When Ray Allen looked around during last year’s preseason, nearly everything was new. New teammates, new coaches and new surroundings in a country most of the Celtics had never set foot in before.
The contrast to this year’s scene has been striking. A dozen players from last season’s championship squad, which held training camp in Rome, are back. All of the coaches are familiar faces, with familiar plays, barks and commands. With the exception of two rookies and two veterans signed as free agents, it’s been almost like picking up right where the team left off in June.
“It’s been a lot easier because we get right into our sets,” said Allen. “We get right into practice. Last year, it was like you just sat there. There was so much instruction. For many of us, it was like our first time playing basketball because there was so much where we were starting over with terminology with the coaches, and getting to know everybody.”
There is little question the Celtics are already in a groove. Things went so well during the week at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., that coach Doc Rivers called off most night practices and cut the team loose entirely from the last day of workouts on Monday. It’s a practice Rivers started early last season to save his squad’s legs and has continued as a reward for short stints of focus and intensity.
“When you go double sessions, most of the time coaches do it because there are so many things you want to put in and so many things you want to do,” Allen said before departing Newport. “We’re covering a lot of areas in the first practice, and that’s allowed us to get done with things quickly.”
Helping matters considerably is the fact that they have done those things together so many times before.
“It’s helped us because we can put things in quicker,” said Rivers. “But it’s still a little dangerous … because some of the young guys don’t know the little details, and then they get left behind, and then they can’t catch up. So we are still trying to work through that and get that [balance] right.”
Overall, though, this year’s preseason has been more business trip than whirlwind tour. After all of last year’s excitement, the troops appreciate that level of calm.
“I think we’ve been a lot more efficient,” Allen said. “It reminds me somewhat of college in how we go from drill to drill, just pick it up and keep moving.”
Lost in translation
The precision of the preseason has been great for the veterans, but it hasn’t always made things easy on first-round draft pick J.R. Giddens.
Giddens has struggled at times keeping up with the defensive sets. Of course, it doesn’t help that he is often dealing with the daunting task of fighting through Kevin Garnett picks to try to stick with the likes of Allen on the perimeter.
“Coming in as a rookie you’re a little behind,” said Giddens. “You just have to pick things up a little quicker and try not to make the same mistakes each day.”
Giddens, 23, has also suffered by comparison to fellow rookie Bill Walker, who has displayed more aggression and poise on the court during the short glimpses of practice open to the media. To his credit, the New Mexico product has used extensive post-workout shooting sessions as instant therapy for his frustration.
“I just have to be mentally strong right now,” he said. “I am not in college anymore. Everything’s not catered to me.’’
One of the new faces who has impressed in the preseason has been backup center candidate Patrick O’Bryant. An afterthought for two years in Golden State, he has been running with the first team as Kendrick Perkins recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.
“It’s a different story when the season gets going,” Allen said, “but from how he’s playing, I hope he can keep it up and get better as the year goes along.”
Rivers agreed, though with an asterisk.
“Patrick’s been really good so far as long as he plays with the starters, and he struggles when he’s not,” said the coach. “When you play alongside Kevin with Patrick, it really makes him good because of his length.”
Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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