WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) – Paul Pierce ran the last few strides of the grueling running drill backwards, watching his taller teammates puffing toward the finish line.

The leader of the young Boston Celtics was enjoying the first day of training camp – his ninth with the team.

“I was feeling good,” Pierce said. “I just wanted to push the big guys.”

The drill came after a three-hour practice Tuesday. Each sprint lasted nine lengths of the court. And each player had to do that five times with about a minute break between each sprint with an average time of one minute per sprint.

Fall short and try again the next day.

All 15 players succeeded, an impressive end to a workout that Pierce called one of the team’s best opening practices since he was a rookie.

“Guys are in really good shape (with a) good, positive attitude,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot of sloppy play. Usually those first practices there’s a lot of sloppy play.”

That was the case for the Celtics late into last season when they finished at 33-49 after being hurt by injuries to Wally Szczerbiak, Al Jefferson and Tony Allen. All are healthy now and likely will be led by a new point guard, Sebastian Telfair.

The Celtics acquired Telfair from Portland and his presence could allow coach Doc Rivers to bring Delonte West off the bench. West filled the point guard role last season but can play both backcourt positions and give the Celtics a spark.

West was the only one of the 18 players on the roster to miss practice and the sprints. He is expected to be sidelined a few more days with a back injury. Telfair hurt his lower back and forward Ryan Gomes suffered a groin injury during the practice and didn’t do the running drills. Both are expected to practice Wednesday.

Rivers was impressed with the ball handling of three guards – Telfair, first-round draft pick Rajon Rondo and rookie free agent Allan Ray.

Telfair “was phenomenal,” Rivers said. “It’s natural for him, and Rajon and even Allan Ray today had a really nice practice. So I think they’re all used to handling the ball and running the team. Sebastian’s used to being more vocal. He’s just a vocal guy in a positive way and that’s nice.”

Much hyped coming out of Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, Telfair played 68 games in each of his first two seasons with Portland. He averaged 8.1 points per game but figured to have a more prominent role with Boston.

“I feel like it’s a new start and I’m going in strong right now,” he said. “When I was coming in as a rookie, there was a lot I had to learn. Now I learned a lot in the last 2 years. Now I’m ready to get going and be Sebastian.”

On Monday night, he learned something about Pierce when the players and coaches dined together at an Italian restaurant.

“We got an opportunity to hang out with Paul a little bit, get to know what he’s like,” Telfair said. “He’s a good guy. He’s a leader.”

Then, on Tuesday, he learned something about playing with Pierce, who scored 26.8 points per game on 47.1 percent shooting last season, both career highs.

“When he got the ball everybody paid attention to him,” Telfair said. “So I’m going to get some open shots.”

So far, the only definite starter is Pierce. The opportunity to crack the top five could explain why players showed up in excellent shape and passed the sprint drill.

“It’s good to see that these guys are enthusiastic about the season because this is their future,” Pierce said. “You don’t get a second chance to make that impression. This is where it all starts.”

Dropping to the floor gasping for breath is where it ended for some players on Tuesday.

“Hey, it’s going to make us better,” Szczerbiak said after performing well in the sprints.

Pierce’s backward steps showed that he might have performed too well.

“There’s no doubt that we could have lowered the time” limit, Rivers said. “So (for) next year, Paul just taught us that we can go lower.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.