WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn dubbed it "death by a thousand cuts." For a superstar-less Celtics team, it's a notion that, while Boston may not have the best individual player on the court on any given night, the team's depth could be its greatest weapon this season.
The Celtics showcased a deep roster with two lopsided wins against European squads in Milan and Madrid last week. While we wait to see whether Boston can maintain that success stateside against NBA competition, the Celtics are embracing the notion that their depth and evenness is more of a blessing than a curse.
"A reporter after the [Madrid] game said, 'What's the strength of this Celtics team this year?' and I kinda had to think about it for a second. And the answer is 'depth,'" said David Lee. "We're legit 2-deep, sometimes 3-deep, at every position. And if we can use that to our advantage by everybody playing at a feverish pace and challenging one another, and -- when you're ready to slow down, putting your hand up and the next guy comes in and continues right where you left off -- that can be our advantage against teams that are not going to play as many guys. Let's use that as a strength. I think that that's going to be a good thing for us this year."
Lee, who was relegated to a bench role last season in Golden State with the emergence of Draymond Green, believes the Warriors thrived in large part because of their depth and ability to sustain a relentless pace. It sure helped Golden State to have an MVP talent headlining that rotation, and some will argue Boston doesn't even have an All-Star. But the Celtics remain hopeful the whole is greater than the sum of their parts.
"No one cares about who scores, who's the leading rebounder -- none of that," said Celtics big man Jared Sullinger. "The system is going to spread out who is going to score that night, depending on the other team's defensive schemes."
Celtics coach Brad Stevens has said he expects to run with a 10-man rotation and that could mean someone in Boston's overstocked frontcourt is not going to play -- or at not least play a lot -- when the team is at full strength. But Stevens has pleaded with his players to view the team's depth as a positive and not necessarily a negative.
Sullinger, who was one of the final bigs off the bench at times overseas, said the in-team competition can only make Boston players better.
"I just think overall, [the competition] helps our basketball team," Sullinger said. "All five [big men] have been starters in this league. Playing from me, to D-Lee, to Tyler [Zeller], to Kelly [Olynyk] and Amir [Johnson]. That's a big challenge to tell somebody who is so used to starting that, 'Hey, you are coming off the bench,' or, 'Hey, you might not play tonight.' Brad's best interest is the team and, at the same time, we have to accept that -- whoever that guy is being benched or starting. We just have to accept it and play our role."
Added Sullinger: "At the same time, I'm not here to make it a rivalry between me, Amir, Tyler, Kelly, Jonas [Jerebko] or D-Lee. My biggest thing is I just want us to win. If that's me cutting back my minutes, that's me cutting back my minutes. But the ultimate goal is to win basketball games. That's the ultimate goal as a team, as a unit. Going forward, it's a long season, so you never know what's going to happen. You just have to stay ready."
STARTING TO SEE A LINEUP
Stevens said before the team's European vacation that he would likely shuffle the starting lineup. That didn't happen, as Boston stuck with a starting five of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Lee and Zeller in both games, while leaning on a second unit that often featured the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Jerebko, Sullinger, Johnson and Olynyk.
What did Stevens see in that starting lineup that he liked?
"I think those three guys on the perimeter are all really good defenders and can get into the ball, and David can kind of act as the point forward that we've talked about with that group," Stevens said. "So, at the end of the day, we'll see if that stays or we'll see if that changes. I'm not dead set on it by any means."
But clearly Stevens liked how the first and second units complemented each other.
"I've got a pretty good feel now for who I want to play with whom," Stevens said. "There might be two options at one spot that we'll have to figure out as they compete against each other in practice. But as far as who I want to play with what group and what their skill sets that complement each other are, I've got a pretty good feel for it."
TURNER NOT A FAN OF MILAN'S EXCUSES
On the heels of a 33-point defeat, Olimpia Milano coach Jasmin Repesa suggested his team was jet-lagged from a trip to the United States and that contributed to Boston's lopsided win last week. That notion didn't sit well with Turner, who laid the sarcasm on pretty thick when asked Sunday about the Celtics' trip overseas.
"Thank the lord Milan was jet-lagged and they gave us a gift," Turner said.
Pressed on the subject, Turner continued, "I think if we tied our eyes together or we showed up 20 minutes later, I think we still would have been pretty damn good. Twenty minutes later meaning leaving [Milano] in that gym by themselves. I think we would have been OK ... I think if we would have brought [Boston's training camp invites overseas and played them with youngsters James Young] and R.J. [Hunter], it probably would have been a close game -- around 10 points or 12 points."
RUNNING OUT THE COBWEBS
The Celtics returned stateside on Friday, but players were still reacclimatizing, on and off the court. Said Stevens: "We originally had this as a film-and-lift day, but we just felt like we needed to kind of run the cobwebs out. You saw, even at the end [of practice], it was just getting shots up and touching the end line and just to move a little bit -- not rocket science today. We did a lot of offensive review full court, did a lot of shooting, and called it a day."
The Celtics have a couple days of practice before two exhibition games in New York. What's the focus for the week?
"Our focus will just be on cleaning up things that we didn't do well [overseas] and making sure we're more sound in our system," Stevens said. "We missed a few things that we need to make sure we don't miss anymore, especially on the defensive end. And then offensively, I think we just need to continue to emphasize spacing and figuring guys' strengths out. But I think we've got a good foundation on that end."