Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
Maybe the Boston Celtics will throttle up when the real games start. Maybe having Jayson Tatum on the floor for upwards of 40 minutes per game will mask some of the deficiencies that have otherwise been glaring in an abbreviated preseason.
But the fact of the matter is that it’s difficult to be optimistic about where the Celtics stand entering the 2020-21 regular season.
Friday night provided a double dose of gut punches as not only was Boston’s effort incredibly uninspired in its final tuneup but the rival Brooklyn Nets looked every bit the legitimate Eastern Conference contender they’ve been billed with the return of Kevin Durant.
NBC Sports Boston: Forsberg: A lot of work ahead for these Celtics
Preseason games aren’t about wins and losses. They’re not even necessarily about the ball going through the hoop or stopping the other team. It’s mostly about showing progress and effort. Boston did neither. […]
The effort issues are magnified by the short turnaround from a disappointing end to the Eastern Conference Finals. Fans want linear improvement, and see this team as a contender who should be roaring into this season with chips on their collective shoulders after that Miami series. Seeing them look sluggish is, to put it mildly, off-putting to many who were hoping to see more urgency from this team right away.
There are so many red flags in those two media reports. Kind of scary. How was the shooting last night?
The Celtics struggled mightily from 3-point range in their preseason opener vs. the Philadelphia 76ers (28.2 percent), so how did they respond on Friday night? With an even worse performance from beyond the arc.
Boston finished 8-for-45 (17.8 percent) from downtown vs. Brooklyn (yes, you read that correctly). Jayson Tatum was 2-for-9, Jaylen Brown was 1-for-7, and Marcus Smart was 1-for-6. That isn’t going to get the job done.
NBC Sports Boston: Celtics’ 3-point shooting woes continue in preseason loss to Nets
Oh. Was there anything good?
For the Celtics, the most encouraging aspect of this game was that it did not count. These teams will meet again on Christmas, and if the result is similar, there will be more cause for concern. […]
The Celtics are playing just two preseason games, the league minimum, and it’s unclear whether that’s good or bad. Maybe they could use more time to tune up, or maybe they just need real games to show their best.
But what is clear is that the two losses this week were not pretty. Boston has appeared sluggish and disconnected, and has been unable to establish any real rhythm. Kemba Walker’s absence is a significant part of that, but he’s sidelined indefinitely, so sitting back and waiting is not really an option.
Yikes. Maybe they are back too soon. Maybe they can’t get it going without their all-star point guard or new big man Tristan Thompson. Or maybe (ugh!) they’ve regressed while other East contenders have improved.
Whatever the case, the Celtics look awful. Last night was a legit blowout. The regular season starts in four days, with home games vs. the Bucks and these same Nets, then two consecutive games in three days at Indiana. A failure to show up would be very costly.
Some other notes about last night:
- Brooklyn dominated almost immediately, leading 35-23 after one quarter. The Celtics made just 9-of-23 shots, including 2-of-14 threes. They refused to drive to the hoop, as if they were allergic to iron.
- Daniel Theis returned to the lineup and was effective early. He had 5 points and 9 boards in 22 minutes. Rob Williams had 3 blocks and 4 turnovers in 18 minutes. They sure could use Thompson, but remember, he hasn’t played in a game since March 8. After missing all of the abbreviated training camp/preseason, what can he realistically contribute in the near future?
- Boston briefly got it together in the third quarter, cutting the halftime lead from 18 to 9. It was an illusion. The Nets regrouped, Durant torched everyone who came near him, and the Brooklyn lead was 32 going to the fourth. Damn.
- Durant looked like his old self with 25 points in 27 minutes on 9-of-16 shooting. He added three blocks just for fun. KD was supposed to need adjustment time after not playing a game in more than 500 days. The truth is, Gordon Hayward missed one season and in the entire two years after he came back, he never once looked as comfortable and productive as Durant did last night.
- Kyrie Irving scored 17 with 7 rebounds and 5 assists. As a reminder that players and fans think differently, many of his former teammates seemed genuinely glad to see him. Lots of hugs before and after the game.
- Caris LeVert dropped 51 in the Garden last season, and now he’s Brooklyn’s fourth or fifth option. The Nets will be very good.
- Payton Pritchard didn’t have it so easy this time. After looking smooth in Philly, last night he scored just 5 points with zero assists, and was picked on by the Brooklyn offense.
- Jeff Teague also had just 5 points, after 18 against the Sixers.
- Javonte Green started, played 10 minutes, and put up zero shots for zero points.
- Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards shot 0-of-11 combined.
- Marcus Smart shot early and often from 3 and wasn’t making them (1-of-6 in the first quarter), setting a bad tone for the team that never changed over the 48 minutes.
- Aaron Nesmith was 3-of-5 for 9 points, but got dunked on twice and committed an offensive foul shooting a 3. He looked like a rookie, but he made a little progress.
OK, that’s mostly bad news, but so was the entire game. We don’t know what to expect come December 23, which Brad Stevens acknowledged in the postgame:
“We’ll know more on Wednesday,” said Stevens. “Obviously, we haven’t played well in the majority of these two games. And certainly our first group has not played well — or just generally the guys that are going to play the share of the minutes. So we’re going to have to make sure we get a lot better and get ready for Wednesday. We’ve got a really good team, Milwaukee, coming in. At the same time, these games are exhibition games for a reason, so we’ll learn from them and move on.”
As usual, Brad’s outward demeanor is much more calm than mine and, I’d wager, most of Celtics Nation. Have to hope the coach is right.
Related – Boston.com: 5 takeaways from Celtics vs. Nets as Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant lead Brooklyn blowout | Globe: Celtics looked unprepared and disorganized in loss to Nets | Celtics coach Brad Stevens knows Nets belong among best in the East | Boston Sports Journal: Five observations from the Celtics’ blowout loss against the Nets | MassLive: Boston Celtics starting 2020-21 season in an empty TD Garden feels strange and a little sad
On Page 2: Back at the Garden
The Celtics were in their home gym for the first time in nine months. It was different.
I feel like Johnny Most tonight. I’m high above court side but I’m even higher than he was. Birds eye view of our #celtics.
Just happy to be back… pic.twitter.com/Oz0amqeFRf
— Cedric Maxwell (@cedricmaxwell81) December 19, 2020
There's Mike Gorman's new broadcast position pic.twitter.com/me3ot72XCz
— John Karalis 🇬🇷 (@RedsArmy_John) December 19, 2020
No fans in the stands meant bad news for the Celtics. The Cs sorely needed the emotional boost that the typically wild Garden crowd would’ve provided. In the bubble, they found the energy to play effectively in an empty arena. They’d better do it again right now.
By the way, line of the night on the NBC Sports Boston telecast:
Perk: “If fans were in the Garden, this would be a totally different game.”
Scal: “Yeah, Kyrie wouldn’t be here.”
Speaking of which…
And, finally… Sage wisdom
Sorry to dredge up memories of the Kyrie Experience, but this happened.
Kyrie is back in Boston, burning sage before the Nets face the Celtics:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 18, 2020
Last night was the first time Kyrie had been back in TD Garden since he bolted the Celtics in 2019. He said later the sage burning is something he’s done elsewhere, too, to cleanse the court of negative energy or something. Of course, it’s not that simple to loyal Celtics fans.
As one of those fans, I defended Kyrie through all of his incidents, from yelling at Hayward for a botched inbounds play to the flat earth nonsense to his public criticism of the younger players to his claim that everything would be all right in the 2019 playoffs simply because he’s Kyrie Irving. But in the end, he didn’t back it up. In the nine postseason games he played for the Celtics, he shot a terrible 38.5%. Worse than that, he blatantly didn’t care during the Bucks series. He had already checked out, and if there’s one thing you can’t do to Boston sports fans, it’s quit.
What came to mind when watching that video above: Kyrie might believe he’s special, but his shit stinks just like everyone else’s. No amount of burning sage can cover that up.
Related – NBC Sports Boston: Kyrie Irving explains burning sage before Celtics-Nets game | MassLive: Kyrie Irving returns: Former Boston Celtic enjoys preseason trip back to TD Garden ‘Coming here is easy’
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