By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The odds would suggest that what you saw in Friday night’s preseason loss to the Brooklyn Nets, namely going 8-for-45 from deep, is not going to be the norm for the Boston Celtics at any point in 2020-21.
I mean, just go off last year, right, as the Celtics never shot worse than 21.6 percent from deep in a single game, going 8-for-37 from deep in a Jan. 6 loss to the Wizards. In the Orlando bubble, their closest brush with such a woeful mark game in a Game 4 loss to the Raptors, with the C’s missing on all but seven of their 35 attempts from long-range territory.
But this is a different year, and a different team, as Celtics coach Brad Stevens reminded us all moments after Friday’s defeat.
“We’re not even close to that group that was in the bubble,” Stevens said. “We have a lot of work to do. Ultimately we have to make sure we’re building the right habits every time we take the court.”
Friday was a mixed bag in that regard. The Celtics had their share of straight-up missed shots. This was especially true from their starters, with Jaylen Brown missing a wide-open, uncontested three to begin his struggles from deep, while Marcus Smart heaved six tries from deep and knocked down just one. Even Jayson Tatum struggled, knocking down just two of his nine three-point attempts. Shockingly, this was the best long-range effort from any of Boston’s shooters with at least three tries.
This was a continuation of the issues revealed in Tuesday’s loss to the 76ers, but it was far more damaging against a team like this revamped Brooklyn squad. I mean, you’re not trying to go shot-for-shot, and miss-for-miss with the likes of Tobias Harris and Shake Milton. This Nets squad, with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant both in action and still with pieces such as sharpshooter Joe Harris and Caris LeVert, could dig your grave even deeper in the blink of an eye.
That’s exactly what happened when the Celtics brought themselves back within nine in the second half.
Within striking distance after Brown converted an and-one, the Nets responded with back-to-back layups, and followed that up with an Irving three. The Celtics, in between those three makes, missed three shots and turned the ball over twice. All in a span of just two minutes. Bing, bang, boom. Just like that, the Brooklyn advantage was back to 16, and at one point ballooned to 32.
Unlike Tuesday, too, Boston’s second unit failed to provide much of a pushback, with no Celtic bench piece finishing with double-digit points, and adding 42 points in all on a combined 15-for-43 shooting (34.9 percent) from the field.
This is where the Celtics undoubtedly missed the ability of Kemba Walker’s quick-strike offense, and even Gordon Hayward’s ability to play a pivotal role as both a shooting threat and ball-handler that opens things up for the rest of the offense. Preseason or not, this was the biggest difference from Friday and the bubble.
Offense is just noticeably more difficult for this group, and the ol’ throw-it-up-and-see-what-happens approach has an even uglier look without established, proven options.
And with those aforementioned players either out of action or off to greener pastures, this isn’t something we can expect to be solved by your Aaron Nesmiths and Payton Pritchards. This is a crash-course into NBA minutes for both of those players, and expecting them not to be rookies in this season of all seasons is simply unfair.
This comes down to the Brown-Smart-Tatum trio, and they know it.
“It starts with us,” Brown admitted. “We gotta come out and play with more energy, more tenacity, and we will.”
Here’s some other thoughts and notes from an ugly 113-89 loss at TDG…
So, what’s the Opening Night starting lineup?
The Celtics have 96 minutes of data to work with to build their Opening Night lineup. That’s, uh, not ideal. And honestly, what you saw in both Philly and Boston this week is probably a good bet as to what you’ll see when things tipoff for real next week.
With Jeff Teague looking like the No. 1 option on their second unit, you can expect Marcus Smart to get the call as the C’s starting point guard. With the amount of switching the Celtics do, and with Jayson Tatum’s progress as a ball handler up the floor, this isn’t like expecting Smart to go out and replicate Walker. (You hope that he won’t vomit up five three-point attempts before Brown and Tatum have a combined five attempts from deep, but that’s all part of The Marcus Smart Experience, we’ve come to learn.)
With Smart at the one, Brown will remain at the two as the C’s shooting guard. Tatum will obviously play the four as the team’s starting power forward, and you can probably expect Daniel Theis (64 starts at center last year) to hang on to his job out of the gate despite Rob Williams’ lofty expectations for 2020-21.
The only question, really, is at shooting forward, with Javonte Green (two career starts) looking like the likely call for Stevens.
It’s a move that feels like an energy play given what Stevens said of Green in between Boston’s preseason tilts.
“Regardless of whether he starts or not, we need [Green]’s energy,” Stevens said of the 6-foot-4 wing. “He can get you points off cutting. He can get you points off running the floor, he can get you points off corner-crash rebounds, then obviously he has improved his shot. He can shoot the ball when open.
“But those first three things, those first three areas are energy, effort plays that are great any time of the game.”
Green totaled seven points on three-for-four shooting, five rebounds (including three offensive rebounds), two steals, and a block in 24:39 over his two-game preseason run.
The latest on the C’s 2020 rookie class
Life as a first-year pro will have its highs and lows, and Friday was a low for Payton Pritchard.
After stealing headlines in his debut on Tuesday, Pritchard’s preseason finale came with just five points and misses on all but two of his nine field goals, including a 1-for-6 mark from deep. (Pritchard even missed both of his free throw attempts.)
Nesmith, meanwhile, had what felt like a more complete game, with a bench-high nine points and five boards in 19:47. Turnovers were an issue for the Vandy product (his five turnovers were a game-high), but honestly, I wish we saw more of Nesmith in the first half when this game wasn’t completely out of reach. Nesmtih is the kind of shooting threat that the Celtics will need to touches, especially on nights like this when offense feels like a total teeth-pull.
I, a bad person, wish the Celtics would embrace anti-Kyrie pettiness
Let’s make one thing clear: I don’t like Kyrie Irving. He outright lied to Boston fans, conspired his team-up with KD while still on the Celtics, and he’ll go down as a great conman. I think everything he says is complete, nonsensical word-salad, and I think the idea that he’s some sort of tortured artist when he does himself in every single time he speaks is laughably dumb.
So this idea that his return to Boston (what a shock, he comes back when the arena’s empty) should be met with cheers and recognizing his two years in town as anything other than a complete nightmare kinda bugs me. A whole bunch.
Now, I don’t expect players to hate Kyrie. That’s insane. They spent two seasons with him, and both Brown and Tatum have expressed their happiness with Kyrie finding his fit in Brooklyn. It wasn’t like these guys were constantly fighting with one another. In fact, it felt like Irving’s relationship with both Brown and Tatum were among the best on the team. So, you get it why they’re not out here trying to body Kyrie into next week. (Also: It’s the preseason. Relax.)
But the Garden? Come on. We can have some fun. A fan-less Philadelphia crowd welcomed the Celtics to town by telling them they sucked. Celtics coach Brad Stevens loved it. Why were we not piping in deafening boos every time Kyrie touched the basketball? Why are we pretending like this guy was anything other than a team-killing liar during his time here? It feels faker than anything Kyrie’s ever said, and more artificial than any of the 12 recorded chants that echoed throughout the Garden.
Embrace the pettiness. It’s more Boston than anything else we could pipe into an arena sorely missing its fans.