Ultimately, Jrue Holiday was a substitute as Boston’s regular starters re-joined with Kristaps Porzingis taking the place of Robert Williams. In New York, the team’s top six players rested, and Sam Hauser and Holiday took their places on the court in favor of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter (who starts),” Mazzulla said on Friday. “What matters is we have to play hard and we have to execute … if we get so worked up about the first five minutes, what’re we gonna do for the following 43?”
The Celtics want to switch around their starting lineups this season in an effort to maintain their success over the long term and account for injuries that will inevitably occur. Early in camp, Mazzulla advised the squad to be adaptable, particularly with such crucial players having the potential to be absent at any time. In his NBA career, Al Horford only used the bench 14 times. In his first season as a starter, Derrick White excelled. Holiday, a starting point guard on a championship team who, according to some accounts, could play off the bench, joined the team as its most important offseason acquisition.
This conundrum relates to the sacrifice discussion, which has been a key Celtics training camp focus. It was expressly brought up by Kristaps Porziis during practice on Saturday. From his summer workouts and chats with Paul Pierce, that ended up being the lesson that Tatum took away with him the most.
A star-studded, more talented squad will need to discover ways to sacrifice in order to prevail. After seeming uncommitted on Media Day, Horford said on Friday that he would be prepared to take that backseat.
“It’s a part of it,” Horford said. “We’re a very versatile group here, we have a lot of guys who can do different things. So that’s something that I think is a strength of our group, and our guys, I can say that we’re all pretty comfortable with that.”
Porziis set a self-sacrificing example by signing a two-year deal for less than the maximum and forgoing possibilities to shine in Washington and Utah. Porziis is unlikely to ever sit down unless he’s taking a night off. He made the tough choice to forgo playing for Latvia in the FIBA World Cup so that he could start training camp at full strength. He selected Boston knowing that he would have to blend in with Jaylen Brown and Tatum.
Porziis said that if the stakes were smaller, he may have managed the plantar fasciitis. He also thought back on his lack of self awareness when he first joined the league, attempting everything that was available to him, behaving foolishly, and failing to evaluate aspects of his game, such as posting-up, that need development. He looked in the mirror when last season began, and it led to his finest season ever.
His progress was evident during practice on Saturday, as he spent almost an hour after practice getting care to strengthen his body and stabilize his foot and hips. While Porziis started considering how the offensive dynamic would play out, sure that it will happen effortlessly, Mazzulla and Horford applauded his defensive efforts this week.
You’re simply playing alongside other fantastic guys who you know have the ability to do things, he remarked. “If help is required, you may just be there. Sincerely, I’m simply going to play my game, and everyone else is going to play their game, so who cares if our numbers all slightly decline? We’re here to succeed.
Brown and Tatum set the example in the summer for the club to adopt a defensive focus, necessitating them to focus more on that side of the ball than the offensive. Given that Marcus Smart is no longer on the squad, their dedication to passing the ball up, moving, and improving teammates may end up being the most deciding factor in whether the club wins a championship. They both find loud leadership unnatural, therefore their readiness to adopt it reflects a different type of sacrifice.
Both players acknowledged a desire to give Holiday some of their playing time. Tatum’s passing development will be indicative of his willingness to play team basketball, according to Brown, who described his adaptation to an off-ball position as a type of sacrifice.
While not technically the team’s weak point, Malcolm Brogdon’s issues adjusting to the sixth man position, Grant Williams’ removal from the rotation, and Smart’s continual presence at crucial moments might have all been resolved sooner rather than later.
Whatever part those expectations for playing time played in last year’s failure is missing from training this year. Everyone is aware of their responsibilities or how they could alter, and Brown and Tatum are well-positioned to rally the team, give them a sense of authority, and prepare them to embrace any changes Mazzulla believes are necessary.
“I know if you asked (Tatum),” Mazzulla said. “He’d much rather win a championship than win a MVP, and that’s the process we’re taking. What’d you have to do to make the people around us better? … no one in this gym have we had to motivate yet. I think that’s the sign of where we’re trying to get to, Jayson, Jaylen, Al, Derrick, Kristaps. Those guys set the standard and everybody else falls in line.”