The Celtics have a core group of guys that form the team's identity. They include Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, and Kevin Garnett. Brandon Bass returns as a starter and beyond that there isn't a single player that has logged a full, healthy season with the Celtics. Bradley played about half a season last year, Green had less than a half a season a couple years ago, and Wilcox had just that middle stretch of games where he was able to play. Everyone else is new.
That's a lot of turnover for a team that has championship hopes. So you can understand why Doc Rivers is preaching patience. Even though this team is deeper and more talented than they were at the end of last year, they still have to figure out their rotations and roles to be successful.
"I’m hoping to get off great," said Rivers, "but I also am realistic to know that we’re going to be so far from our best basketball on opening night compared to later because we have the ability to play a lot of different combinations, and even though you can do then, they’ve got to work. They’ve got to fit together, and it takes time for chemistry and timing. It just takes time. And with the different groups that we can put on the floor, I think it’ll take more time."
Last night was a brief look into what things could be like. As encouraging as it was to see the shots fall from long distance and for the score to run up into triple digits, the thing that impressed Doc the most was the defense.
Rivers has been adamant throughout the preseason that wins and losses would not dictate his team's level of growth. Instead, he was looking for signs of cohesion from his players, with and without the ball. Against the Nets reserves on Tuesday, Boston showed flashes of the defense Rivers wanted to see, but Thursday, with Brooklyn's regulars back in the rotation, it manifested itself in the way Rivers knew it could. "We talked about it, as I told you before the game, we had yet to show up defensively," Rivers told reporters following Thursday's win. "And tonight, that's us. That's our defense. And trying to convince them, with all the scoring we have, if we get stops, we're going to score. We're going to score in transition more, we're going to score in a lot of different ways and you can see that tonight."
The defense has long been this team's main identity. They do need to score more to improve, but they also need to maintain that level of defensive excellence if they want to be there at the end of the year with a chance to beat the Heat.
That's going to take some time. One big preseason win doesn't mean that we're there yet. It is a good sign and a nice feeling knowing that this group is capable. But time and patience is needed for the whole group to cohesively form an identity all their own.