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Forsberg: Teague, Pritchard shine in C's preseason opener

/ by Chris Forsberg
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It’s important to tread cautiously with any and all preseason takeaways -- didn’t Carsen Edwards teach us that a year ago? -- but there’s still something to be said about a first impression.

So, here’s a handful of knee-jerk overreactions from the Celtics’ 108-99 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in their 2020-21 preseason opener on Tuesday night.

Jeff Teague has plenty left in the tank

It took 15 years for Brad Stevens’ recruiting pitch to work, but early returns are encouraging now that he’s finally gotten the chance to coach Jeff Teague.

With Kemba Walker sidelined and Marcus Smart’s talents likely needed on the first unit, there’s an obvious need for a scoring punch off Boston’s otherwise young bench. Teague provided it Tuesday, hitting a quartet of 3-pointers as part of an 18-point night. He finished an ultra-effective 7-of-9 shooting over just 19 minutes.

At age 32, Teague doesn’t look like he’s lost a step and was still able to blow past defenders. The Celtics are going to need his ability to keep the second-unit offense afloat at times. 

Celtics Talk Podcast: Overreactions to Celtics' first preseason game, exclusive Aaron Nesmith 1-on-1Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"I felt like that was the only time the ball was moving the way it needs to, when [Teague] was in the game,” said Stevens. "We need to improve when he's not so we need to make sure we are getting better off of the film and off of today's game. I thought the first group had some moments at the start of each half but I thought we looked the most fluid offensively when Jeff was in the game tonight.”

 

That’s saying something considering that Teague is still learning a new playbook. It was fair to question what he had left in the tank coming to Boston but he showed what a stabilizing presence he can be.

"I’m blessed to be in this position to keep playing basketball,” said Teague. "It’s something I love to do. I’m here for whatever the opportunity is, to play and be part of the team. A lot of guys will have to step up. As you saw tonight, we have a lot of guys who can make plays and be good. I think we have enough talent to do that."

Payton Pritchard hits the ground running

Not only was he making his NBA debut, but Celtics rookie Payton Pritchard was playing his first honest-to-goodness basketball game in nine months. Yes, most of his 16 points came at the finish line of the night but you can simply tell that he has good feel for the game and has potential to be someone that Brad Stevens can confidently call on.

We have this notion that four-year college players have reached their ceilings and will struggle to have an impact at the NBA level. Pritchard, operating with tinges of Smart’s grit, seems like the rare non-lottery guy who you can throw in the fire and he won’t be overwhelmed.

A look at the rookie Payton Pritchard's 16-point night

The Celtics have a need for ball-handlers with Walker sidelined for the start of the season and Pritchard is going to get every opportunity to show he can hold his own. For at least one night, he did just that, backing up much of the hype we’ve heard about his hard-nosed play through this abbreviated training camp.

Aaron Nesmith is intriguing, but D is a work in progress

We had to wait until midway through the third quarter for our first glimpse of Boston’s top pick Aaron Nesmith, but he got everyone’s attention quickly with a little step-back 3-pointer over Ben Simmons’ outstretched arm. He added a nice little putback of a Tacko Fall miss late in the third quarter then swooped in for a little floating layup early in the fourth.

Now the bad news: Nesmith missed the other four 3-pointers he hoisted in this game and the Sixers took advantage of him defensively. It’s clear he has some work to do to earn Stevens’ trust on the defensive end. But his physical tools are obvious and the 3-point shot looks good even when it doesn’t fall.

 

Random thoughts: Smart doesn't know it's the preseason

Watching Marcus Smart take two charges, including getting knocked over by a Joel Embiid bowling ball, is a reminder that Smart plays every game like it’s Game 7... 

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were a combined 5 of 24 shooting but we suspect it’ll be the least of Stevens’ worries when he watches film. Tatum was the only player in the positive for plus/minus despite missing nine of his 13 shots...

Robert Williams had an underwhelming first stint but brought some good energy when he came back in during the second quarter. He’s at his best when he’s playing hard and not overthinking the game…

Edwards missed four of the five shots he took, including all three 3-point attempts, and needs to grasp these opportunities while the Celtics are thin on bodies…

Boston picked up right where it left in the playoffs with eight first-quarter turnovers. Preseason or not, they have to tighten that up.