WALTHAM, Mass. — When Ray Allen was still in Boston, it was popular for Celtics players to preface any mention of him as the "greatest 3-point shooter in the league." Now that Allen is gone to Miami, the Celtics have turned to singing the praises of Jason Terry, while noting the all-around contributions of Paul Pierce.
So seeing Terry and Pierce take part in an impromptu 3-point shooting contest after practice Sunday was not surprising. Both veterans fancy themselves among the best when it comes to taking — and making — big shots, and they decided to see who was better head-to-head.
The third contestant in their competition, going shot-for-shot in their journey around the arc, did not have Pierce or Terry's service time, and he certainly did not have their championship rings. But Dionte Christmas came close to matching every made shot by his more well-known teammates, and by the end, he may have opened their eyes that this training camp invitee out of Temple can shoot a little bit.
"Shooting, that's what I do," Christmas said prior to practice Monday at the Celtics practice facility. "It's like riding a bike. You don't forget how to do that. I thought I helped myself OK against some of the greats. Paul's obviously a legend and JT's one of the best shooters in the NBA, and I thought I stood up against those guys pretty well. I'm a shooter. I'm always going to be that. That's what I do."
Since his impressive summer league run with the team, Christmas has stressed his all-around abilities over his shooting in his quest to make Boston's roster. He said he is a more complete player now than in 2009, when he was cut late in training camp by his hometown Philadelphia 76ers. Three years playing abroad helped him improve his defense and ballhandling, he said.
Christmas will soon have a home-court advantage of sorts as the Celtics depart Monday for Turkey, where they will begin their preseason slate against Fenerbahce Ulker in Istanbul. Christmas spent eight months during the 2010-11 season with Mersin of the Turkish Basketball League, which prompted Rajon Rondo to joke that the rookie would serve as the team's tour guide. During his extended stay, Christmas became accustomed to Turkish culture and developed a taste for kabobs, which he said reminded him of Philadelphia cheesesteaks. He called Istanbul "beautiful," although he said there was no single must-see tourist attraction he would recommend to his teammates.
"I would say, just take in the whole experience in general," Christmas said. "Just go out and walk the streets and see how different it is. It's nice. People will welcome us, I'm pretty sure. The whole experience itself is what got me. There wasn't a specific place I wanted to go, like when I was in Israel, I wanted to go to Jerusalem and Nazareth, and in Greece there were some places I wanted to go. But in Turkey, just seeing all of Istanbul is an experience."
David Hawkins, a fellow Temple product now playing for Galatasaray of the TBL, recently told Christmas that there is a buzz in Istanbul for the Celtics' visit. The Celtics gained a following in Turkey when Semih Erden was with the team in 2010-11, Christmas said, with fans getting up at 3 a.m. to root for the Turkish 7-footer. But the fans' loyalties lie with their native teams first.
"It's going to be tough," Christmas said. "The games are always sold out, especially the big teams like Fenerbahce, Efes, Galatasaray. It's going to be a lot of fans, and obviously they're going to be rooting for their team. We might get some fans rooting for us, but they definitely love their teams out there in Turkey."
Unlike his previous visit, Christmas plans to make this trip temporary. Christmas turned down larger contract offers from international teams to sign a partially guaranteed deal with the Celtics — because, as much as he enjoyed Turkey, his dream is to play in the NBA. The Celtics' backcourt is clogged with Rondo, Terry, Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley, who is recovering from double shoulder surgery, but Keyon Dooling's surprise retirement opened a potential roster spot on the bench.
The signs are mixed for Christmas staying with the Celtics. Jamar Smith, who spent last season with the Celtics' D-League affiliate in Maine, and Kris Joseph, this year's second-round draft pick, will also get long looks as deep reserves on the wing. But Tyronn Lue, the Celtics summer league coach, has sung Christmas' praises, and Terry and Pierce seemed impressed with how the would-be rookie fared in their long-distance shootout.
Terry won, as is to be expected, but the former Sixth Man of the Year made a comment afterward that had to be encouraging to Christmas. It's early in the season, Terry told him, and Christmas will have plenty of time to catch up.
That was music to Christmas' ears — almost as pleasant as a satisfying swish.