CHARLOTTE – Exactly one year ago, the Boston Celtics were three days removed from their third of seven preseason games, a contest during which four of their starters sat out for rest and the fifth played only 12 minutes.
Tonight, the Celtics will take the court for their fourth preseason game of 2017, and Brad Stevens is eying 20-30 minutes of action for all five of his starters.
The times have officially changed.
Gone is the incremental build-up to the regular season that featured multiple meaningless exhibition outings.
In is the new, condensed preseason, one that features only four exhibition contest for Boston, all of which hold importance.
“Oh, it’s different,” 11-year veteran Al Horford said with conviction Wednesday morning.
It’s different because now, more than ever, coaches and players need to use nearly every preseason game to prepare for Opening Night and the onslaught of games that are forthcoming.
Starters typically don’t play much, if at all, during a team’s final preseason game, but tonight will be different for the C’s. Brad Stevens said that he plans to have his starters play normal minutes until the fourth quarter begins. Why? Because he has no choice.
“This is a great opportunity to not only play together, but also conditioning,” he said of his new team, which features 10 new players.
Tonight’s matchup against the Charlotte Hornets will be Boston’s final tune-up before it heads to Cleveland to take on the defending – and revamped – conference-champion Cavaliers on Opening Night. The matchup will be a great test for both teams, as they are both attempting to integrate multiple new and key players during this condensed time frame.
Horford touched on that challenge as he discussed the new schedule. He said that he is fine with the new preseason layout, but hinted that it will be detrimental to this season’s squad.
“For this particular season, I would have liked probably the older way,” he said. “Just with such a new team, so many new guys, probably a little more time would have been beneficial.”
However, he does believe that the players may have alleviated some of his concerns by joining together for informal workouts well before training camp began.
“The good thing for us actually was that most of our guys, we were in (Boston) most of September, so we were putting a lot of work in,” he said. “I think that really helped our group.”
Still, though, the team is realistic in its expectations as it closes out exhibition play and races toward its Opening Night test in Cleveland.
“I think we’re all cognizant that this is an 82-game, six-month journey,” said Stevens. “Not necessarily all having to cram it in over four weeks.”
Nope, not four weeks. Just four games, and tonight is the final one.