Mark L. Baer/US Presswire
Dionte Christmas handles the ball during Saturday's game against the Knicks.HARTFORD, Conn. -- Reporters joked with Dionte Christmas before the Celtics' preseason trip to Europe that he would be the unofficial tour guide, given his experience playing overseas before being picked up by Boston. He might have similar responsibilities on Sunday, as the Celtics were scheduled to practice at Temple University, Christmas' alma mater, leading up to their exhibition game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.
But showing his team the sights as they barnstorm around, well, the world, isn't how Christmas is earning his keep. Though his playing time through Boston's first three preseason games has been limited, Christmas has distinguished himself enough over the first two weeks of training camp to be considered the frontrunner for one of the team's final roster spots. And if there still is a debate about who'll end up on the squad at the beginning of the regular season, Christmas might have taken another strong step on Saturday in the team's 98-95 overtime loss to the New York Knicks.
Though the one play from Saturday's loss that might stick out most was the final one, in which Christmas didn't run the set correctly that was designed to get Jamar Smith an open look at a potential tying 3-pointer, Christmas did play a significant role in the Celtics even getting that opportunity, as they overcame a six-point fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime.
"I thought Coach said one thing and it was another. It was a whole communication problem," Christmas said after the game. "Things like that can't happen if we're going to win games, so that's something we're definitely going to change and get out of my system -- one and done for that."
Part of the reason Boston fell behind midway through the final frame was the frenetic pace at which it was playing. The sets seemed rushed, and, at times, the Celtics couldn't even properly inbound the ball or get it across halfcourt. But that's when Christmas stepped in. Though playing at the two-guard spot, once the likes of Jason Kidd and Pablo Prigioni began applying full-court pressure on Jamar Smith, Christmas retreated to help break up the defense and restore order to Boston's offense.
"I mean, Coach has that confidence in me. Sometimes he called me over and told me to get the ball, play in the pick-and-roll and try to calm things down and just try to run some plays," Christmas said. "So I had that confidence. Coach gives me that confidence, Rondo, all those guys, they know when I get in there I can run plays. I don't just play the 2 or 3, I can play the 1 as well, so when a guy was pressuring Jamar a little bit, Coach told me to help him out a little bit, come get the ball and call some plays. But I thought, overall, we all did a great job."
It was a summer league reunion of sorts for the lineup that closed the game for Boston, so it's not completely surprising that Christmas assumed a leadership role similar to the one he developed in Orlando and Las Vegas. Knowing the C's wanted to run their offense through Jared Sullinger before he fouled out, Christmas found him for a jumper from the left elbow early in the final quarter, then again for an easy dunk on the right side in transition.
Christmas added a jumper of his own to bring Boston within a point of the Knicks in the final minutes of regulation, and, more importantly, two steals, the latter of which led to a bucket for Micah Downs on the right baseline that kept Boston within one. After a rushed first few minutes of the last quarter, Boston's reserves found their groove, showing a familiarity bred from their frequent practice reps.
"We play together every day," Christmas said. "The second and third unit in practice, going against [Rajon] Rondo and [Jason Terry], Paul [Pierce], [Kevin Garnett], Courtney [Lee] and all those guys, so us playing together is nothing new. We knew who our scorers were, we knew who to put in the pick-and-rolls. We knew when Sully was in the game, we were going to Sully. When he was out, Coach wanted to put me and Jamar into the pick-and-rolls and create and make some plays, which I think we did well. Even Micah, he was playing at a position he never plays in practice and, like Coach said, he just came out there and played with a lot of heart, so that was cool."