WALTHAM — Kevin Garnett turned back the clock during the second half of last season, regaining his pre-knee surgery form. And he believes the Celtics have done some a similar rewind with the roster this season.
“We have a lot of options, we’ve been playing with them in practice,” Garnett said. “We did a lot of things overseas with different matchups.
“Playing with the lineups we’ve been playing with reminds me of the ’07-’08 year. We had four smalls and one big, we had shooters, we had different dynamics to score the ball.”
Jeff Green’s versatility at forward should have a major influence on the frontcourt. And Jason Terry’s savvy and shooting changes the backcourt dynamic.
“It makes us that much more versatile,” Garnett said of Terry. “We have another shooter on the floor, another scorer, another veteran — knows how to play the game, another ballhandler for [Rajon] Rondo, take Rondo off the ball.”
Garnett is clearly optimistic about the Celtics, relishing his role as a mentor to younger players, appreciative of the team’s acquisition of inside reinforcements such as Jason Collins, Fab Melo, Darko Milicic, and Jared Sullinger.
“Bigs are very hard to get in this league,” Garnett said. “Bigs do a lot for our system, especially when it comes to picks and when it comes to getting guys open. Doc [Rivers’s] system is predicated off bigs getting smalls open, so the more bigs we have the better. More importantly, we have a lot of bigs that have high IQs and that hasn’t been here for quite some time, so it’s refreshing.”
After splitting two games against European opposition, the Celtics meet the Knicks in Hartford Saturday night, the first of five exhibition games against Eastern Conference foes over an eight-day period.
“We’re familiar with the teams we’re playing, personnel, coaching styles, the rules,” Garnett said. “Obviously, overseas was a great experience for us. We worked on some things we worked on in training camp.
“Now it’s time for what we know and what we’re familiar with. I don’t know if it’s a better test, but the things we’re definitely going to see we familiarize ourselves with — some of the sets, obviously, the styles of play, personnel. A lot of teams have changed, as far as personnel. So, from that standpoint, I guess if you want to call it a test, sure.”
Garnett appears eager for the younger Celtics to compete against NBA opponents.
“It’ll be different for them,” he said, “because they are not playing international rules — standing in the paint, you can camp out, is a big deal; the personnel, playing against NBA talent. No disrespect to international basketball but NBA talent is top of the line. Getting to play against the Melos [Carmelo Anthony], [Brook] Lopez, different styles of play, different coaching styles, strategically, too — it wakes you up and it can be fast. So, try to get them acclimated as quick as you can. That’s what preseason is for.”
Rivers plans to experiment with lineups as the Celtics meet the Knicks and Nets twice each, and 76ers once in the next week-plus.
“The tough thing with exhibition games, I don’t try to really get any read from other teams,” Rivers said. “They’re in exhibition season, too. They don’t play the same minutes, play different guys. I guarantee they don’t have a Game 7 mentality. In some ways, for the European teams that was like a world championship for them. So, in some ways, that was better.
“It’s preseason. I don’t think we’ve mentioned the Knicks once. We’ll talk a little about them tomorrow since we’re playing them, but I’m more worried about us. If this was a regular-season game, we would have gone over sets. But this is preseason.”Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.