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Celtics relying on 'basketball Bluetooth' to stay in sync

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Celtics unique pregame rituals (0:52)

Boston's Amir Johnson, Gerald Green and Kelly Olynyk each have a special routine they carry out before tip-off. (0:52)

BOSTON -- Kelly Olynyk's head was spinning.

It was early October 2013, and the Celtics were navigating the first days of training camp under newly hired head coach Brad Stevens.

Olynyk, then a 22-year-old rookie, was trying his best to simply pick up NBA terminology and make sure he was in all the right spots as the Celtics launched a new era on the campus of Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island.

"I could care less. I just want to win the next possession."

Celtics coach Brad Stevens, on Boston's pregame antics

One night, after the team's two-a-day sessions were complete, Olynyk went out to dinner with soon-to-be team captain Rajon Rondo and longtime strength coach Bryan Doo. The conversation eventually turned to two very important topics for any NBA rookie.

First, Rondo and Doo, each a father of young children, implored Olynyk to embrace the fact he was young and able to make basketball a singular focus. Second, they advised him to develop a pregame routine.

In that moment, the start of one of the NBA's most ambitious pre-tipoff routines was born.

It has been a steady evolution, but Olynyk is now a blizzard of activity in the time from lineup announcements until the game's opening jump ball, all with a goal of getting himself and his teammates pumped up for action.

Olynyk's routine crescendos with a sequence in which he sprints from near midcourt for a flying body bump with teammate Jonas Jerebko and then spins seamlessly into a multistep handshake with Doo that ends when Olynyk brings his hands together before emphatically fanning them out skyward.

"Rondo and B-Doo were telling me, 'Bro, just live your life. Keep working, keep grinding. But right now you have no worries,'" Olynyk said. "And that's how our pregame handshake started.

"There's so much stuff in life, and then you just gotta, like," Olynyk said as he replicated a fanning motion. "You can't worry about any of that right now."

Every team in the NBA has unique pregame routines. There are plenty of well-choreographed handshakes and endless fist bumps. In Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook and former Thunder guard Cameron Payne became a must-watch dance party last season.

Boston's pregame routines are fascinating to observe, and it's a small glimpse into the chemistry and cohesion that has positioned Boston two wins away from a trip to the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics visit the Washington Wizards on Thursday night in Game 3 of an East semifinal series at the Verizon Center (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).


During lineup introductions, All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas stands alone in the corner opposite the Celtics bench until his name is announced. A mosh pit ensues, with players aggressively bumping and wrestling each other until "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses begins and the 90-second countdown to tipoff begins.

As warm-up gear gets hurled in every direction, Stevens draws up a play for Boston's first possession. The huddle typically breaks with maybe a minute on the clock, and Boston players race to begin their routines -- some more detailed than others:

Amir Johnson's first pitch

Celtics big man Amir Johnson used to peel off his warm-up shirt and simply throw it to the sky as a sideline attendant raced to catch it. The sequence evolved, and Johnson now throws his crumpled-up shirt at Doo, who crouches like a catcher on the baseline.

Teammates at first watched to see if Johnson would throw a strike. He did it frequently enough that veteran Gerald Green now stands in front of Doo, waggling an imaginary bat and then trying to make contact with his hands. Olynyk often breaks away from his own intensive routine to play the field behind Johnson.

"At first I was striking [Green] out," Johnson said. "But, like, [in recent] games, he's been hitting home runs now. I think my catcher [Doo] doesn't have great signals, and I have to talk to him about that. His signals are throwing me off."

Doo confirmed a recent pitcher-catcher conference, and whatever was discussed appears to have worked for Johnson. Green finds himself in a postseason slump as Johnson routinely works the corners of the plate.

Stevens and his assistants, their more subtle fist bumps concluded, sometimes sneak a glance at Johnson's opening pitch.

"I could care less [about the pregame antics]. I just want to win the next possession," Stevens said. "But sometimes I do enjoy watching Amir throw the pitch."

Told that Green had been making solid contact in his early at-bats, Stevens said he's well-aware, noting that Green hit a home run late in the regular season.

"That's probably the thing I enjoy the most," Stevens said of the pitcher-hitter sequence. "I'm not big on the mosh pit or things like Kelly jumping in the air. But everybody has to do their own thing."


It's a bird? It's a plane? It's Kelly Olynyk!

Olynyk's post-huddle journey starts at the scorer's table, where he, Tyler Zeller and Jonas Jerebko dap all the starters headed to the court.

Olynyk breaks away to be part of Johnson's pitch, and then eventually makes the trek back to the bench, fist-bumping the team's media relations staffers and all the coaches along the way. There are quick handshakes and hugs with most of his teammates until he spies Jerebko.

That's when Olynyk turns, jogs a few paces in the opposite direction, touches his toes, and then speeds at Jerebko as the two leap in the air for their flying body bump. Olynyk throws some sort of midair ninja kick and then locates Doo as he spins for the grand finale.

When that's done, Olynyk does some quick-stepping calisthenics, and as the pregame countdown buzzer sounds, he typically rips open the top of his warm-up shirt a la Superman.

"I'm running out of time," Olynyk playfully lamented. "Sometimes Coach takes too long to draw up the first play, and then we don't get time to do it all. I might be maxed out on what I can do."


Boston's 'basketball Bluetooth'

There's plenty more to see on Boston's sideline, some of it less obvious. Marcus Smart has a personalized sequence with Green. Jae Crowder offers daps and bows to anyone he can find. Eventually, Smart locates fellow 2014 draftee James Young, and they do a more subdued version of the Westbrook-Payne dance. Second-year guard Terry Rozier and Green often do a fictional dice roll that brings back memories of Paul Pierce's huddle-breaking routine.

As silly as it can look to casual observers, do not diminish the importance of all the pre-tip chaos. NBA players crave routines and can be thrown off without them. Games in Boston's most recent Big Three era couldn't start until Kevin Garnett was done head-butting the stanchion and pounding his chest at the crowd.

Now a new generation of Celtics are trying to find their own unique ways to get ready for game action.

"It definitely gets you in game mode, gets everybody pumped up and ready to go," Olynyk said. "It kind of gets you on the same wavelength as everybody else. Everybody knows at that time what everybody else is doing.

"It kinda syncs you guys all together. It's like basketball Bluetooth."

Stevens is asked if he had any fancy handshakes as part of his pregame routine when he played collegiately at DePauw University, and the glance he offers in response confirms his pregame routine was as bland as could be. But he's fine with whatever his players need to do to get ready for game time.

"When you play 82 games, I think one of the things is, everybody has a routine and kind of a rhythm of how they get into a game," Stevens said. "I think it's really cool, and it basically adds enthusiasm through that. We're not the only team, obviously, and people have talked about other teams and their pregame stuff.

"I think it's fun. Have fun with it."