movement, energy, rebounding, proper defensive rotations -- throughout Indiana's 87-74 victory.

At least the Celtics interpreted it that way.

They're not running from reality -- "We're a 4-4 basketball team," coach Doc Rivers said. "That's what we are. You are what your record is." -- but they're also not dwelling on the increasing list of negatives that have developed in this young season, including an inability to get a win over a quality opponent (or dominate a game against a considerably weaker one). The Celtics vowed to learn from the lessons Indiana taught them and improve as a result.

"We all have to do a better job," Kevin Garnett said. "I know I have to. And it's a [game] to learn from, early on in the year like this. Teaching points for these days coming up for practice, and hopefully we can apply them to the next game."

The Celtics are not foreign to the issues that cropped up on Friday. Garnett practically wrote the book on pick-and-roll defense and proper defensive rotations. At the other end of the floor, the team utilizes an offensive system predicated on both player and ball movement, as well as a number of players being capable of sparking the rest of the team with the necessary energy to overcome a pesky opponent.

But that doesn't mean they didn't need a healthy reminder that not asserting themselves in these areas can lead to trouble.

"These are learning points and I'm sure Doc's going to pull these points out and we will learn from them," Garnett said.

Boston next takes the floor on Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks -- another veteran club that's had its share of struggles this season, even as the defending NBA champs. The Celtics were given the entire weekend off (except for the second unit, which went through some reps at the team's practice facility in Waltham on Sunday), perhaps both to get some rest and to let Friday's loss stew a bit in their minds. They get back to work with a practice on Monday.

Don't expect to see a dejected group of men in green when they reconvene. These Celtics rarely get too down on themselves, an attitude that's been a hallmark since this championship window was opened with the formation of the Big Three back in 2007. They've never been a group that overreacts to a loss, especially so early in the season. Better to lose and solve the issues now, before the stakes get considerably higher.

"There's no need to put our heads down," captain Paul Pierce said. "It's early in the season, we've just got to clean up a few things.

"We know it's early in the season and we're trying to strive to get better. We know we're not where we want to be, regardless if we won four games straight. It's about building, it's about getting better through the course of the season and we know we're not playing our best basketball, even in the wins," he said.

"It's going to take some time for us to really get acclimated. With more practice time, maybe add Mickael Pietrus into the mix next week sometime, I think he'll help us out a lot. We're a long way from where we want to be, but we have plenty of time in the season."

The onus now falls on the Celtics to make the most of their practice time. Take it as a good sign that Garnett & Co. are embracing the opportunity to clean up their act.

"It's essential," Garnett said of the practice time, particularly with this season's compressed schedule. "You don't have a lot of time. Practice time is more valuable than anything. So when you're in there, you want to be productive, you obviously want to get things done. And since I've been here that's what it's been. So I see these days coming up as nothing less than that.

"I think it's coming at the right time. Practice makes perfect. And we're going to exercise that. I'm pretty sure Doc's already told us we're going to come in. We're looking forward to the days actually because there hasn't been a lot of practice time. So these are work days for us."

Greg Payne is a student intern for ESPNBoston.com