ORLANDO — After a one-game trial run, it was back to the bench for point guard Marcus Smart as his reign as heir apparent to Rajon Rondo has been interrupted.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens gave Jameer Nelson his first start since coming over from the Dallas Mavericks in the Rondo trade, and he collected 11 assists in the Boston’s 100-95 loss to Orlando at Amway Center on Tuesday night. Smart, meanwhile, who started Sunday in Miami, came off the bench and had 3 points and two assists in 16 minutes.
The Celtics now have started three point guards — Evan Turner, Smart, and Nelson — in the three games since Rondo was traded on Dec. 18.
“It’s less about who’s starting and a lot more about rotations that I want to try behind them,” Stevens said before the game. “We’re still trying to find some things out with this group. Jameer will play well with whatever group he plays with. What I wanted to try to avoid was three new guys on the court at once like we had [against Miami]. There’s too much unknown about how everybody fits together.
Stevens said the conversation with Smart was not difficult. He said he explained he wanted the rookie to continue playing hard and it wasn’t considered a demotion.
“Marcus was great,” Stevens said. “The only thing Marcus said was, ‘This is about the Celtics.’ ”
Smart, who had 3 points and 4 assists in his starting debut, said he is taking the changes in stride.
“We had three guys coming in at the middle of the season and we really haven’t had time to prepare,” Smart said. “We’re still trying to find out rotations to help us win the game. That’s what this was about [Tuesday]. Jameer has been in the league for a long time, a veteran, somebody I can learn from, pick up some good habits from.”
Stevens had told Smart that his move to the starting lineup Sunday may not be permanent and the coach is using the next several games to generate the best rotations. The Celtics picked up Nelson, swingman Jae Crowder, and forward/center Brandan Wright in the Rondo deal. All three played against the Heat.
Smart played 28 minutes in that 100-84 loss.
“They showed a lot of trust in me and it comes with a lot of responsibility and it shows me they’re really high on me as a player,” Smart said.
Nelson said he has already learned the Celtics’ defense because Stevens teaches the same concepts as former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. After a slow first half, Nelson scored 9 points with 9 assists, and 4 steals in 19 second-half minutes, helping the Celtics nearly rally from a 27-point deficit.
“I’m just here to help, no matter what position I’m in,” he said. “I don’t really have a comfort level [yet]. I’ve got to learn everybody. I don’t know guys well enough in terms of their games. I just see it from afar. I don’t know sweet spots.’’
A second return
While Tuesday was the first regular-season game for Nelson since leaving the Magic after nine seasons, it wasn’t the first game. He returned to Amway Center on Oct. 24 during a preseason game while with the Mavericks.
As the Celtics do in Boston, the Magic in the preseason presented Nelson with a tribute video, one he did not watch. The Magic presented a second video after the first timeout Tuesday and Nelson managed to catch the conclusion and walked to midcourt to acknowledge the crowd, which stood in ovation.
“The first time I couldn’t do it because the coach was drawing up a play,” Nelson said of Rick Carlisle.
“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know whether to leave the huddle or just look at the [coach calling the play] so I froze.
“I wanted to plant seeds, at least I tried to here in Orlando,” Nelson said. “They really respected me, looked up to me for everything. It was good to be around those guys to be able to do that.”
When Nelson was released from his contract, the Magic purchased advertising on billboards throughout the city reading “Thanks Jameer.”
“That was special,” he said. “It says a lot about the organization, the DeVos [ownership] family are on the top of my list in terms of a family and what they taught me as a man. We had a lot talks over 10 years, meaningful as well.”
On Monday, Stevens said James Young was available to play against Orlando. Just a day later, Young was placed on the inactive list and will be examined by team doctors in Boston before being cleared to play. Young separated his right [non-shooting shoulder] Dec. 10 in a NBADL appearance for Maine. The rookie participated in full-contact practice Monday and shootaround Tuesday. Stevens stressed Young did not experience a setback . . . Avery Bradley was in the starting lineup despite taking an elbow to his right eye during Monday’s practice. He had a bruise and scrape near the eye during Tuesday’s shootaround. Against the Magic, he notched his first 20-point game since scoring 32 at Dallas on Nov. 3 . . . The Magic’s starting lineup change to include Elfrid Payton and Kyle O’Quinn hurt the Celtics. Payton finished with 12 points and seven assists while O’Quinn had 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 2 steals . . . In 13 games as a starter, Tyler Zeller is averaging 13 points, 7.5 rebounds, 63.2 percent shooting, and 90 percent from the free throw line. He made all 10 free throw attempts Tuesday. It was the first time in his NBA career he posted consecutive games of at least 20 points.