Brad Stevens arrived at TD Garden around 2:30 p.m. Monday, five hours prior to the scheduled tipoff for the Celtics’ preseason game against Toronto.
Then on theday of his NBA debut, Stevens, the league’s youngest coach (36) and the newest leader of its most championship-rich franchise, walked onto the empty arena’s fabled parquet and looked around.
“I had to see where my seat was,” he said before his team’s 97-89 loss in what will be its first of four preseason games in six nights, the next coming Wednesday against New York in Providence.
But the pregame moment wasn’t anything more than that, and Stevens apologized for being boring. He’s also, in fact, quite the early bird, too: when he coached at Butler, he often arrived at Hinkle Fieldhouse at 7 or 8 a.m. on game days.
“It’s kind of nice to get here by yourself and close that door and go to work,” he said.
But, per usual, Stevens said he didn’t have any nerves before the game. His players saw it a little differently. “Yeah, he’s kinda nervous a little bit, but who isn’t?” said forward Gerald Wallace, a 12-year NBA veteran.
Seventeen championship banners hang in the Garden’s rafters, the most of any NBA team, but Stevens said the history and expectations that they represent did not weigh on his mind.
When Stevens walked out onto the court just before the game, wearing a black suit with a white shirt and a green-and-white striped tie, nearby fans reached for a high-five and a few cheers came from the crowd.
It wasn’t a deafening ovation then, nor later when the lineups were announced and he was introduced to the Garden crowd as the Celtics new coach, the replacement for Doc Rivers.
Stevens took a seat in between veteran assistant coach Ron Adams and returning Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga, who had been candidate for the Celtics head job.
Then the game began, the start of a new era, and the Celtics missed eight of their first nine shots and fell in a 14-2 hole before bouncing back, scoring 10 straight.
The Celtics’ largest lead was 4, its biggest deficit 12. They were outrebounded by 20 and the Raptors made more than 50 percent of their shots. The Celtics played from behind almost the whole way.
Overall, the Celtics shared the ball but looked like a young team with many new parts that’s learning a new system. They looked like a work in progress that’s a long way from being a finished product.
“We did a lot of good things,” Stevens said after. “There’s obviously a lot of areas to improve, starting with shoring us up defensively.”
He said it was different coaching in an NBA game, because the game was 48 minutes (instead of 40 in college) and had a 24-second shot clock (instead of 35 in college). “It’s a little unique, a little different, and I’ll get used to those [things] as we get on through,” he said.
When he arrived home, Stevens said he would watch film of the game.
“I won’t be able to sleep if I don’t watch it tonight and have practice ready for [Tuesday],” he said.
After that, Stevens’s press conference ended, and he was on his way, his first game as the head coach of the Boston Celtics complete.
Sullinger gets busy
In his first NBA action since a back injury cut short his rookie season, forward Jared Sullinger finished with 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists in nearly 20 minutes. His conditioning is poor, but he surprised himself with the energy he seemed to have.
“I honestly thought it was the adrenaline taking over and finally being able to put on a Celtic uniform and getting back out there,” Sullinger said.
Sullinger grabbed four offensive rebounds and effectively cleared out space around the basket. His passing to teammates out of the post was also impressive.
“I thought his wind got him a little bit at times,” Stevens said, “but for the most part, I thought he played a pretty good 20 minutes for us.”
A familiar foe for rookie
Celtics rookie Kelly Olynyk was born and grew up in Toronto, so it was a treat for him to play his first NBA game against the Raptors and hear “O Canada,” his home country’s national anthem, before tipoff.
“It makes you feel at home, especially the Raptors,” he said. “I grew up watching them.”
Olynyk shot 1 of 5 from the floor and scored 4 points, adding 5 assists. “He didn’t score like he’s been scoring, but that will come,” Stevens said of the Celtics’ 2013 first-round draft pick.
Veteran Wallace chips in
Four Celtics scored in double figures, led by Gerald Wallace’s 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting off the bench. “The one thing I’ve learned about Gerald Wallace in my short time knowing him is he’s going to give it everything he has,” Stevens said. “That guy plays hard.” Wallace, a former Net acquired in the deal that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, said, “I’m playing more freely now” as compared with his time in Brooklyn . . . Before the game, Brazilian rookie center Vitor Faverani sat at his locker, soaking it in. “It’s real,” the 25-year-old said before making his NBA debut. “I can’t believe it. It’s too much for my mind.” He had 2 points on a one-handed dunk in the second quarter.Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @BaxterHolmes.