Sometimes, first impressions can be deceiving. Hopefully that was the case for the Boston Celtics in their exhibition opener Tuesday night.
The Boston Celtics kicked off their 2020 campaign on Tuesday night, losing by a score of 108-99 to the Philadelphia 76ers. The game started out sloppy on both sides but began to pick up as Boston’s rookies and new additions began to shine.
Payton Pritchard impressed in his NBA debut, scoring 16 points on 6/10 from the field to go along with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. He showed his limitless range, even launching a 30 footer effortlessly, while also finishing inside through defenders. The Oregon product looked to understand his position on the court, finding open teammates off the drive and kick action to get open looks. If no separation was found in the Philadelphia defense, he also can drain contested mid-rangers in isolation, sinking his very first NBA bucket from 15 feet.
On the defensive end, he’s likely always going to be undersized in his career, only measuring in at 6’1″, but he competes. It didn’t help that during the majority of the second half, the rookie was joined in the backcourt by Tremont Waters and Carsen Edwards, both smaller than him. Coming off an extremely successful college career at Oregon, Pritchard knows what it’s like to win, and seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Aaron Nesmith, the 14th overall pick for the Boston Celtics also had a promising performance in his first NBA action. Scoring eight points on eight shots, he didn’t hesitate to shoot his jumper when he was open, his most important skill. Nesmith’s ideal outcome for his career would be to become a typical 3-and-D wing, who can switch effectively in a defensive scheme and hit open shots on the offensive end. His shot looks smooth and relatively quick, although he went 1/5 on the night, while his defense needs a bit of work.
He was late on a few rotations but seemed to tighten up his play as the game went on. He even had a spectacular recovery block on 76ers rookie Tyrese Maxey, who had a great debut of his own. If Nesmith can limit his mistakes in his team defense and begin to gain muscle throughout the year, he can be a very important contributor to the Boston Celtics.
The 32-year-old veteran Jeff Teague excelled in his Celtics debut Tuesday, finishing with a team-high 18 points on 7/9 shooting. Most of those points came from downtown, where Teague made all 4 of his attempts. Coming into the season, there has been concerned about whether the former Hawk was washed, or even if he can contribute to a winning team. While this performance doesn’t answer all the questions, it’s certainly a good sign for Celtics fans and coach Brad Stevens.
With Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis both out with nagging injuries, third-year man Robert Williams got the start at center. Assigned with guarding Joel Embiid, he struggled to stay out of foul trouble, accumulating 5 in only 19 minutes. He finished with 8 points, 6 rebounds and 1 block.
Williams reportedly worked on his core strength in the offseason, hoping to improve his post defense. Although it’s difficult to judge against Embiid, one of the best big men in the league, it did look a bit better. It helped that Embiid took a total of seven jump shots in the first eight minutes of action, as the Celtics will settle for an opposing possession ending in mid-rangers all day.
However, when he did get into the post, he still overpowered the undersized Williams, as coach Stevens declined to give him any defensive help. In a real game, the superstar would always be double teamed in the post, but this game ultimately doesn’t matter.
In terms of defensive rotations and pick and roll defense, the “Timelord” seemed to continue his struggles from previous years, looking lost when having the leave the paint. A key example of this is jumping on a pump fake from Dwight Howard at the elbow, allowing the veteran to get an easy drive to the hoop. Improved defensive intelligence will take time, but as of now, it’s simply not good enough. Encouragingly, on the offensive end, Williams looked as bouncy as ever, finishing anything that finds a way near the hoop.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both had pretty horrendous shooting nights, combining for 5/24 from the field for 15 points. This is no cause for concern, as everyone knows how good this duo is and can be, and have proven themselves time and time again. If anything, they looked well conditioned after an extremely short offseason, ready to get back to work.
Marcus Smart continued to do Marcus Smart things in the first preseason game, such as diving on the floor to get loose balls or take two charges in the first half. He sets an example for the team, that no matter what the score or how much this game matters, you give it your all until the buzzer sounds. Pritchard acknowledged Smart’s playstyle after the game, perhaps looking to model his off his teammates’.
Javonte Green started for the Boston Celtics in the preseason opener, perhaps indicating that he does have a solid rotation spot in the upcoming season. Although he only played 14 minutes, he was productive on both sides of the ball, finishing fast breaks and even knocking down a three. On defense, he’s a solid team and individual defender who doesn’t make incredible mistakes – that’s all the Celtics can ask for from a 5th starter while Kemba is out.
Semi Ojeleye and Carsen Edwards are both disappointments from the Celtics’ first preseason game. Ojeleye looks to have not developed into a capable offensive player – he can still crack the rotation, but it will be difficult to justify if he gives no production on one end of the ball, especially with the young talent coming in.
Coming into the second year of his four-year rookie deal, Edwards is looking to become a sparkplug off the bench for this Boston Celtics roster. Ultimately, if he can’t hit his shots – and isn’t coming close on many of his attempts either – then it may be time to move on in the near future. It is only the first game of his second season, but time is running out quickly for the Purdue product, especially for a team that has a crunch for roster spots.
For the game itself, the Boston Celtics started out extremely sloppy, as any team does in their first preseason game. They had 9 turnovers in the first quarter, which will hopefully not happen again in a real game.
It doesn’t matter that the Celtics lost – what matters is how the rookies and newcomers looked.
And for the most part, they looked promising.