TORONTO — Vitor Faverani came to the Celtics as a virtual unknown. Scant video footage of the Brazilian center was available to the masses. What stood out the most about him? His nickname: El Hombre Indestructible (“The Indestructible Man.”)
But in the Celtics’ regular-season opener Wednesday against the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, the 25-year-old rookie was in the starting lineup.
He finished with 13 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 27 minutes. He also had five fouls and three turnovers.
“Too much mistakes, but I feel comfortable on the floor and coach gave me minutes and confidence in me,” Faverani said. “But I make the mistakes, so that’s bad.”
Said coach Brad Stevens: “Vitor very solid early on; he’s got so much room to improve and he’s already improved. I think certainly we’ve got a keeper there, and we just have to keep helping him get better and better and better.”
The 6-foot-11-inch, 260-pound center said he never could have imagined such a possibility — starting on opening night.
“Never — in training camp, before when I was playing [professionally] in Spain. I can’t believe it now,” Faverani said while sitting in his locker before the game.
Stevens said he decided to start Faverani, the only true center on the Celtics’ roster, because the team would need some size and length in the lineup.
Stevens also started Avery Bradley, Gerald Wallace, Jeff Green and Brandon Bass. Stevens suggested the lineup might have been different had forward Jared Sullinger not been serving a one-game suspension.
Faverani played in all eight of the Celtics’ preseason games, averaging 7.3 points and 4.4 rebounds in 15.5 minutes per game. But he had his best preseason game in his only start, with 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 blocks against Brooklyn one week ago.
“It has been a lot less about that start and a lot more about what he’s done consistently throughout the course of the preseason, regardless of when his opportunities have been,” Stevens said. “He’s played pretty well, he’s played pretty consistently well.”
Faverani scored the first points of the Celtics’ season, hitting 5-foot turnaround hook shot early in the game. Less than two minutes later, he hit a jumper from 17 feet.
He scored a team-high 9 points in nine minutes in the first quarter, hitting 3 of 7 shots — the most taken by any Celtic in the opening frame.
Faverani has said that he wanted to work on his defense, and Stevens said that the rookie has made big strides.
“I think you saw in our last game, he was one of our better defenders, period,” Stevens said, referencing the six blocks that Faverani had. “Hopefully a guy like that can make up for a few of your mistakes on the perimeter. And then, I think we have to be better going inside throughout the course of the year and he can score on the blocks as well.”
Faverani said he didn’t have any butterflies before the game.
“It’s a game,” he said. “I know the NBA is the best league in the world, but I’m trying to feel [calm] because it’s important for the game.”
Born to coach
Stevens’s first experience as a coach was in high school, when he coached a powderpuff football team.
A few of his close friends recall that his first experience coaching basketball, which he did quite well at Butler University, actually came during his freshman year at DePauw University, a Division 3 school in Greencastle, Ind.
During that freshman year, Stevens coached an intramural basketball team comprised of players from his dormitory — the Anderson Street Hall.
“We were pretty good,” said Matt Walker, a college roommate of Stevens’s. “We were one of the dorm teams that actually won some games.”
John Klinginsmith, another friend of Stevens’s who played on the team, half-joked, “We had some good athletes, but good coaching definitely put us over the top.”
Stevens said his memory was a little fuzzy when trying to recall coaching that team.
Regardless, much has changed leading into Wednesday, when the 37-year-old coached in his NBA first regular-season game.
But, as he has all preseason, Stevens, the NBA’s youngest coach who had zero NBA experience before joining the Celtics this summer, downplayed the moment.
“I’m sorry. It’s probably not as interesting as you want it to be,” he told a group of reporters before the game. “I’m just ready to go . . .”
He added, “My biggest thing at this time of year, no matter what you’re coaching, is you want your team to play hard and play to its best. I’m more anxious to see how we play, than necessarily about being out there.”
Olynyk gets started
Rookie and Toronto-born Kelly Olynyk scored his first NBA points on a reverse layup with 1:22 left in the first quarter. He finished with 4 points in 16 minutes as both his parents were in attendance. Though Olynyk didn’t start, Stevens said that the 2013 first-round draft pick will “play a lot of minutes and he may lead us in minutes.” Stevens added, “He’s a guy that can do a number of different things. I think we can run our offense through him.”