HARTFORD -- With five seconds left in regulation, Doc Rivers pulled his crunch time unit together for a final huddle.
Jared Sullinger, Kris Joseph, Dionte Christmas, Jamar Smith, and Micah Downs gathered on the court. Five rookies, including three undrafted players and a training camp invitee, were on the court to close out the game against the New York Knicks.
"He didn't say it," said Christmas, "But we knew once the fourth quarter came and he left us out there, we knew what time it was."
With the veterans on the sidelines, the group of young players, including fellow rookie Fab Melo, finished out the fourth quarter and played all of overtime in their 98-95 loss to the Knicks. While winning is always the focus, the players took away valuable experience being on the court.
"It felt good as a rookie knowing that he had that much confidence in our rookies," Smith said of Rivers. "For us to go out there and finish the game, unfortunately we didn't win, but just knowing that he had that confidence in us was pretty cool."
The young players have kept their ears open in practice. Even though they have several teammates ahead of them in the rotation, they have listened attentively to the strategies and schemes outlined by the coaches just in case they are called upon.
"We do a lot of different drills where we're down," explained Smith. "Sometimes we do a drill where we're down six with a minute-and-a-half left. We do a lot of different situational things, and I think that helped us more than anything."
While the young Celtics do not have that much experience in NBA games, they have plenty of it playing together. The rookies reported to practice facility in Waltham in August. They also bonded with the team during the trip to Europe. Getting to know one another helped them to communicate and reach their teammates late in the game.
"Just being with these guys every day, and especially being in Europe for the week, we saw each other all day long, every day," said Downs. "When you're in that type of situation, you get to learn the ins and outs of each other, not only on the court but off the court -- what people like, what their interests are, things like that. When you know that about your friends and your teammates, it makes everybody come together better and be more cohesive."
The Celtics veterans have also pushed their younger teammates throughout training camp, day in and day out in practice.That tough love is already paying off.
Said Sullinger, "Going against the starting five every day, playing against those guys, and trying to compete with those guys really helps us out at the end of the day."
They showed it in only their third preseason game.