BOSTON — Jrue Holiday had to watch his first practice with his new team from the sidelines pending a post-trade physical. His new head coach, Joe Mazzulla, was prepping him with videos as soon as the deal was announced.
And then it got real.
The Celtics gave practice an authentic feel on Wednesday, blasting in crowd noise, stadium sound effects and buzzers. Then, the Celtics’ brass watched him debut by meeting Jaylen Brown at the rim a rejection.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen Jaylen get stopped going to the rim when he has a full head of steam,” Celtics managing partner Steph Pagliuca said.
Holiday admitted he entered the first practice nervous, the same way he watched trade negotiations play out over the last couple of days. He hoped Boston would become a destination, but he didn’t want to get his hopes up. Then, it happened.
Stevens described Wednesday’s second practice as a typical training camp mess, with errant passes nearly hitting spectators and 1,000 mistakes. The connectivity and drive felt different to Stevens and ownership, though. It had that thing.
“There’s definitely a hunger that I love. There’s this hunger to be the best that you can individually and as a team, and I think when you have that, you always have a chance of winning,” Holiday said.
“You feel it in the locker room. For me, especially coming in a little nervous, just, ‘how is it gonna be the first day?’ You see Joe, the first day, almost losing his voice. He’s out there running around, passing the ball to people, telling them to get back, stopping practice. But I think once I actually got out there and was able to play and get that chemistry, I felt more of that competitiveness. ... just being the first practice and what it’s gonna be like, but gradually, as it went on, it ended up being a fairly good day.”
Wyc Grousbeck described Holiday pouncing on teammates during the session with White struggling to effectively keep him out of plays. The offensive capabilities of a more ball-dominant point guard will become apparent, not unlike Holiday splitting time with Giannis Antetokounmpo and freeing him as a pick-and-roll partner in ways that could do the same for Tatum and Brown.
Mazzulla has already started his own ground work, imagining how Holiday will fit in with the team. He’ll inevitably start and play often next to Derrick White, but larger lineups will feature Holiday as the team’s starting point guard.
“It goes back to ... how do we maximize each guy and then what makes the most sense in each situation,” Mazzulla said. “I think the thing this year is every time we make a decision, because we’re so good and so deep, there’s always gonna be, ‘we should’ve done this and we should’ve done that.’ But at the end of the day, you can only play five guys and we’re gonna put the best five guys in that situation ... you got Derrick, you have Jrue, you have Payton (Pritchard). We have guys who have the ability to (handle the ball). I think that’ll play a part into our late game situation: who’s handling, who’s setting, who’s spaced?”
Mazzulla and Stevens teased a match-up based starting lineup to open camp, and some of the utilization of the roster will prove obvious. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will remain focal points, as will Porziņģis, with Holiday, White, and others trying to find the spots to accentuate the stars.
“We can both play on the ball, we both can play off it,” White said. “I don’t think either of us are really worried about positioning or anything like that. As the season goes on, we’re just gonna be more and more comfortable playing with each other and I think it’s gonna be fun ... it starts with his physicality, ball pressure. He’s willing to pick-up full court, it’s hard to screen him, hard to get him off the body. So just bringing that physicality and that ball pressure will help us out a lot.”
Holiday joins this team as its only player to raise the Larry O’Brien trophy. His first message to new teammates conveyed how much energy and willpower a championship run requires. The Celtics burned out of their Finals run in 2022 due to injuries and fatigue. Ball-handling and offensive issues cost Boston again one year later. Now, they hope Holiday can provide a solution.