I have prepared myself for this, or so I keep telling myself.
I’m prepared for an entire season of laughing at/with the Celtics at most turns. I’m prepared to support the young players while accepting the fact that they will lose a lot. And with tonight’s 97-89 preseason loss to the Toronto Raptors, we seem to be off to a good start.
There certainly were things to be excited about, and — unexpectedly — we will begin that list with Jordan Crawford. While Avery Bradley looked lost in the point guard role, Steez actually played quite well. Much will be made of the fact that he only took three shots (and he made two of them, both 3-pointers), but more should be made of the way he ducked around pick-and-rolls and threw competent entry passes. More should be made of the way the Celtics, Crawford included, slung the ball around the perimeter, keeping the defense off-balance and passing up shots for better ones in the corner. It was a nice surprise from someone who, thus far, has correctly been labeled a gunner.
In the second quarter, the Celtics went through an extended stretch where the goal was pretty clearly to push the ball hard after every missed shot. Unsurprisingly, this was Boston’s best stretch, as fast breaks led to tired legs on the other end for the Raptors. It was our first glance into the fast break system Brad Stevens has hinted at several times, and it made for a very fun stretch of basketball.
More positives/negatives to weigh: Kelly Olynyk looked rusty? nervous? just a little off? as a shooter in his debut. He was 1-5 and missed his only 3-point attempt badly, clanking it hard off the rim. He also passed up a couple of open 3-pointers. Most seemed to be within the flow of the offense, moving the ball along the perimeter, but one resulted in a bad mid-range shot with a hand in his face. It’s also worth noting, on the negative side, that he may not have set a legitimate pick all evening.
Criticizing his shooting and screening, however, is a little nitpicky since he looked so impressive as a passer. Olynyk made a lot of very smart passes, finding cutters and firing nice outlets to kickstart the transition game in the second. If we assume that Olynyk’s shot will come in time, tonight was very encouraging.
One interesting play Boston ran a couple of teams was a horns set (both bigs on opposite elbows allowing the offense to run through them). This worked nicely with Olynyk and Jared Sullinger operating from the elbows and dishing to cutters. With big passers like those two and cutters like Bradley and Wallace, horns sets might get revisited several times this year.
It’s also worth noting that Gerald Wallace looked much better than we could have anticipated. Not only did he grab a couple of rebounds and look competent on the defensive end, his jumper was working from the outset. He was 2-for-5 from 3-point range, which is very acceptable, and he shot 6-for-10 overall.
As you might imagine, it wasn’t all good news. Avery Bradley shot very poorly (5-for-16 from the field) and continued to look much more like a shooting guard than a point guard (he was 2-for-3 from 3-point range, both spot-up jumpers). His pick-and-rolls may have improved with a few screeners, as he even managed a couple of serviceable pocket passes. But with Brandon Bass, Bradley’s pick-and-rolls are completely ineffectual, and Bass and Bradley shared a lot of court time tonight.
Predictably, the interior defense was less than stellar. Jonas Valanciunas looked good before fouling out in the fourth quarter, but he was aided and abetted by a defense that struggled with his size. The Celtics had two things going for them defending the interior. First, Vitor Faverani was decent against guards slashing into the lane. His presence made things difficult. Second, what Olynyk and Sullinger lack in rim protection they make up for in the ability to take a charge. That’s not a sustainable defensive asset, but it’s nice in spurts.
The DNP-CD that disappointed me most tonight was Phil Pressey. I’ve been riding the Pressey bandwagon pretty hard ever since Summer League, and although Crawford was serviceable at point guard, it was disappointing to me that the player best suited to play point guard on Boston’s roster didn’t get a chance to showcase himself.
To be sure, there are a lot of preseason games left, and more than likely, there are a lot of relatively meaningless regular season games to follow, so there will be plenty of time for Pressey to prove himself. But it’s the first game back, and I want to overreact. Sue me.
The overall flow of the game was sloppy and disorganized (because preseason), and the results should be judged accordingly. These Celtics will probably lose a lot of games, but if tonight was any indicator, it might be a lot of fun anyway.
If nothing else, at least I feel like I’m ready. How about you guys?
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.