Camp chronicles: Pushing play on new season

Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics got the ball rolling with an intrasquad scrimmage. Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

BOSTON -- When the Boston Celtics huddled at center court following the team's annual open practice for season ticket holders on Tuesday night at TD Garden, a "Let's Go Celtics" chant broke out from the basketball-hungry fans that filled much of the lower bowl in order to simply get an early glimpse at this year's squad.

But, with the Celtics back at TD Garden for the first time since their playoff ouster in April, it felt a bit like pushing "play" again after last season ended with the Garden faithful chanting the same message as the Cleveland Cavaliers finished off a four-game sweep of Boston. There's hope that a new season brings an opportunity for these Celtics to take the next step in their progression after tantalizing their fan base with last season's second-half surge to the postseason.

The Celtics brought back 10 players from their playoff roster, but look a little different now. That much was obvious when rookie Terry Rozier, the team's top pick in June's draft, took the mic after the team's scrimmage ended. After thanking fans for coming, Rozier casually added that fans might "cheer us on to a championship this year." Standing nearby, Brad Stevens wore an "Oh, rookie" smile as the crowd roared in response. Stevens won't discourage his team from dreaming big, even if he's cautioned his team repeatedly about the thin line last season's squad walked between being the seventh seed in the East and toiling in the lottery.

Just four days into training camp, Stevens' focus at the moment is on simply determining the lineups and rotation that he will deploy this season. The Celtics, who added veteran big men David Lee and Amir Johnson this summer, seemingly got deeper, but there's no obvious answer to how to mix and match the available talent.

Scrimmaging for 24 minutes on Tuesday night, Stevens was hopeful that a blurry picture would come more into focus.

"We have to find the right combinations for our team. I think that’s the No. 1 thing," said Stevens. "We have a lot of guys that are very capable. But just like anything else, sometimes guys don’t fit great. Sometimes guys do. The sooner that we can find it, the better. I’ve got thoughts in my mind on how certain guys will fit. We’ve got data on how certain guys will fit that have been here. But with a new team and a new season, it’s good to see it all live early on."

Stevens said the team uses its data and projections as a general guide, but acknowledges that it also must pass the eye test.

"I believe some of [the lineup data] because it just makes a lot of sense. And then you look at some of it and you say, ‘Really!?’" said Stevens. "Either way, I think that that’s why you have to go through it and watch film and not get too caught up in smaller samples, those type of things. For the most part, any grouping that we had at the end of last year will look better, right, because we were winning and it may be affected. Guys that were here longer may be more affected. It’s just the way it goes. Again, you just look at what you can. And right now I’m not really overly influenced any which way yet."

For Tuesday's intrasquad scrimmage, the Celtics rolled out a Green team that featured a starting lineup of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk and Amir Johnson; and a White team that countered with Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Tyler Zeller and David Lee.

Read into those pairings what you will, but Stevens cautioned against overthinking them. The third-year coach has pledged to shuffle his players early in camp, especially the team's overstocked frontcourt, before settling on a more firm rotation by the time the Celtics open preseason play next week in Milan.

Nothing was decided at the open scrimmage, but the 24 minutes of 5-on-5 action gave us our first glimpse into how things might start to unfold. Here's four thoughts from the night:

Olynyk works overtime: Maybe the biggest bright spot of the night for Boston was the play of an aggressive Olynyk. Seemingly aided by his recent FIBA appearance with the Canadian national team, a pony-tailed Olynyk didn't have the rust that some of his teammates displayed and played, offensively, without the hesitation that has hindered him early in his pro career. Olynyk scored 10 points in the first four minutes of the scrimmage and was the game's leading scorer while leading Green to a 63-59 win over White.

What's more, while many Celtics players signed autographs while headed back to the locker room after the scrimmage, Olynyk wandered into the loge seating behind the Boston bench and was the last Boston player to exit after signing autographs and snapping photos.

Knee-jerk reactions: Some other hasty takeaways from the scrimmage: It wouldn't be a surprise to see Thomas and Johnson on the floor together a lot this season. They're a dangerous combo in the pick-and-roll, especially when you put spacers/shooters like Olynyk and Jerebko next to them. Noted Stevens: "I think simple is probably better with [Thomas] on the floor. I think spacing and getting the ball up the floor and having shooters around him [works best]. I’ve said that a couple of times. As we look at our bigs and our combinations, that’s going to be important.”... The Green team looked an awful lot like last season's second unit that helped Boston claw its way to the postseason. Some of those players will draw heavy consideration for starting roles, but you can't blame Stevens if he tries to keep that familiar mix of players together often. ... Jones, fighting for a roster spot, had an up-and-down performance. He hit consecutive 3-pointers early in his first shift to raise some eyebrows, but he had some defensive lapses and a couple airballs later to remind you that more consistency is needed in his play. ... Sullinger was an early sub for White and played plenty of minutes. While his play and conditioning will be overanalyzed because a big early camp storyline has been his summer workouts with John Lucas in Houston, it was hard to get a good read on Sullinger's play Tuesday. The good: He spent more time around the basket and didn't settle for 3-pointers. The bad: He didn't immediately distinguish himself the way someone like newcomer Johnson did. ... Stevens spoke to reporters before the scrimmage, but he summed up his rookies' play to this point -- including Tuesday's 5-on-5 action -- when he stated, "They’ve all had moments. And probably not as consistently as some of the guys that have been there and done that. But they’ve all had some real moments. And that’s just part of it. They have a lot going on in their minds right now." ... Jerebko, who you'll remember nearly elevated to a starting role towards the end of last season, had a nice night, too. Swedish Larry Bird connected on four 3-pointers, taking advantage of opportunities created by the Thomas/Johnson pick-and-roll combo.

IT in the spotlight: The final introduction for lineups is typically reserved for the team's biggest star. For what it's worth, on Boston's star-less roster, Isaiah Thomas earned that distinction when the full squad was introduced before Tuesday's scrimmage (what's more, second-year guard Marcus Smart was the second-to-last player called out).

Boston always loves a Pierce: The Celtics welcomed Make-a-Wish visitor Brooklyn Pierce to Tuesday's open scrimmage. After signing him to an honorary contract, Pierce was saluted at midcourt between scrimmages. Thomas came out to snap a picture and, in a nice moment, the entire Celtics roster soon surrounded Pierce for a group photo.