Tristan Thompson joined his first team practice Saturday, and something started to spark — something clearly not there Friday during the Celtics’ second effort-bereft exhibition loss, this time to Brooklyn.
“He did some half-court stuff the other day and you could tell that our energy raised,” said Brad Stevens. “And then he did a lot of practice today and you could tell our energy went to a different level. In large part because he brings a physicality that we really need. I thought he added to the play today and the competitiveness.
“He’s got a great personality. I don’t think that — no matter what, I don’t think you can have the impact that you want to have until you’re out on the court, especially when you’re playing.”
Thompson’s return from a strained hamstring is still open-ended.
“In terms of being back playing, that’s a training staff question,” he said of his timeline. “I’m the type of guy that’s going to punch the clock, do whatever needs to be done, and then they say I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go.
“I think the key for everyone is just making sure that we don’t rush this. We don’t want anything lingering or lagging because myself and my teammates, we’re trying to play in late June, July, so we want everyone to be healthy throughout the year.
“It’s go time, guys are ready, we’ve got the cobwebs off — for me it’s getting back in practice, getting back healthy. And when we get back Kemba (Walker), the head of the snake for us, the PG position — when we get him back we’ll be even more dangerous. Until then, whether it’s Jeff Teague or (Marcus) Smart or Payton (Pritchard), they’re gonna have to do it collectively to make up for what we’re missing with Kemba.”
And with good health, maybe the Celtics will be better-equipped to handle Brooklyn, the new power on the block.
“I think what Brooklyn did yesterday, they wanted to send a message, and it’s only right for them to come out like that,” said Thompson. “I expected nothing less, especially with the fact their top two players didn’t play last year, and they’re playing with a chip on their shoulder.
“I expect it. We realize we’re not the hunters — we’re the hunted,” he said. “At the end of the day we finished in the Eastern Conference finals last year. Whether it’s Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Indiana, some of our first couple of games, those teams, the guys that are here last year finished ahead of those guys. They’re gonna want to punch us in the mouth, and we have to understand that. We’re gonna have to come out with a pit bull, 48 minutes, bloodbath mentality.”
The Celtics aren’t there yet, as Thompson can tell. But as one of the most renowned clubhouse veterans in the NBA, the so-called glue guy had an active presence on the Celtics bench Friday night. Thompson was constantly on his feet, and constantly in the ears of teammates.
“I think it’s crucial. We have so many talented young guys, but when you get out on the court nobody cares what your age is,” said Thompson. “We have these talented young stars on our team, and for me being one of the old heads that have been around the block, especially at the age of 30 — making me feel old at 29 — but nevertheless, the wisdom I’ve learned from my past experience, to give it to these guys, and whether it’s the good, bad or the ugly, I want to help this team be what it can be. I feel like my voice and what I’ve been through and what I’ve seen, I can challenge them. If I can light a fire under their ass to get them going and try to make everyone just one percent better, then I’ve done my job.
“There’s gonna be some bumps in the road and some adversity,” he said. “Just because at the end of the day we’re not sure how long Kemba is going to be out for — he’s an All-Star point guard and a big part of our team. Myself missing both preseason games and most of the practices, those are two big parts of our team in terms of our puzzle piece and what we’re trying to accomplish that haven’t been there at 100 percent yet. So there’s gonna be some adversity. The key for us is to stay together, stay as one unit, and we can do that and trust the process at the end of the day.
“I know it’s a word the Sixers and Philly played out, but it’s really a statement. It’s a long season, and every day we punch the clock and stay true to ourselves and what our goal is. It gets us closer to our ultimate goal of what we’re trying to accomplish.”