Celtics get started on how it's going to work now
5 takeaways - Celtics get started on how it's going to work now
PHILADELPHIA – Outside of the outcome, there wasn’t a lot to like about the Celtics-Sixers game Friday night. There were a ton of head-scratching calls, lots of turnovers, blown assignments and then...the fourth quarter arrived.
In recent years, this has been a time when the Celtics shine - when they put on a clinic showing how to be poised under pressure.
“We played with a better purpose than we did in the other two fourth quarters,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
And that’s how it has to be for the rest of the season if the Celtics are to have any shot at coming close to meeting the high expectations they set for themselves.
When the season began, Boston had visions of at least competing with Cleveland for the top spot in the East. While that remains a goal of theirs, it has become exceedingly more difficult to imagine with Gordon Hayward (left ankle) likely lost for the season.
And while the Celtics relied heavily on Isaiah Thomas to carry them in the fourth in recent years, it appears late-game success for this group will be more by committee.
At least, that’s the way it was Friday.
“We had a lot of guys step up,” Stevens said. “We needed everybody.”
Here are five other takeaways from the 102-92 victory in Philadelphia:
The Fultz-Tatum trade
It is still early, but the Celtics are clearly winning the trade between themselves and Philadelphia prior to the draft which resulted in the Celtics landing Jayson Tatum (and a 2018 protected first-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers), while the Sixers took Markelle Fultz with the top overall pick they got from the C's. In their first regular-season matchup, it was Tatum once again having the better game and getting the victory. He had 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots, which included swatting away Fultz shot attempt. Meanwhile, Fultz had another sub-par shooting game off the Sixers bench, finishing with six points while shooting 2-for-9 from the field.
Boston’s board work
The season is still young, but it seems that one of the Celtics’ biggest strengths these days is rebounding. Three games into the season and the Celtics rank 13th in rebounding percentage (.503), which may not seem like that big a deal. But then you look at last season, when they were consistently bullied around the rim, and see that their rebounding percentage (.485) ranked 27th in the NBA. Boston out-rebounded Philly, 55-47. Among those 55 rebounds were 14 on the offensive glass, which led to 22 second-chance points.
He got the start at center for Boston, a move that was made in part because the Celtics felt he could actually match up quite well against Philly’s Joel Embiid. Although Embiid finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds, his impact was limited most of the game courtesy of Baynes’ physical play. And Baynes, known primarily for his defense, once again reminded folks that he can get buckets, too. He had 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting with eight rebounds and two assists.
Larkin signing pays off
No one had any idea of what Shane Larkin could do for the Celtics, especially considering the depth Boston had in the backcourt at that time. But with trades clearing out a couple roster spots in the backcourt along with Marcus Smart’s left ankle injury, Larkin got a shot at playing meaningful minutes and he made the most of it. Boston doesn’t beat Philly on Friday night if Larkin’s pick-and-roll game wasn’t so efficient and effective. He had 10 points and four assists. But maybe what’s most telling is the Celtics were +16 when he was on the floor which was the best plus/minus of any player.
Kyrie: A work in progress
Kyrie Irving had a solid game with 21 points on 7-for-17 shooting with six rebounds and four assists. But there’s a comfort level that both he and the Celtics are still working towards achieving. And it’s even more complicated now with Gordon Hayward (ankle) out for what’s likely to be the rest of the season. And that just adds to the adjustment Irving faces with increased attention by defenses that, in the past, also had to worry about how to handle LeBron James. But to Irving’s credit, he seems motivated by the challenge and has shown signs of finding that balance between being an impact player for this team - which we know he’s more than capable of doing - and ensuring that he’s getting his teammates involved while remaining engaged at both ends of the floor.