Celtics' young stars begin to shine
When you’ve been down the road of adversity like the Celtics have this season, it’s good to see a team whose troubles are far greater. Such as the New York Knicks.
New York is now 0-3 -- its worst start in nearly a decade -- after a 110-89 loss to the Celtics (2-2) ,who are gradually learning how to be successful after losing one of their top players, Gordon Hayward, for the season. Not having Hayward has forced coach Brad Stevens to not only re-think combinations to play, but also modify the expectations for a team that’s loaded with first- and second-year players.
Mistakes are a given when it comes to young and older players in the NBA, but Boston’s youngsters won’t have that luxury. Especially second-year wing Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum, who are both in Boston's starting lineup.
"They are young guys," said Stevens. "But to us, with the situation we’re in, they’re guys. Like, we need them to be guys."
When you look at what worked in Boston’s victory over New York, the play of the Celtics’ young players was instrumental in them getting a lead and, from there, extending it to as many as 25 points before settling for a 21-point victory.
"We're young but we're players," Terry Rozier told NBC Sports Boston. "We just have to go out and play, do whatever it is we do best and go from there."
Here are five other takeaways from Tuesday’s victory over the New York Knicks.
BROWN'S AND TATUM'S GROWTH
It can’t be stated enough how the future of this franchise is looking more and more like it’ll be tied to the development and steady improvement of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Each has had moments of brilliance in this still-young NBA season, but Tuesday was historical. Brown (23 points) and Tatum (22 points) became the first tandem in Celtics history to each score at least 20 points in a game while being 21 years old or younger at the time. And the crazy part? Watching them play, it’s clear that there’s still room -- a lot of room -- for improvement at both ends of the floor for both players.
THEIS PROVIDES LIFT OFF BENCH
Nobody had a feel for what Daniel Theis would bring to the table for the Celtics, but the 6-foot-9 rookie from Germany plays with an all-out hustle that will continue to get him on the floor. He scored a career-high 11 points against the Knicks, but more than the points was the way in which they came and the impact he makes whenever he gets in games. He brings energy, hustle and versatility, making him a player Stevens won’t hesitate to turn to when the team needs a jolt of energy.
HORFORD'S VALUE DEFENSIVELY
Al Horford has always been a good defender, but he has shown a range of defensive versatility that’s impressive. From containing Philadelphia’s point-forward Ben Simmons, to banging with Joel Embiid, to shutting down New York’s Kristaps Porzingis, Horford is making an early case for some all-NBA defensive love this season. And on top of that, against the Knicks he tallied his first double-double of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds along with five assists.
FREE-THROW SHOOTING SUCCESS
Boston struggled at the free-throw line in its first three games, connecting on just 66.7 percent (52-for-78) of its attempts. But Tuesday night was a different story as the Celtics made 81.5 percent (22-for-27) of their free throws led by Kyrie Irving, who is shooting 90 percent (18-for-20) from the line after making all nine of his free throw attempts against the Knicks. Boston is now shooting 70.5 percent from the line, which has them now up to 26th in the league in free-throw shooting percentage. That's a far cry from last season when they shot 80.7 percent, which was third-best in the league.
CELTICS TRANSITION DEFENSE
Even as Boston continued to pull away against New York, it didn’t result in the kind of defensive letdowns you expect to see in a young team that pulls out to a big lead quickly. This was especially true when it came to transition defense, something the Celtics did an impressive job with all game with the Knicks being held to just four, fast-break points all game.