Celtics

What worked, didn't work in the Celtics' blowout win over the Cavaliers

What worked, didn't work in the Celtics' blowout win over the Cavaliers

BOSTON -- For the second straight game, the Boston Celtics delivered an emphatic preseason win. This time it came at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers who were crushed 118-72 by Boston. 

As you might imagine by the final score, there were a lot of things - a lot - that went Boston’s way. 

Here’s a look at what did work, didn’t work and what’s next for the Celtics during the preseason. 

WHAT WORKED

Big Man Challenge: We’re three games into the preseason and when it comes to figuring out who will be Boston’s starting center, it appears as though it’s a two-man race between Daniel Theis and Robert Williams III. Theis has been the starting center the last two games, and has played well; well enough to where he has to be seen as the odds-on favorite at this point to be Boston’s opening night starter at center. And if Theis starts, look for both Williams and Kanter to see action off the bench. The odd man out at this point appears to be Vincent Poirier who has seen limited action. As for Tacko Fall who recently signed a two-way contact with Boston, look for him to spend most of his time with the Maine Red Claws in the G-League.

Stevens assist to Cavs coach: John Beilein decision to leave the college game for the NBA was based in part on conversations he had with Brad Stevens who made a similar jump to the league in 2013. The two talked about Stevens’ first year in the NBA which Beilein recalled Stevens described as, “a bit of a blur.” But when the talked following Steven’s fourth NBA season, he told Beilein that, “he was just having a blast right now. I understand the rhythm now.’”Beilein readily admits he isn’t there yet. “That’s what I have to do; I have to get a rhythm about me, about how this all sort of works,” he said. 

Celtics Youth movement: With the score being so lopsided, the Celtics were able to go deep into the bench and play lots of players which included all their rookie draft picks. All of them stepped on to the floor and did something positive for the Celtics, albeit coming against Cleveland which is solidifying its place as one of the worst teams in the NBA this season. 

WHAT DIDN’T WORK

Cavs roster: I know it’s a preseason game and you don’t put too much stock into the outcome, but what happened on Sunday was an embarrassment on every level imaginable. Cleveland probably won’t be as bad as we saw on Sunday, but it’s pretty clear that this is going to be one of those seasons when double-digit wins for Cleveland might be more of a goal and not an expectation this season.

(Not enough) Tacko-Time: Sure, Brad Stevens eventually put Tacko Fall into the game (Tacko had four points and two rebounds in seven minutes) on Sunday against Cleveland. But when it comes to the Tacko-maniacs out there - and there are many - it was once again not soon enough. Stevens has done a solid job of balancing that desire from fans who want Tacko Time all the time, and still doing his due diligence to get reps for the guys on the team who actually have a legit shot at playing a solid to a significant role for the team this season. It’s working for Stevens? For Tacko nation? Not so much.  

Good defense or bad opponents?: It’s hard to get a true read on where the Boston Celtics defense is right now. They blew out an Orlando Magic team that played without their best player (Nicola Vucevic) while doling out minutes to guys who probably won’t be in their regular rotation. And in beating down Cleveland, Cavs fans better get used to it. Because even at full strength, Cleveland will still be among the worst teams in the NBA this season. 

WHAT’S NEXT?

The Celtics close out their preseason slate of games on Tuesday at Cleveland, with the regular-season opener at Philadelphia on October 23.

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Celtics' Kemba Walker on Jayson Tatum's bounce-back game: 'There'll be a lot more big games for that guy'

Celtics' Kemba Walker on Jayson Tatum's bounce-back game: 'There'll be a lot more big games for that guy'

BOSTON -- The final numbers for Jayson Tatum in Boston’s 140-133 win over Washington - 23 points on 9-for-19 shooting - are not going to inspire any “M-V-P” chants or anything like that. 

“Better than one-for-eighteen,” said a grinning Tatum, referring to the horrendous shooting performance he had in Boston’s win over Dallas on Monday. 

Tatum has had some off nights shooting this season, but the woeful performance against Dallas was historically bad. It was only the ninth time in NBA history that a player shot that poorly while taking 18 shots from the field. 

Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal, who knows Tatum better than anyone else in the NBA, said going into the game Wednesday night that the third-year forward was going to have a solid bounce-back performance. 

Beal said he anticipated Tatum would come out, “gunning. I know it.”

He added, “He forgot about that game and is looking forward to this one.”

He was right. 

Tatum didn’t take long to get it going offensively against the Wizards (2-7), scoring 11 points in the first quarter alone on 5-for-9 shooting from the field. 

Hitting up the practice facility within hours of the Mavericks game on Monday was part of Tatum’s put-that-one-behind-me program that as we saw against Washington on Wednesday, worked pretty well. 

When asked why he went to the practice facility right after the Dallas game, Tatum replied, “Just see some shots go in, really. Try to get my mind off the game and get back in a rhythm.”

Kemba Walker said he spoke with Tatum shortly before the game. 

“I told him, ‘You know, every night is not going to be the best night. It’s all about the bounce back,’” Walker recalled. “And he bounced back tonight. It was a huge game; a big game from him.”

It was important not only for the Celtics to continue on their winning ways, but also for Tatum’s growth into someone that many believe will eventually rank among the best in the NBA. 

“He’s a special talent,” Walker said. “I’m excited [about] the way he handled tonight’s game.”

Beal echoed similar sentiments about his fellow St. Louis native who also attended the same high school (Chaminade College Prep) as Beal years later.

“He’s a star, man; a star in the making,” Beal, who dropped 44 points on the Celtics, said of Tatum. “It’s amazing to be a part of his life, to see him grow every year to where he is now.”

The 26-year-old Beal has been an All-Star each of the last two seasons, so he knows all too well how challenging it can be to make that leap from being a good player, which is where Tatum is now, to being an All-Star, which Tatum has not been coy about as being one of his many goals. 

“He’s going to continue to get better. He’s going to hit bumps in the road,” Beal said. “He’s going to go through adversity. That’s just going to make him better and stronger.”

And seeing him up close now, Walker has gained a greater appreciation for not just Tatum’s talent but the amount of time he puts into his game to get better. 

“From his first season, watching from afar, and now being his teammate, I love the way he works on off days to improve his game,” Walker said. “We need that kid; we need him a lot. We need him to score big points for us and we need him to take on those challenges. There’ll be a lot more big games for that guy.”

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Warriors, which tips off Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Against Isaiah Thomas, it's Kemba Walker's time to be the Celtics' 4th-quarter hero

Against Isaiah Thomas, it's Kemba Walker's time to be the Celtics' 4th-quarter hero

BOSTON — Kemba Walker remembers watching the Isaiah Thomas-era Celtics from afar. He marveled at the way Thomas' big fourth quarters used to make the Garden roar. He watched Boston's playoff surge in the 2017 playoffs and wondered what it felt like to play on that sort of stage.

How crazy, then, was it to watch Walker tuck behind an Enes Kanter screen and splash a crunch-time 3-pointer over Thomas to seal Boston’s 140-133 triumph over the visiting Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

The Celtics have now won nine in a row. That’s two games longer than any win streak Walker ever experienced in Charlotte. Boston owns the NBA’s best record at 9-1 as it braces for a five-game trip that ought to tell us a lot more about where exactly this team sits in among the league’s elite.

The Celtics have had to patch together some ugly wins early this season and the only constant has been Walker figuring out a way to dump in a bunch of points, particularly in key spots.

Walker is 17th in the NBA in scoring while averaging 25 points per game but he’s fifth in second-half scoring, putting up 16.4 points per game, all while shooting 50 percent from the field and 55.9 percent beyond the 3-point arc after the intermission. He’s sixth in fourth-quarter scoring at 8.1 points per game but rises to No. 1 in the league when you judge based on per-100 possession production (57.9 points per 100 possessions).

No need to make comparisons here. Kardiac Kemba isn’t producing at King in the Fourth level production, but he’s damn good. The Celtics have had an embarrassment of riches in terms of fourth-quarter producers in recent seasons from Thomas to Kyrie Irving to Walker.

It’s why Marcus Smart laughs and declares himself spoiled when asked about all the clutch players he’s had alongside him in Boston’s backcourt.

"I’ve been lucky. I’ve been here for all three of them,” said Smart. "Those guys, it’s a different mindset when the fourth quarter hits.

"It’s kinda like when you know you’ve got to do something. Your mom’s coming home and you ain’t done the dishes so you had to run. That’s how it is in the fourth quarter. Something just clicks like, ‘Oh, we gotta go, it’s time to turn it on.’"

Walker scored 11 third-quarter points Wednesday then went cold for a stretch in the fourth. The late 3-pointer was his only make of the frame and yet the Celtics needed it to bury these pesky but defense-averse Wizards.

What is it about key moments that allows Walker to shine brightest?

“Just playing the game. Just the way the game is going sometimes, Brad is just calling my number,” said Walker. "Whenever he’s calling the plays for me, whatever’s my play, I’m just looking to be aggressive, make the right play. But my teammates do such a great job kind of stretching, getting me open, holding the screens. They know I like to pull up off the screens so they do a great job of just getting me open.”

Walker finished with a team-high 25 points on 8-of-17 shooting but was just one of seven players in double figures for scoring. He spent much of his postgame press conference gushing about the way others stepped up, including Boston’s injury-thinned bench.

A west coast trip awaits. There’s going to be bumps in the road, at least more than Boston has encountered thus far. But Walker is ready for it.

"We’re going to learn a lot, man,” said Walker. "When you go on road trips is when adversity starts to hit, fatigue starts to set in, guys want to get back home. Those trips are long. But we’re going to learn a lot about each other.

“Hopefully when adversity does hit, we’re going to see how we handle it. That’s what’s the most important thing. For me, I just want to keep this team together as much as possible. This is a huge stretch for us, really important, and it’s gonna show what we’re made of.”

Walker knows there’s going to be games where, like Thomas, he’s going to have to step up and lead this team. He’s going to have to shoulder the load.

He’s been watching from afar and he’s ready for those moments, and so much more.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Warriors, which tips off Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.