By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Preseason or not, Celtics guard Jeff Teague did something the man he’s replacing (Brad Wanamaker) was unable to accomplish during his two-year run with Boston: score 18 points in a single game.
Now, this isn’t to disparage Wanamaker. He played his role in Boston just fine. But when things got serious last year — and the year before that, and the year before that — the need (or sometimes cry) for a capable, veteran scorer off the bench was always there. It went unanswered every deadline and every postseason.
But if Tuesday was any indication of what’s to come, Teague may be exactly what the Green need.
With Kemba Walker out indefinitely due to a knee injury (and with no plans to rush himself back at less than 100 percent), Tuesday saw Teague hop off the bench in place of starter Marcus Smart, and deliver 18 points in just 18:40 of play.
The effort came with makes on seven of Teague’s nine attempts, and conversions on all four of his tries from deep. His 18 points were tops among all Celtics, and his 77.8 field goal percentage was tops among all Celtic shooters with at least eight attempts.
It was that instant, backcourt off-the-bench scoring that this team has desperately needed for multiple seasons. The closest thing the Celtics have had to this kind of presence in a backcourt bench option came back with Terry Rozier, but that was always inconsistent at best, whereas Teague’s contributions didn’t come with a derailment of everything else the Celtics were trying to do.
“I thought we looked the most fluid offensively when Jeff was in the game,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the game. “He got us several baskets that were just easy.
“Like pushing the ball up the floor, [it] doesn’t look like he’s breaking a sweat. Sometimes it was him, sometimes it was others. But really, in the first 30 minutes, I felt like that the only time the ball was moving the way it needs to was when he was in the game.”
Not bad for a 32-year-old playing his first game since Mar. 11.
“Just trying to adjust and get a feel for the game,” Teague said of his night. “Also trying to be aggressive and get my legs back under me. It’s been nine months since I’ve played ball.”
And though his role will change throughout the year, Tuesday was telling in the sense that he played a large chunk of his night with 2020 first-round picks Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith on the floor, or with fellow bench pieces such as Grant Williams and Semi Ojeleye. Think, with a tweak here and there given the Celtics’ injury situation at that moment, will get their minutes together in 2021, and it will be on Teague to make those players around him better.
This effort, with the 76ers playing their more veteran-heavy group later into the second half than the Celtics did, was admirable. At least compared to the chances of the first-team group, as noted by Stevens.
At the very least, Tuesday was a solid first step led by Teague. A much-needed forward one at that, too. Especially when looking at the end goal of building a Boston bench that ranked 29th in points per game (28.5) last year before averaging a third-worst 18.2 points per game in a 17-game playoff run into something even somewhat formidable in an improving East.
And with things only going up from here if Teague has his say.
“That’s our biggest thing: Just trying to build some chemistry,” Teague offered. “It was a good first outing for us. We got a lot of things we can clean up, but we’ll keep working.”
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 108-99 loss to the Sixers…
Payton Pritchard steps right into NBA mix with solid showing
Celtics president Danny Ainge believed his team was getting an NBA-ready talent with the selection of Oregon’s Payton Pritchard with the No. 26 overall pick in this year’s draft. So far, so good for the four-year Duck starter.
Making his NBA debut Tuesday, the 6-foot-2 guard splashed with 16 points (second-most on the Celtics) on 6-for-10 shooting, and stuffed his line with four rebounds, two assists, and a block in 21:35 of play. Pritchard was also one of just four Celtics players to finish the night with a plus-rating, joining Jayson Tatum, Carsen Edwards, and Tremont Waters in that respect. (I know, I know. This is where we throw in that ‘PRESEASON PRESEASON PRESEASON’ reminder.)
“This is what we play the game for is to play games and this is what all the work is for,” Pritchard, who last played a competitive game in March, offered. “It was awesome to be back out here and there’s nothing like a real game setting
“[To] get the jitters out, get running up and down the floor, just kind of get a feeling for things again [was] awesome.”
That said, there’s still a ton of work to be done.
Participating in a condensed training camp, Pritchard (and Nesmith) will get just two games to show the C’s what they can do. Tonight was more good than bad, but issues remained. Speaking after the game, Stevens noted that there were times where he called out a coverage or play and the rookies “looked at him sideways”, unsure what it was that he was calling out. This is part of the “crash course” that Stevens discussed in regards to these first-year talents, who are already arriving to the facility an hour before the rest of their teammates everyday to go through individual lessons and drills with the coaching staff.
“We’re gonna have to try to get them a basic set of things we can play with when they’re in,” Stevens said.
Marcus Smart is still a lunatic
There’s something to be said for Marcus Smart drawing a pair of charges and diving for loose balls… in a preseason game.
On one hand, it’s exactly what you think some of the Celtics’ young guns want and need to see. His efforts in a ‘meaningless’ game may shape how they view that same situation. On the other hand, with Kemba Walker and Romeo Langford already out, it’s a little bit of a dangerous game for Boston’s backcourt. I mean, a broken thumb or ugly slide and Ainge is suddenly wondering if he has to phone Israel to see if he can borrow Yam Madar two years earlier than expected.
But this is Marcus Smart. Head to toe. There is no other setting. It’s all insanity all the time.
“I don’t think he knows [how to calm down],” Teague said. “He’s like that in practice. That’s what makes him special [and] of the best defenders in the league— It’s effort. All the time.”
Stevens already in management mode with his team’s best
Brad Stevens knows that the preseason does not determine his team’s ceiling. He’s also smart enough to know that his first unit’s ‘meh’ showing isn’t enough to change how he looks at the work in front of them.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Stevens noted. “I’ve known that from the moment we stepped on the court.”
In other words, he’s not going to panic about Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown going a combined 5-for-24 from the field. (Probably for the best considering what happened when we all panicked about Tatum’s bad bubble debut.) Nor or is he going to sweat a mixed bag showing from Big Year Robert Williams.
There’s still a lot to be ironed out with this year’s team. Barring historic and Celtic-discovered advancements in medicine and recovery, that was going to remain the case no matter what happened Tuesday night.
“We’ve got some things to manage, with Tristan, Kemba, and Romeo out,” said Stevens. “The best thing about the preseason — no matter win, lose, or draw — is that you always got a ton of film to work off of.
“Everything is information right now, so we’ll take that.”