We’ve already seen the primary 2017-18 Boston Celtics lineups in action during this preseason, so naturally, coach Brad Stevens took a chance to engage in some extended experimentation.
For this Oct. 9 exhibition vs. the Philadelphia 76ers, who the Celtics beat last Friday (110-102), Brad didn’t go full-madman–no Guerschon Yabusele/Daniel Theis starts–but rested Kyrie Irving, Al Horford and Gordon Hayward to offer a partial glimpse of a future Celtics core: Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Aron Baynes. (Rozier might not still be around and Baynes almost definitely won’t be, but you see what I mean.) Boston led start to finish, by as many as 34, and the second-unit stars shot the damn lights out for a dominating win.
The opening minutes saw Rozier assert himself not only individually but also as a facilitator for the group. This is something he’ll really need if he intends to be either a point guard of the future or a primary backup, and he showed shrewdness and calm alongside the blazing speed and impeccable athleticism we already knew he had. Before the first frame ended, the man whom erstwhile Locked on Celtics co-host Jam Packard calls Tito had 10 points, 4 boards and an assist.
At Q2’s start, the Celtics had a lead of about 15 points and it never diminished from there. While this is a preseason contest and things will undoubtedly change when games start counting, the majority of Philadelphia’s starters looking like inept children against Boston’s second unit…does not bode well for the so-called Process. While the newly extended Joel Embiid wasn’t playing (to preserve his body; can’t fault them for that) and neither was Philly’s designated veteran and ace shooter J.J. Redick, you’d think an exhibition game would be reasonable ground for young stars Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz to really cook.
They did no such thing, though in fairness, Simmons’ innate skill at all aspects of basketball except shooting and post defense was readily apparent. It’s just that, like, y’know, you have to shoot the ball at least somewhat to score if you’re not a human mountain like DeAndre Jordan on the Clippers, which Simmons decidedly is not. Simmons had a team-high 10 points and Fultz showed flashes of the spark that distinguished his college play, but their flaws–particularly Fultz’s horrid free-throw shooting and Simmons’ refusal to even attempt a damn jump shot, which will not wash in real NBA games–were more evident than you expect from prospects of such pedigree, even allowing for their youth. At halftime, our heroes held a 20-point lead over Philly–5 more points than Rozier’s total scoring.
Is it crazy of me to think that Smart’s much better 3-point shooting may be sustainable? It certainly looks that way: The motion is smoother and more confident, lacking the sometimes haphazard-looking, heaving motion of seasons past. Rozier also looks more sure of himself on offense, and also as a rebounder (10 boards!).
Most of the team looked offensively adept in one way or another: With the 3rd quarter at an end, five Celtics were in double figures–Brown (12), Smart (12), Rozier (15), rookie 3-point sniper Semi Ojeleye (16!) and fan-divisive prospect Abdel Nader (15!!!)–and the team led by 26 points. There were certainly mistakes on defense and some truly embarrassing rough moments (particularly poor Tatum’s horrific attempt to slam home an oop…woof), but with firepower this effective, it didn’t matter. Only one Sixer had 10 or more (Simmons, with 15, on 6-12 “shooting”–layups and floaters–and truly wretched 3-10 free-throw shooting).
The final frame of this contest largely centered around Stevens letting the rookies–Ojeleye, Theis, Yabu, Kadeem Allen, Jabari Bird, a dude I didn’t even know existed named L.J. Peak–get some tick, without worrying overmuch about the results. Even with 5 minutes to go in the 4th, Boston’s lead remained solidly above the 20-point threshold. The Answer himself walking through that door all of a sudden probably wouldn’t change the course of the game. Philadelphia finally got their deficit under 20 points…with a minute left, and the Celtics won 113-96.
THE HOT (AND NOT):
Hot: Slim Marcus and Ojeleye dominating from three, all-around performances from Rozier and Brown, tough rim protection and/or rebounding from Aron Baynes, Brown and Yabu, Stevens’ offense flowing almost as smoothly as usual among the rookies (well, until we got into the real end of the rotation, but at least three of those dudes are heading to the Maine Red Claws for a while, so no big deal).
Not: Baynes spraining his left knee in a rebound-attempt collision with Yabu and former Celtic Amir Johnson. Doesn’t seem like a huge deal right now–hopefully it won’t be.
TEAMWORK MAKE THA DREAM WORK:
Tito Rozier hustling like Marcus and getting it done in transition/on both ends:
SNIPER ON THE FLOOR–Ojeleye hitting his 2nd 3 on his way to a game-high 16 points:
WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?
This is arguably more Ojeleye’s fault than it is Tatum’s, but ooooooffffffffffffffffff this looked real bad:
That said, the people who’ve posted that in an attempt to roast Tatum are fans of trash squads like the Bulls and Lakers, so Y’ALL HAVE FUN WITH THEM.