The good news for Celtics faithful is the team did not take its humiliating preseason loss to the Brooklyn Nets lightly, especially newly-acquired veteran Tristan Thompson, who decided to bring some intensity to his first full practice at the Auerbach Center Saturday.
Thompson, unable to play in the preseason because of a hamstring injury, appears to be close to returning and perhaps could play in the season opener Wednesday against the Milwaukee Bucks. While he was on the sideline Friday encouraging his teammates against the Nets, Thompson, like many Celtics fans, was disturbed by the lackadaisical play in the 113-89 loss.
What’s more, the Celtics have trailed for most of their two preseason losses, failing to score 100 points.
“I’m a competitor. Whether it’s my brother, my cousins, my teammates, when [we] step in between those four lines, we want to compete at a high level, especially after (Friday’s) game,” he said. People always say it’s preseason but that same team, we play against them on Christmas, so I was [ticked] off with how we came out. Of course it wasn’t our regular lineup or regular rotations but I knew today in practice I wanted to kind of light a fire under everyone … and get that competitive juice flowing.”
Thompson comes to Boston with a championship pedigree after nine years in Cleveland and a 2016 NBA title. He was signed last month to anchor the middle and it appears the Celtics will desperately need his help. Daniel Theis continues to struggle with foul trouble and just misfortune in the preseason.
The Celtics have been cautious not to push Thompson too hard as he recovers from his hamstring injury. He worked out prior to Friday’s game with assistant coach Jay Larranaga. He participated in most of Saturday’s workout, according to coach Brad Stevens.
Thompson would not yet declare himself ready to return.
“It felt good to be back out there. It’s been nine months,” Thompson said. “It felt good to be with my new teammates, be around the coaches, to be at full capacity. The key for everyone is to make sure we don’t rush this. We don’t want nothing lingering or lagging because myself and my teammates, we’re trying to play in late June, July, so we want everyone to be healthy throughout the year.”
Stevens said Saturday’s practice was about establishing roles, and it was apparent Friday that players, besides Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart, are searching for how and where to contribute.
“When you play the way we did (Friday) at times, there’s a lot to work on,” Stevens said. “But you’re also early in the season. I think you have to be careful to pick what you emphasize as well. The guys competed at a good level (Saturday), a step forward. That’s good because I don’t know if we could have taken much of a step back. Brooklyn was really good and the Celtics weren’t.”
Stevens said there should be no questions from players about their roles, so Saturday was spent discussing and finalizing those responsibilities.
“Sometimes we all misdefine roles as playing time,” he said. “Your role is what you need to do to add value to winning when you’re in the game. It’s not whether you’re starting, whether you’re coming off the bench. It’s what your job [is] when you’re in the game. We talked in a lot of detail about that.”
The Nets caught the Celtics in this transition Friday and quickly jumped to a double-digit lead and led by as many as 36. When Brooklyn, an Eastern Conference favorite with a healthy Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, returns to TD Garden in a few days, the game will count. Thompson is trying to make sure the Celtics are ready.
“I [think] what Brooklyn did (Friday) is they wanted to send a message,” he said. “I think it was only right for them to come out like that. I expected nothing less, especially with the fact that their top two players didn’t play last year. I think with our team, we realized that we’re not the hunters, we’re the hunted and this team finished in the Eastern Conference finals last year, so whether it’s Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Indiana, they’re gonna want to punch us in the mouth and we’ve got to understand that. We gotta know we gotta come with a pitbull, 48-minute, bloodbath mentality. It’s go time and I think guys are ready. We got the cobwebs off, of course.”