By A. Sherrod Blakely
CHICAGO — As Paul Pierce walked off the court at Moody Bible Institute, it was clear that the Celtics had just finished a pretty intense practice.
The Captain had worked up a pretty good sweat, even if he joked about practicing with shades on.
"It was more like a playoff practice," Pierce said.
Which is exactly the kind of practice this team needs with the postseason kicking off this weekend.
With television networks dictating when teams play, there's no telling how much practice time the C's will have.
"We got two games coming up and get [Thursday] off," Pierce said. "Who knows if we'll play on Saturday, so we may have one more practice left [before the playoffs]. We got some good work in today."
With a number of key players on playoff teams going down with injuries, it might seem a little cuckoo to go hard in practice, but the benefit, at least for the Celtics, is three-fold.
For starters, it better prepares them for Tuesday's game against a Chicago Bulls team that's fighting to hold on to the eighth and final playoff slot. And as Pierce acknowledged, it also helps them in their preparation for the playoffs.
It also has an added benefit that Pierce, well, isn't all that crazy about.
Harder practices give coach Doc Rivers a greater comfort level in deciding on which members of the Big Three will miss one or both of the remaining regular season games.
Kevin Garnett already got his one-game reprieve when Rivers opted to sit him out in last week's 105-90 win at Milwaukee.
Pierce is the most likely Celtic to be held out, possibly in Tuesday night's game against the Bulls.
Whenever Rivers has approached Garnett about missing a game or two, there has always been some resistance.
He gets more of the same when trying to convince Pierce.
"I don't really think it'll benefit me or the team," Pierce said of being held out of either of the two remaining regular season games. "It's not like we got a position locked up. These games mean something. I'm trying to keep a rhythm going."
Injuries have prevented Pierce from getting into the kind of steady flow offensively he's used to. That has been one of the main reasons Rivers has been reluctant to sit him out when healthy.
But that's where hard practices like Monday come into play.
"That's why we go hard in practice," said Rivers, who added that he's not worried about limiting the minutes played by Ray Allen. "The only way if you're going to sit a guy or rest a guy more in games, the only way he's going to get his rhythm is by going longer or harder in practice."
Regardless of what Rivers decides to do, there are going to be those who will question the decision.
"I don't even know what's the right answer for any of that," Rivers said. "Nobody does. But I do know if you practice at game speed, it gives you a better chance (of keeping your rhythm)."
Players with a reputation for bringing great energy to the floor have given the Celtics problems all season.
They'll face one of the best at that in Chicago's Joakim Noah.
The 2007 lottery pick averages 10.6 points and 10.9 rebounds, making him one of just nine players averaging a double-double this season. In two games against Boston this season, he has averaged 11 points and 11.3 rebounds per game.
"That guy gets more out of what he does . . . he does everything for that team," Rivers said. "He's clearly their energy beacon."
However, Rivers said there's a lot more to Noah's game than hustle.
"You know what else he has, and I don't think he gets enough credit for it. He has an incredibly high I.Q.," Rivers said. "He reminds me so much of Dennis Rodman in that way. He's a great passer; has great timing in setting picks. Defends all over the floor; he's not as good a defender as Rodman yet, but he will be because he works at it."
A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sherrodb