When the Celtics held an intrasquad scrimmage for season ticket-holders during coach Brad Stevens’s first season two years ago, some rookies were tasked with introducing their teammates to the crowd.
“And I’m not sure they knew everybody,” Stevens said. “So we decided that wasn’t the best idea.”
So after Tuesday night’s scrimmage, rookie guard Terry Rozier took a microphone and had a simpler message. He thanked the crowd of about 3,000 for being there, and then he continued.
“Hopefully,” Rozier said, “y’all can cheer us on to another championship this year.”
It could be wishful thinking, but this is the preseason, where hope and optimism reverberate through all 30 NBA franchises. After just three days of training camp practices in Waltham, the Celtics took the court at TD Garden and offered the first public glimpse of their progress.
The Green team defeated the White team, 63-59. But the final result is insignificant. In the end, the scrimmage will be another bit of intelligence for Stevens as he pieces together rotations. Assistants Jay Larranaga and Micah Shrewsberry coached the teams, and Stevens took a seat somewhere in the middle, more of a keen observer.
Marcus Smart, Evan Turner, Tyler Zeller, David Lee, and Avery Bradley started for the White team, and Amir Johnson, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, Isaiah Thomas, and Jonas Jerebko started for the Green squad.
At times, the atmosphere had a casual feel — Crowder and Jared Sullinger played in sweat pants. And at others, the competition was more evident. As the Green team made runs, Crowder, Thomas, and Johnson were among the players on the bench, standing, cheering, and waving their arms.
Olynyk, fresh off a strong performance with the Canadian national team, appeared comfortable and confident. The third-year forward scored 9 points in the first four minutes, including a 3-pointer and a difficult floater in the lane after being fouled.
For most of the players, positive moments were clouded by murky ones, or murky ones were brightened by positive ones, depending on the order.
Perry Jones III, who probably has the most to prove as the Celtics eventually trim their number of guaranteed contracts from 16 to 15, got off to a quick start. The 6-foot-11-inch forward, acquired in a trade with the Thunder this summer, drained his first two 3-point attempts from the right corner. He is not known for his 3-point shooting, and that truth revealed itself later, as he airballed his next two tries.
Second-year forward James Young saw a 3-point attempt thud off the backboard. But seconds later the ball was back in his hands, and he attacked and converted a difficult reverse layup.
Sullinger, whose summer conditioning regimen was one of the main storylines of the offseason, did not play enough to gauge whether he is truly in shape or not. But his frame is still bulky — and that is not necessarily a bad thing — as he created space in the post several times.
The team’s three rookies all showed flashes of the potential they showed during summer league play. Forward Jordan Mickey displayed a soft touch on his midrange shot, and on one play he challenged Smart at the rim and blocked his shot. Rozier showed off his elite speed and also made a pair of 3-pointers, and R.J. Hunter showed his long-range prowess, too.
For the rest of the team, much felt familiar. There was Thomas, cutting through the lane and kicking the ball to open shooters. There was Crowder, fiercely ripping the ball away from Jones. There was Bradley, comfortably hitting shots just inside the 3-point line — shots he would like to move back a few feet so they become 3-pointers.
The Celtics did not keep statistics, but their 3-point success rate seemed considerably higher than the 32.7 percent they shot last season — which ranked 27th in the league. Of course, the intensity of the perimeter defense was not quite at a regular-season level.
There was, as a whole, a sense of continuity. And that is quite welcome, considering how many different combinations this roster has gone through over the past year.
After Rozier addressed the crowd at the end of the scrimmage, it roared in approval and broke into a chant of “Let’s go, Celtics.”
It was the same chant that carried this team off the court after its season ended with a Game 4 playoff loss to the Cavaliers last spring. But this time, it marked a beginning rather than an end.