Five takeaways from the Celtics' preseason opener vs the Hornets
BOSTON – All of the Boston Celtics made it through the team’s first preseason game with no significant bumps or bruises. And when they reviewed the game afterwards, there was plenty of “we need to get better at …” moments.
But for a team that’s constantly striving towards improvement from one day to the next, Monday’s 94-82 victory over Charlotte provided more than just an opportunity of growth.
There were very specific aspects of the game that, as they go forward, can be seen as building blocks towards better play.
Here are five takeaways from Monday’s game.
When the Boston Celtics traded away Avery Bradley (Detroit), it was viewed as a setback to the team’s defense. Trading away Jae Crowder (Cleveland) was yet another blow to a team that was just on the outskirts of top-10 defensive status last season. While defense is still a concern this season, the Celtics’ length at seemingly every position might allow them to put up solid defensive numbers as they continue to learn one another’s game. Think about it. Last season, Bradley was the team’s 6-foot-2 starter at shooting guard. This season, it’s 6-8 Gordon Hayward. And 6-6 Crowder has been replaced by 6-7 Jaylen Brown whose wingspan and wiry legs allows him to play with more length than his height measures. That length held Charlotte to just 37.5 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers.
When it comes to preseason games, sitting in the first three or so rows is a bad idea. With players still trying to figure out one another’s game, it’s a matter of when – not if – a ball will go sailing into the stands via an errant pass. But that wasn’t a problem for Boston against the Hornets with the Celtics committing just 10 turnovers.
Having lost about 20 pounds in the offseason, Smart looks very much like a more confident player. Nowhere was this more apparent than the way he shot the ball against the Hornets. He finished with nine points which included him making a trio of 3-pointers. How that affects winning is literally a coin toss based on how he and the Celtics finished last season. In regular season games in which Smart made at least 3 three-pointers, the Celtics were just 5-5.
All season the Celtics will rely on someone, anyone to emerge from their bench to give them an unexpected lift. Boston knows most nights they will get a solid effort from Smart, whether he’s making shots or not. But there has to be someone else to step up, too. On Monday it was Daniel Theis among the reserves. He didn’t play until the second half, but that didn’t prevent him from delivering a first-rate performance. He finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists in less than 14 minutes. Last season’s D-League (now Gatorade League) rookie of the Year Abdel Nader had 10 points off the bench for the Celtics on 4-for-6 shooting.
He didn’t play an exceptionally impressive game, but there was no mistaking the presence he had on the floor. Irving is one of the best players in the NBA, and the way teams gravitate towards his every drive only accentuates that point. He had nine points on 4-for-11 shooting and clearly looked rusty, something he acknowledged after the game. But like the rest of this Celtics team, he will get better with more reps and more time around his teammates. Because if the Celtics are going to build off last season’s success and take the next step which would be getting to the NBA Finals, Irving’s play will be among the biggest contributing factors to that kind of success.