With the preseason now a thing of the past, and the regular season tip-off almost here, it’s time to take a look back at the preseason and what things we have learned about the Boston Celtics during those five games.
First, let’s see how they did during the preseason.
Boston Celtics 114 – 106 Philadelphia 76ers
New York Knicks 114 – 107 Boston Celtics
Philadelphia 76ers 101 – 112 Boston Celtics
Boston Celtics 123 – 110 New York Knicks
Charlotte Hornets 99 – 127 Boston Celtics
Now, let’s take a look at five crucial things we learned about the Celtics during the 2023 preseason.
No. 1: Payton Pritchard silenced doubters after Boston Celtics extension
Not many names have been talked about more during the Celtics’ five preseason matchups, and for good reason. Pritchard received a 4-year, $30 million contract extension during the offseason, leaving some fans uncertain about whether or not he deserves such an extension.
His performances throughout the preseason games proved, not just to Boston Celtics fans, but to NBA fans alike, that he undoubtedly deserved the extension and, if anything, we got a bargain deal at $30 million over 4 years for such a talented player.
From the first preseason clash with the Philadelphia 76ers, and through the first four games, the hype around Pritchard just continued to escalate, here is why:
Pritchard vs. 76ers: 26 points, two rebounds, four assists, one steal, 9-14 from the field (64.3%), and 6-11 from beyond the arc (54.5%) from 23 minutes.
Pritchard vs. Knicks: 21 Points, three rebounds, five assists, three steals, 7-15 from the field (46.7%), and 4-11 from beyond the arc (36.4%) from 29 minutes.
Pritchard vs. 76ers: 17 points, one rebound, three assists, one steal, 7-15 from the field (46.7%), and 3-9 from beyond the arc (33.3%) from 23 minutes.
Pritchard vs. Knicks: 11 points, one rebound, four assists, 4-13 from the field (30.8%), and 3-10 from beyond the arc (30.0%) from 22 minutes.
It’s clear that Pritchard is poised to get an increase in his on-court minutes compared to what he was getting last season, and that it is well-earned, and deserved. With his name now working its way into “Sixth Man of the Year Award” conversations, I think it’s evident to everyone that the Celtics have a star on their hands – a sharpshooting star, at that.
No. 2: Boston Celtics depth options were once a concern, but preseason performances eased them
Following the losses of Marcus Smart, Robert Williams III, Malcolm Brogdon, Grant Williams, Blake Griffin, Mike Muscala, and Danilo Gallinari, some Boston Celtics fans, and NBA fans, have voiced their concerns and opinions about a lack of depth in the C’s locker room. This run of preseason games has given the rotational players extended minutes with the chance to improve their playtime next season, and they have done incredibly well throughout with the minutes they have been given.
Although their only preseason loss came against the Knicks, the starting five, and rotation, for that game consisted entirely of non-starters, and they all performed exceptionally, regardless of the loss.
Yes, I have to mention Pritchard again as he has been incredible during the preseason and is the benchmark rotation threat, but he isn’t the only man to step up during these five games.
Sam Hauser was off to a shaky start in this preseason campaign, but as the games went on, his form started to mount. His shooting and defensive efforts have redeemed his uncertain start to the preseason. His most notable performances were their third and fourth games facing the 76ers and the Knicks where he shot the ball with a high level of consistency. In the matchup with the Sixers, Hauser shot 4-9 from beyond the arc (44.4%) and scored 15 in total, and In the following game, against the Knicks, he shot 4-9 from the field (44.4%), and 3-7 from beyond the arc (42.9%), finishing the game with 15 points yet again. Having sharpshooters like Pritchard and Hauser off the bench can be crucial for the Celtics.
Lamar Stevens, like Hauser, started the preseason a bit inconsistent, but his performance against the Hornets in their final game got Celtics fans rallying behind him. Finishing the game with 12 points, three rebounds, one steal, and one block in only 12 minutes on the court has proved his worth for rotational minutes this season. His poster dunk in the fourth quarter had social media in a frenzy and I’m hoping we see more moments like that during the regular season.
With the last two preseason games featuring Jrue Holiday and Derrick White as the small-ball backcourt, it appears increasingly probable that Al Horford will serve as a valuable rotational player for most of this season. Having a seasoned vet with Horford’s skills coming off the bench will be of great significance, given the impact he’ll have on the other rotational players. Keeping a cool head is vital, and Horford brings that calm influence to those around him, which will be necessary when star names are missing from the court.
Even if Horford does have a different role this season, we all know he will take on that role with a high level of professionalism. His place within the Celtics is invaluable in both the locker room and on the court, and having him play a rotational role might prove to be a smart decision from Mazzulla in this season’s championship hopes.
Neemias Queta has certainly made a name for himself so far this preseason with a standout performance against the Hornets being the most notable. So far, Luke Kornet has been given more minutes on the court than Queta, but with lukewarm results. With Mazzulla opting to play Queta ahead of Kornet during the Hornets game, with Kornet not playing at all, it’s starting to look like the backup center role might be handed to the Portuguese big man.
Yes, Queta is on a two-way contract, but that could easily change at any point in the future, and because of how well he has played, I could see him getting a shot at being a regular face on the court.
The Boston Celtics may have an underrated star on their hands. I’m all in on Queta.
I didn’t even get to mention Svi Mykhailiuk, Dalano Banton, Oshae Brissett, or the rookie Jordan Walsh, who have all had stand-out moments over these five games. With the veteran presence of Horford guiding these players, this season’s rotation is looking promising.
The Boston Celtics are not lacking in options for their rotation, and the narrative of “The Celtics lack depth” can chime on as mere background noise as they possess an abundance of depth. The final preseason game against the Hornets was another great example of how good our rotation players can be as they excelled during their minutes on the court.
No. 3: Losing fan favorites hurts, but new arrivals are perfect replacements who are quickly healing those wounds
One of the most notable talking points this offseason, not just for the Celtics, but for the NBA as a whole, was the acquisition of Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis, which came at the price of losing two fan-favorite players in the process. With Smart being used as a trade piece to acquire Porzingis, and Williams being used to bring in Holiday, Boson Celtics fans were initially skeptical – mainly due to the wounds caused by losing two players we have grown to love over the years.
The skepticism has faded fast due to the performances they have both put on so far this preseason, and with the first bucket, in the first game, being a 3-pointer at the hands of Porzingis, those wounds quickly began to heal. Ever since that opening bucket, Porzingis has been insanely consistent on both ends of the court. It seems like every time he gets the ball in his hands, it’s going to go in, and defenses haven’t been able to cope with his size, shooting ability, and sheer determination to score.
I think we are going to see the best version of Porzingis this season, as long as he can stay healthy. My fingers will stay crossed.
We are all going to miss the Time Lord running the five, but we have now entered a new era of Celtics basketball and, hopefully, this era will be filled with success, awards, and banners in the rafters. With Porzingis on our side, that dream appears to be a realistic possibility.
In addition to the towering presence of Porzingis, the Celtics acquired the All-Star, All-Defensive, and one-time champion, Holiday, who so far has proven his defensive expertise, his passing prowess, and his scoring capabilities. After already creating multiple highlight-worthy moments, his place in the hearts of Celtics fans has been secured.
After a tough opening preseason game, Holiday has been incredibly consistent on both ends of the court, and with scoring the ball not being the main service that the Celtics require from him, he has been given the freedom to shine in other areas. This is especially evident in the last two preseason games against the Knicks and the Hornets where his defense, and his scoring when called upon, have been shining examples as to why the Celtics traded for him.
Holiday vs. Knicks: 10 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals, 4-7 from the field (57.1%), and 1-2 from beyond the arc (50.0%).
Holiday vs. Hornets: 11 points, five rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and 5-9 from the field (55.6%)
Given the offensive strength of this Celtics team, players like Holiday aren’t going to be burdened with the task of scoring 25+ points every night, leaving him with the previously mentioned freedom to shine in his favored areas. Just like the situation involving the departure of William, the loss of Smart from the organization was initially a bitter pill to swallow. However, Holiday undeniably possesses the ability to fill the void left by the Smart trade and serve as the defensive anchor in the backcourt, alongside his All-Defensive co-star, Derrick White. Speaking of White…
No. 4: The preseason has cemented the fact that Derrick White is a defensive powerhouse and that he warrants a starting role this season.
I’ve recently covered this topic in-depth at the midway point of the preseason, but as the games went on, the reasons as to why White needs to be a consistent starter became even more evident. His ability to block the ball as a six-foot-four guard is unparalleled for a man his size, as is his grit and determination to, at all costs, disrupt the opposing team’s offensive flow.
Besides his shot-blocking skill, his knack for stealing the ball from opponents is a key reason he earned a spot on the All-Defensive second team following the 2022-23 season. His ability to make steals and blocks not only boosts his stats but is also a significant asset when it comes to the team’s overall success in games.
White vs. 76ers (Preseason game 1): one steal, one block.
White vs. 76ers (Preseason game 3:) two steals, three blocks.
White vs. Hornets (Preseason game 5:) two steals, three blocks.
He may be underrated when it comes to some NBA fans, but Celtics fans have a special place in their hearts for White as they recognize his importance, and his offseason performances have only elevated that. There is a reason Mazzulla played the duo of White and Holiday over the final two preseason games, and there is a reason why I think he should continue to be a starter going forward, those reasons became even more clear as the preseason went on. White is an elite defensive guard, and I expect him to make an All-Defensive team again this year. If the Celtics are to be successful this season, White needs to play.
No. 5: All-Star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown look as good as ever
Last season Jayson Tatum was firmly in the race to win the MVP award, with the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Nikola Jokic also in contention, but eventually fell short as Embiid ended up lifting the trophy at the end of the season.
From the minutes we have seen from Tatum during the preseason, a good guess is that he will be in the MVP race again this season.
During the offseason, we all got to see clips of Tatum working out with Paul Pierce, and the results of that can be seen during the preseason. Tatum’s physique has notably gained muscle as a result of these workouts, and his enhanced strength is evident in his performance during these games. Fortunately, it seems that the increase in muscle mass hasn’t adversely affected the other, non-physical, aspects of his game.
The standout performance from Tatum this preseason came in their fourth game against the Knicks as he put up an impressive 28 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals, and one block, scoring at an incredible efficiency of 9/15 from the field (60.0%), and 5-8 from beyond the arc (62.5%). These are the kind of performances we expect from Tatum regularly, and I can’t wait to see him in the regular season when things matter.
This preseason has shown that Tatum is ready for this season, and so am I.
His co-star, Jaylen Brown, had the eyes of the NBA world well and truly fixated on him following his $304 million dollar extension, in addition to the criticism surrounding his dribbling ability, which only escalated further following the extension. In the three appearances Brown made during the preseason, he has looked extremely sharp offensively and appears to be unaffected by the doubters or the weight of the contract extension on his shoulders. He carries this pressure as if it weren’t even there – let’s hope that continues.
Brown vs. 76ers: 19 points, three rebounds, one assist, one steal, one block, 7-10 from the field (70.0%), and 1-2 from beyond the arc (50%)
Brown vs. Knicks: 17 points, three rebounds, six assists, 6-15 from the field (40%), and 3-7 from beyond the arc (42.9%)
Brown vs. Hornets: 20 points, four rebounds, one assist, one steal, 8-12 from the field (66.7%), and 4-5 from beyond the arc (80%)
From what I’ve seen from Tatum and Brown throughout their careers, and from the minutes they have got during the preseason, I’m expecting this duo to both make the All-Star team again next season. In addition to that, I strongly believe this duo has what it takes to guide this organization to NBA Finals success. I predict a huge season from the Jays and, like the entire fanbase, to say I’m excited to see how they perform next season would be an understatement. I’m all in with how the team is looking this year, and the star power of this All-Star duo only amplifies that.
This preseason has given Celtics fans a lot to be excited about for the 2023-24 season, and following that exceptional team performance against the Hornets – which culminated in 22 total steals and a 28-point win – the anticipation for the opening tipoff has been well and truly cemented.
With strong depth options, Pritchard playing at such a high level, the new arrivals fitting in perfectly, White being a defensive powerhouse and the two Jays looking as elite as they do ahead of what feels like a revenge season, things are looking good for the Boston Celtics.