Despite a 137-112 blowout loss to the red hot Houston Rockets, the Boston Celtics bench unit showed small flashes of excellence and possible promise as they head into bubble seeding play.
For the final scrimmage before the NBA’s bubble seeding games occur, the Boston Celtics faced the small-ball, new age Houston Rockets.
After a solid, balanced scoring victory against the Phoenix Suns, the C’s coaching staff decided to give the playoff seven the night off as they went with a starting lineup of Brad Wanamaker, Carsen Edwards, Romeo Langford, Semi Ojeleye and Robert Williams. As mentioned by Brad Stevens in his pre-game interview, this was an “opportunity for some young guys to get the chance to play”.
The Rockets also entered this game with a one and one record in preseason bubble play as they came off a win against Memphis Grizzlies. During this game, 73 percent of the Rockets points came from either three-point range or at the free-throw line.
In typical Rocket fashion, this game also came with the same type of hyper-efficient shooting performance with only a mere 72 percent of all shots coming from the same two areas. At halftime, Russell Westbrook was the only Rocket to attempt a mid-range shot.
On the defensive side of the floor, the Celtics, similar to other top tier defenses, actually are usually willing to give up the longball and have been quite successful at holding teams to poor shooting nights from three.
Last night was not the time for that strategy as Houston was in full flamethrower mode, going 23 for 57 from beyond the arc with nine separate players connecting on at least one three-pointer. Despite the three-point shellacking, there were a few takeaways from this experimental, pre-season, bubble game.
1. Grant Williams the playmaker?
Boston Celtics fans may only be acquainted with Grant Williams, the vocal and switchable defender who shot 42 percent after missing his first 25 three-pointers, but tonight we saw a different player.
This version of Grant Williams was capable of hitting tough fade-away jump shots, creating for himself, and making the right cuts. Williams got to the line eight times and finished the game with 15 points on only five field-goal attempts.
The competition for minutes between Williams and Ojeleye is still an interesting debate. While Ojeleye may still be the better on-ball defender and floor spacer, Williams always makes the right reads, especially when it comes to his off-ball cutting. While we may have to wait for next year to see it again, it was awesome to see Williams in a higher usage role.
2. Carsen Edwards is still a lightning rod scorer
Edwards threw down perhaps one of the most electrifying dunks of the season as he split both Russell Westbrook and James Harden on an impressive drive to the basket. He struggled in the first half but came out of the gates firing during the second half of play.
Despite his ability to score in bursts, Edwards may not see any time during the playoffs, but during these seeding games, Edwards is likely to get time on the floor due to Kemba Walker‘s injury.
Yes, Brad Wanamaker gives the Celtics more defensive versatility and size on the perimeter. Still, Edwards provides the Celtics with an uncanny spark plug mentality, think along the lines of a more on-ball version of Eddie House. Especially at the end of quarters, Brad Stevens has always liked to go small for ball pressuring situations, and maybe that’s how Edwards finds his way onto the floor during these seeding games.
3. Romeo Langford continues to impress on defense
While still somewhat raw on offense, Romeo Langford seems to possess an already rare ability to stay in front of elite scorers.
While James Harden hit a few classic Harden-esque type shots in the presence of Langford, the latter only committed one foul and had zero turnovers during his 32:28 minutes of play. Not fouling against James Harden should be celebrated as a huge victory, as this may be Langford’s best skill at the moment.
While it may feel like ages ago, Langford was also battle-tested in a tightly contested game where he even took shots at guarding LeBron James. While his sample size may be small, the fact that Langford already earned at least an iota of trust with the Boston Celtics coaching staff trust points in a positive direction.
4. Fouling issues still present among Celtic youth
Despite Langford’s impressive defensive play and propensity to not foul, the other Celtics youth seemed too jumpy on a lot of the Houston Rockets up fakes.
This was not a surprise but worth mentioning, given the number of times this young Cs unit got beat in the half-court and in transition. Boston’s young bench unit seemed late to each rotation as the Rockets were getting to their spots at will.
More film and attention to detail will hopefully correct these youthful mistakes, and to their credit, they were playing against a team who ranks second in getting to the free-throw line.
5. Javonte Green is all effort all the time
Despite his many off-timed putback attempts and sometimes out of control play style, Javonte Green had the team’s highest true shooting percentage as he quietly went three-for-three from beyond the arc, grabbed six rebounds, and provided the Boston Celtics with much-needed energy off the bench.
Green has always impressed with his effort. His sharp off-ball cuts and ability to elevate with ease give the Celtics added athleticism off the bench. While he may be a bit undersized to guard the prototypical NBA small forward and probably will see little to no action come playoff time, Green is all effort all the time.
6. The Tacko Fall Impact
Despite picking up three early fouls and missing a few hook shots, Tacko Fall saw around nine minutes of action during his first Disney bubble appearance and was the only Celtic with a non-negative plus/minus.
With Fall on the floor, the Celtics went into a full zone action as the Rocket wings opted to shoot the three over him rather than challenge him at the rim. While NBA Twitter loves announcing every move he makes on the floor, Fall’s on-court impact is no joke.
He has the potential to be an extremely efficient impact player on both sides of the floor.
The Houston Rockets run and gun style was very much a pace test for Fall, but after a few minutes, he seemed comfortable getting to his spots. Fall can provide bursts of efficiency, and while his game isn’t suited for long stretches of fast-paced basketball, Fall could have a similar on-court impact to 7-4 Boban Marjanovic.
On a two-way contract, it will take time for Fall to develop, but given how he changes his opponent’s shot profile it’s worth holding onto such a unique talent for at least another year.
The Boston Celtics came into and left this matchup having played only nine collective games with a healthy playoff seven. Kemba Walker only played nine total minutes of action during their matchup against the Suns.
This Celtics team, heading into Friday’s seeding game against the Milwaukee Bucks, still has minimal on-court experience together as the team will be taking it cautiously with Walker’s knee injury. Reported by Andrew Lopez of ESPN, the Celtics will be placing Walker under a minutes restriction for the eight seeding games.