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Bruno Fernando hopes to make an impression on the Celtics with his physical brand of play

Bruno Fernando, going strong to the basket in a Summer League win over the Nuggets, has long admired former Celtics center Kevin Garnett from a far as one of his favorite all-time NBA players.Ethan Miller/Getty

LAS VEGAS — Boston center Bruno Fernando was asked this week if there are any former Celtics that he admired. His eyes opened wide and he did not hesitate to give an answer.

“That’s a no-brainer: Kevin Garnett,” Fernando said. “That’s my favorite player of all-time. I always looked up to him. I remember my days of high school, my days of college, just watching a lot of his highlights.”

Fernando said he went to Los Angeles to work out with Rasheed Wallace three summers ago. It was an honor to train with a former All-Star, but Fernando knew that Wallace and Garnett were friends, so he was mostly hopeful that Garnett might show up to the session, too.


They did not meet then and still have not crossed paths, but Fernando tries to mimic Garnett’s energy and intensity and, well, mouth, when he is on a basketball court, or even just on the bench.

“I bring energy, definitely,” Fernando said. “Just coming off the bench and sparking us, rebounding, talking. Sometimes I just be talking crazy, but I know that lifts guys up. And I’m just finding ways to impact the game. Diving for 50/50 balls, getting stops defensively, and getting everybody on the same page.”

The Celtics acquired Fernando from the Hawks last week in the three-team trade that sent center Tristan Thompson to the Kings. Fernando was used sparingly over his first two seasons with Atlanta. This past season he averaged 6.8 minutes over 33 games and played a total of 11 minutes in the Hawks’ run to the Eastern Conference finals.

Celtics coach Ime Udoka hinted on Tuesday that the Celtics might still make minor tweaks to their roster, and since the team already has 16 players under contract for next season, Fernando could be a candidate to be traded away in a separate deal.


But for now he remains a Celtic and he is hopeful that he can help this team. He was added to Boston’s Las Vegas summer league roster on Monday after the Thompson trade was finalized and he stepped into the starting lineup in the win over the Nuggets on Tuesday and had 9 points and 2 rebounds in just 15 minutes.

“I just try to come in and impact the game however I can,” Fernando said. “I think defense is one thing I emphasize a lot, and in summer league a lot of guys lack that. A lot of times we don’t want to play defense; we just focus on offense and want to look pretty. And I know that’s one thing that’s definitely going to help me get to the next level, coming in and making an impact defensively.”

Celtics assistant coach Joe Mazzulla, who is guiding this summer squad, said that Denver set the tone with its physical style of play at the start of that game, but the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Fernando made sure that the Celtics did not back down.

“Bruno was the anchor,” Mazzulla said, “and [made] sure we responded with physicality.”

The center position has become somewhat crowded since the Celtics brought back veteran Enes Kanter on a one-year deal, joining veterans Al Horford and Robert Williams. But Williams has dealt with injuries throughout his career, Horford turned 35 in June, and Kanter is a defensive liability.


So Fernando will use the rest of this week in Las Vegas to try to prove that he belongs.

“I’ll just try to find ways to fit in with everybody else and do whatever I can to impact the game in a positive way,” Fernando said. “If that’s bringing energy, that’s what I’m doing. If that’s rebounding, that’s what I’m doing. If that’s setting a really good screen that’s exactly what I’m doing. So that’s what I see myself as far as trying to complement everybody else’s game.”

Adam Himmelsbach can be reached at Follow him @adamhimmelsbach.