After noting that Boston's field-goal percentage defense had dropped from best in the league to ninth overall last season, Celtics coach Doc Rivers suggested last week at training camp that increased ball pressure would force opposing teams to start possessions with less time on the shot clock and aid Boston in reestablishing itself as one of the top defensive teams in the league.
After one night of exhibition play, the Celtics seem very likely to climb in that category.
The Celtics limited visiting Philadelphia to 26.9 percent shooting from the field (18 of 67 overall) and forced 21 turnovers as a tired 76ers team limped through a thrashing at the hands of a Celtics squad eager to see someone other than their teammates on the floor.
"I didn't really know what to expect, but our defense was phenomenal," said Rivers. "Just the ball pressure that I thought Nate [Robinson] and [Rajon] Rondo put on the ball allowed everybody else to kind of do their job. So I was really happy... Defensively, you know, if we can play with that type of intensity and that type of ball pressure every night, we're going to be tough to score on."
Philadelphia mustered a mere nine first-quarter points and only had 22 points at the intermission (Boston boasted a 27-point cushion entering the half).
"We're a defensive team first," said Celtics captain Paul Pierce. "I'm extremely proud of the way we defended tonight."
Shaquille O'Neal detailed how Boston spends much of its daily practice sessions focusing on defense before diving into an intrasquad scrimmage. The Celtics' dedication to that side of the ball showed Wednesday.
"I think we played defense really well," said Glen Davis. "On the offensive side, we could have executed better. But we always want to look at ourselves as a championship team and tonight we played championship ball."
Same ol' Shaq in Celtics debut
From smashing Nate Robinson with an oversized stretching pad, to joking with reporters that he had no idea he was in New Hampshire, to flashing his detective badge for the Celtics' rookies, it was just another day at the office for Shaquille O'Neal.
In between all the fun, Shaq quietly chipped in eight points on 4-of-5 shooting with two rebounds, a steal, and a blocked shot in his debut in a Boston uniform.
"I'm just trying to get into it with the guys," he said. "Just trying to stay a thousand percent healthy, because, in a couple a weeks, you know, it's for all the marbles. So I just want to go out there and not really do too much; just do a little bit and have a fun."
Added Pierce: "We just need to keep doing what we're doing as far as practice, getting [Shaq] more reps, and just trying to get out chemistry down. But he's done a lot ... so I think he's learning it well, what we're trying to do, and he's looking good."
O'Neal looked especially solid at the start of the game, tipping home a Rondo alley-oop feed for his first points of the night.
He capped his evening by having even more fun with local reporters. Asked what his impressions of New Hampshire were, O'Neal joked, "Oh, we're in New Hampshire? For real? I didn't even know that."
LOOSE BALLS: THUMBS UP, N.H.; PIERCE SKIPS HALF
* Thumps up in New Hampshire: While Shaq had a little fun about playing in the Granite State, the Celtics truly enjoyed the Manchester crowd. "We usually get good support when we come down here," said Piece. "I've been up here many times throughout my career and the fans -- they're everywhere around New England.
Added Doc Rivers: "The crowd was phenomenal. It was great. You know, early [start], a lot of energy. You don't get that in a lot of preseason games. That's why it's kind of nice to travel in your local area. Fans who may not get a chance to see you get to see you, and then they're excited. So that brings energy to a preseason game."
* Pierce sits out second half with illness: Rivers took no chances with an ill Pierce in the second half of Wednesday's game. "He was sick," said Rivers. "I really think he went to see the baseball game, but he said he was sick."