BOSTON – As two classic division rivals go head-to-head, it would only make sense that the game would boil down to a battle of the best point guards the Maine Red Claws have to offer.
Tim Frazier was with the Celtics in training camp and then spent the season up in Portland, before getting called up to the Philadelphia 76ers lately. Phil Pressey, who has sat at the end of the Celtics’ roster for much of his short career, had a dynamite D-League debut Thursday night. Besides their paltry records, these two young quarterbacks seem to be just about the only synergy flowing between these two squads. But both Frazier and Pressey have benefitted from their time in Maine this year.
"Maine has been good. It’s been really good," Brad Stevens said. "You can see that Phil gets an opportunity. He hasn’t played as much, so he gets an opportunity to go up there and compete and play and see the ball go through the net a lot. J.Y. [James Young] did that multiple times already."
Stevens has been reaping the benefits of the enhanced relationship NBA teams are enjoying with their D-League affiliates, as James Young has been able to emerge as a D-League star while still being a part of the Celtics locker room.
"Maine’s had a good year," Stevens said. "It’s a good environment, good coaches and they’ve won a lot and it’s been a good thing. Obviously, Tim [Frazier] is with Philly now and he’s been up there the whole time every since our training camp. So there’s a lot of positives to that."
Pressey saw it as an opportunity as well, now that his minutes in the rotation have been cut down to the point that he is in essentially the same position James Young was a few months ago. The second year point guard has played just 15 minutes total in two appearances in the Celtics’ last six games, but his 40 minutes in Maine were nearly as many minutes as he has played in the last three weeks.
"It was a good opportunity for me to go down there and get some reps, some good conditioning, because we’ve been traveling, we’ve been playing a lot and for guys that aren’t playing, we haven’t been able to get some good practice time in," Pressey said. "So it’s been a good opportunity for me to go down there and get some reps and try to improve myself."
Pressey has a knack for coming into the game and pushing the tempo to its limit. But with so few minutes and so few shots – He has attempted four field goals in every game he has played, except for his last, in the past month – the little point guard was in deperate need to be let loose.
"There’s nothing like playing. You can run on the treadmill, do as much conditioning as you want. But at the end of the day, there’s nothing like getting out there on the court and playing some 5-on-5."
It was a surprise move for him, as Ainge approached him out of nowhere and told him he was heading to Maine to work on conditioning and get some reps. "It did [surprise me] a little bit, but whatever they ask of me to do, I’m going to do it. It was for the best.
"We haven’t been practicing as much and I haven’t been playing either the past couple games. So it was a good opportunity for me to get some run in."
And boy did he get some run in. In 40 minutes of play, he scored 34 points, dished out 9 assists, grabbed seven rebounds and got three steals. That’s a nice change of pace for someone who scored just 33 points his last six games
"It gives you some type of confidence. But like I said before, just going down there and playing 40 minutes, I felt like I was in college again playing 40 minutes."
Part of the stellar numbers is the obviously lower degree of difficulty in the D-League. Pressey explained the difference he experiences on the court:
"No offense to the guys in the D-League, but in the NBA, the guys are a lot more athletic and a lot more active. The bigs are a lot, a lot, a lot better. Just getting to the rim is a lot easier, but in the NBA they’re focused in on you and very single play means something."
Easier or not, just being able to talk about his big night with a smile was the kind of boost any player needs to keep themself in rhythm as they ride the NBA bench.