NEW YORK — Neemias Queta sat by himself in the locker room after the Celtics’ 114-107 preseason loss to the Knicks Monday night and appeared surprised when a team PR staffer walked over and asked him to do an interview with a group of reporters.
The 7-footer is not really used to attention. He is on a two-way contract and just trying to find something more permanent in the NBA.
But his early play with the Celtics has created some intrigue, including among his teammates. As Queta packed up his things and walked over to his interview, Payton Pritchard reached out and stopped him.
“Neemias, good [expletive] out there,” Pritchard said. “I like seeing you play like that. You’re going to be a problem on that glass.”
Pritchard slapped Queta five, and the big man smiled and nodded and seemed to appreciate the recognition.
“I feel very wanted over here,” Queta said later, “so I’m very excited to show what I can do.”
He offered a glimpse against the Knicks. With the Celtics’ top six players resting, Queta had some impactful moments in his debut. He registered 7 points, 4 rebounds, and a block, and the Celtics outscored the Knicks by 9 points during his 13:35 on the court.
The 7-foot, 245-pound Queta moved quite well, whether running the floor on fast breaks or sprinting to close out on Knicks perimeter shooters. But he also committed five fouls, an issue that has plagued him during the start of his career.
Queta, who was drafted in the second round by the Kings in 2021, committed seven fouls in 29 total minutes while on a two-way deal with Sacramento last season. In the G League, he decreased his fouls per 36 minutes from 4.9 two seasons ago to 3.8 last year.
But on a Celtics roster that is filled with skilled 3-point-shooting bigs following the departure of Robert Williams, Queta could have value as more of an old-school enforcer.
“I just come in with a great mentality, great approach, and with [Kristaps Porzingis and Al Horford] next to me, I just want to be able to learn from them and pick their brain,” he said, “because they’ve been doing it for a long time at the highest level and they’re such versatile bigs. I want to be able to learn from them and kind of be like them.”
Queta, a two-time Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year at Utah State, signed a one-year deal with the Kings last summer following two seasons as a two-way-contract player. But he was released last month after Sacramento signed veteran big man JaVale McGee.
“It’s always tough when that situation happens, but I feel like I’ve always had a good support system with my family and friends,” he said. “It didn’t really take much time before Boston called up and I picked up the phone, and knew I was in a good situation from that point on.
“This is a winning team always competing for championships, so I want to be able to contribute in that aspect.”
The Celtics added forward Wenyen Gabriel on a training-camp contract after trading Williams in the Jrue Holiday deal, but that hardly fills that void. Horford is unlikely to play on back-to-back nights, and the Celtics could even be cautious with Porzingis, who has been slowed by injuries throughout his career.
These scenarios could create openings for Queta; he understands he will have to take advantage of them.
“It’s just a matter of being consistent enough,” he said, “and being one of those guys that can be relied on.”
He said he wants to make an impact with high-energy plays, and on Monday night he had one that was followed by a reminder of his current status. With just over three minutes left in the second quarter, he soared in for a putback dunk after Dalano Banton missed a layup.
Queta was then whistled for a technical foul for hanging on the rim, a rare call in the NBA. His teammates were upset because it was a borderline and unusual call. Queta, who will make about $559,000 this season, was displeased for another reason.
“I surely didn’t think it was a tech,” he said, “but you’ve got to pay [a $2,000 fine] for those, so I’m not excited about that.”