For all the hullabaloo surrounding the return of star Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo this past week, it is the recent play of another, less-heralded floor general that has provided a huge shot in the arm for a team very much in need.
Since the Celtics traded Jordan Crawford to Golden State on Wednesday, undrafted rookie free agent Phil Pressey has received more minutes at point guard — and he has flourished, recording 19 assists and no turnovers in the team’s last two games.
“Sometimes guys just thrive with that extra opportunity,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the team’s 107-104 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers Friday, in which Pressey had 9 assists, 2 steals, and 6 points in 22 minutes. “He’s taken advantage of it.”
On the day Crawford was traded, Pressey made his first career start, finishing with 10 assists in an 88-83 win over Toronto. The last Celtics player with back-to-back games of nine or more assists with zero turnovers was Kenny Anderson in February 1998.
“It’s me getting out there and believing in myself, my teammates believing in me, and I just feel like the more I play out there, the more comfortable I get,” said Pressey, who has played a total of 48 minutes the last two games.
And with Rondo expected to play limited minutes as he eases his way back following a nearly yearlong absence because of a knee injury, Pressey figures to remain a fixture on the floor — at least for the time being.
The Celtics, who begin a three-games-in-four-days road trip Sunday in Orlando, have also averaged 91.5 shot attempts in their last two games, a sizable increase from their 82.4-shots-per-game average before those games.
(If the Celtics averaged 91.5 shots per game, they’d be leading the league in that category, for what it’s worth. The NBA’s current leader in that category, entering Saturday, was Minnesota, which averaged 89.2 shots per game.)
After Friday’s game, Stevens partly credited the increased number of shots to Pressey.
“We like to run, yes, but that might be Phil’s increased minutes playing a major role, because Phil pushes that pace really, really well,” Stevens said. “I thought Rondo pushed it as well, but obviously if Phil plays 10 minutes or 22, you’re going to play with more pace when he’s in the game for longer periods of time.”
Pressey, who played at Waltham High for one year while his father, Paul, was a Celtics assistant, deferred praise and instead credited Rondo.
“I owe a lot of it to him, because even when he was out, he’s been talking to me, telling me what to do, telling me to hold the guys up,” Pressey said. “Just watching him and everything in practice helps me out in a game.
“Just having him back out there on the court, you can see our team is really starting to talk more and everything is starting to come together a little bit better.”
Jared Sullinger added that he felt that Pressey has simply become more comfortable.
“I think he’s not timid anymore,” Sullinger said. “He finally made the change back. Before if he had a turnover, he was so hard on himself. Now he throws the ball with confidence and if he makes a turnover, he makes a turnover.
“He knows that there’s going to be more plays for him. He might play 10 minutes, he might [play] 20 minutes here. He’s playing a lot of minutes for us, meaningful minutes at that. He’s just comfortable.”
Pressey agreed with Sullinger’s point and added, “I just have to keep going out there and believing in myself. Keep focusing on what the coaches want me to do, playing defense and the rest will take care of itself.”
. . .
Entirely overshadowed by Rondo’s season debut — and, of course, by the loss to the Lakers — was the brilliant performance by Celtics rookie forward Kelly Olynyk.
The first-round pick out of Gonzaga finished with a career-high 25 points, a career-high 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block in 33 minutes.
“There was a lot of openings, I just tried to stay aggressive,” Olynyk said. “Phil and Rondo and [Gerald Wallace] put me in great positions under the basket and all I really had to do was lay it in.”
Wallace, who had five assists, said he also believed that Olynyk is finding a groove after having sat out for 10 games in November and December with a sprained ankle.
“I think he was playing well before he got hurt,” Wallace said. “I think now, he’s just starting to get his confidence back in his ankle. He’s starting to get his rhythm back. And he’ll get back to the way he was playing before he got hurt.”