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New-look Celtics want to win, but can they?

October 11, 1997

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) _ These are not your father’s Celtics.

With the new-look Celtics, who debuted Friday night under the leadership of Rick Pitino, there’s a lot of enthusiasm but not a lot of execution.

But what do you expect when more than half of last season’s players are gone and the new players spent training camp worrying about not wearing themselves out.

``We fouled too much, we didn’t handle the basketball properly,″ Pitino said of the 113-89 exhibition loss to the Atlanta Hawks. ``We didn’t know the offenses and the defenses. But we get home, we practice on Monday and Tuesday, we’re going to see a much better basketball team on Wednesday and by the next set of games I expect drastic improvement.″

It can’t get much worse. The Celtics, once the most dominant team in the NBA but one of the worst last season, shot 28 percent from the field while missing a slew of open shots. They were out-rebounded on the defensive glass and turned the ball over 17 times. At one point, they trailed by 30 points.

One highlight was Antoine Walker, who had a game-high 27 points and 16 rebounds. Bruce Bowen was the only other Celtics player in double figures with 11 points.

``I expected what happened tonight,″ Pitino said. ``I told the guys the first two exhibition games aren’t going to mean too much to us in terms of what we are going to accomplish. We have to learn our offenses and our defenses.″

With so much confusion on the court, it was tough to tell what was planned and what was improvised. Pitino said his players made up plays on the spot several times.

``On offense, we were terrible,″ said Travis Knight, who had eight points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes. ``People were running into each other. We didn’t know where to go. Sometimes they’d call a play and three guys knew it and two guys didn’t.″

The full-court press, which Pitino used so successfully at Kentucky, popped up against Atlanta, which generally broke it without much trouble. Boston did pressure the Hawks into some turnovers late in the game and rookie Ron Mercer took advantage with two straight dunks.

The only problem was the team was so far behind.

``They don’t know what they’re doing in the press,″ Pitino said. ``I know sometimes they make a steal. They’re making a steal and hustling, but they have no idea about the proper angles on the press.

``Even Ron (Mercer), who I coached, was not using the proper angles. It was probably the money weighing him down on the weak side. He couldn’t get to the middle in time.″

Pitino predicted it would take 10 or 15 games into the regular season before the team was comfortable with the new systems.

Atlanta coach Lenny Wilkens gave the new Celtics coach the benefit of the doubt.

``I don’t think anybody should comment on them at this point in time,″ he said. ``This is one exhibition game. Exhibition is for coaches to find out how their players play, where they are, what you have to work on. That’s what we use exhibition for.″

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