BOSTON — Jokes, both G-rated and R-rated, flew around the
home locker room at the TD Garden late Sunday night. The preseason was
finished, which was such a relief that hardly a member of the Celtics even
mentioned their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers to end the exhibition schedule. Spirits were high, regardless of the defeat.
Wins and losses have no bearing in mid-October, though. The
main purpose of these eight preseason games for the Celtics was to generate a
level of comfort between new and old players while everyone honed their bodies
back into playing shape. The latter was relatively simple and could be solved
with a few extra sprints. As for the players' comfort with each other, that
could be trickier.
"We've seen a lot of good, positive things," Paul Pierce
said. "We're still building chemistry. Chemistry doesn't always build
overnight like it did in '08. We're still trying to build that. When you look
at the number of new players that we got, we're still trying to implement them.
Adding [Leandro] Barbosa to the mix, we've still got to get him on the court,
practice time, understanding what we're trying to do around here, so it's
Barbosa's arrival added to an already deep rotation, and a
synonym for "deep" is "crowded." Coach Doc Rivers hinted at
starting the season with a nine-man rotation, and as many as five of those nine
could be newcomers.
Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo, Brandon Bass and Pierce are
holdovers, while Jeff Green, Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, Jared Sullinger and
Barbosa are either newcomers or, in Green's case, might as well be. It took
half a season for Bass to play seamlessly with the so-called Big Three and Rondo
last season, but by the beginning of the playoffs Bass' strengths and
weaknesses had been absorbed into the Celtics' identity. With many more new,
key players to integrate this season, it could take longer for everyone to feel
Defense is the most obvious illustration of how that
chemistry has come in fits and starts. The Celtics were an outstanding
defensive team last season yet so far they have been merely average and only
occasionally good. The additions of superior individual defenders like Green
and Lee figure to make the team better defensively as a whole, eventually.
"Every year, as far as I'm concerned, once you change
personnel then everybody's new again," Rivers said. "We have to
relearn everything. I know we're there but we haven't done it consistently
Rivers is nothing if not a worrier, though, and Pierce has
seldom found a situation he could not understate. Their pessimism regarding the
team's thus-far unrealized ability to come together therefore is partly borne from
having loftier goals in mind than just building a locker room utopia where
everyone sings Kumbaya and makes each
other charm bracelets.
Green, who missed an entire year of basketball as he
underwent and then recovered from heart surgery last season, may be a better
gauge of the team's growth. Overcoming an aortic aneurism at age 25 has a way
of making someone both a realist and an optimist. So although he was critical
on Sunday of his own performance in the preseason, he said he noticed solid
chemistry already taking hold among his teammates.
"We're unselfish on offense," Green said. "We've
got a lot of guys who can put a lot of points on the board, yet we're very
unselfish. That shows that we have trust in our teammates that they can make
The preseason is the preseason, of course. None of the
statistics carry over to the regular season and nobody gives out an award for
the best preseason team. The Celtics may have been encouraged by some of the
things they saw in the last month, but mean much less than what actually
happens on the court in Miami on Oct. 30.
"We did some good things in preseason but now as we'll
see the real stuff starts," Garnett said. "It starts in practice.
It's back to work."
The goal is the same: to win. Only the co-workers are