Greg Stiemsma tipped in the winning basket on the final Celtics possession as Boston took down the Raptors 76-75 in the first game of a home-and-home mini-series.
Of course, that game-winning putback may prove to be the highlight of Stiemsma’s season. Which is the standard lesson of all pre-season basketball: Read too much into the results — both team and individual — at your peril.
Of course, there were some notable happenings this afternoon. A few highlights:
Kevin Garnett logged 24 minutes in Doc Rivers’ new rotation, which has him playing repeated five-minute bursts rather than the long stretches he’s traditionally handled the past 15 years. The agenda here is to keep KG fresh into the spring, facilitate him going up and down the court while playing center in small lineups and encourage him to attack more regularly on the offensive end.
Jermaine O’Neal was terrific anchoring the defense, in no small part because he’s come to camp leaner and more focused than last year, when Rivers spend the early part of the season coding his disgust at O’Neal’s absence for media members. O’Neal put up two blocks and moved well all day, finishing at +13 overall. Given how well the Celtics played last season with a true center, be it J.O. or Shaquille O’Neal, his continued health and production are crucial for this team.
Starting in place of the injured Paul Pierce (heel), Marquis Daniels looked like a new man out there in his third go-round with the C’s. His offensive game is a major boon to this team when he’s assertive. He can work in the post, handle the ball and hit the mid-range shot. Quis played only 51 and 49 games with the Celtics the last two years so expectations are tempered across the board. But if he can stay healthy this year, he can not only position himself for a multi-year contract but suck up many of the minutes originally slated for Jeff Green.
E’Twaun Moore already appears to have surpassed JaJuan Johnson on the depth chart, in part because Johnson’s stuck behind a logjam of power forwards but also because Moore looks confident on the court. The second-round pick shot only 2-6 and doesn’t come with great athletic gifts but appears to be positioning himself to grab some condensed-season minutes (that’s a fun sideline to the crazy season ahead — who will prove themselves legit rotation players in the league when forced into action by the dense schedule?).
Brandon Bass (9 points, 5 boards, 3 steals) and Chris Wilcox (7 points, 5 boards) look like excellent fits for this bench and the kind of guys who will benefit from working in the Celtics’ offense (once they learn to keep their heads up for Rajon Rondo’s any-angle passes and KG’s dropoffs in the paint).
Neither is an offensive savant but Wilcox offers the C’s some much needed offensive rebounding ability and Bass shoots better from the perimeter than Glen Davis. Both are also on the Rondo side of 30, which means they can fill lanes on the break. Watch for both of their at-rim shooting percentages to rise this year. Bass should also see lots of open looks in the mid-range.
(Unrelated: for all the talk of Rondo benefiting from the presence of the big three, he’s never had the kind of young athletes around him that would allow him to thrive in transition on a regular basis. That hasn’t been completely rectified this season but the new bench is a step in the right direction).
Avery Bradley and Keyon Dooling each played 18 minutes at the backup guard spots (Bradley will be a backup-2 this season, almost exclusively if Doc is to be believed). It’s far too early to make any concrete assessments but Bradley looked more confident than last year, getting to the line four times. And Dooling looked competent even though he struggled to turn the corner on the pick and roll a couple of times.
Leaders: Ray Allen had 12 points in a team high 28 minutes, Garnett had 7 rebounds, and Rondo led the team with 8 assists and 4 steals.
The Celtics now have 72 hours before their final preseason game against the Raptors which tips Wednesday night at the TD Garden.