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Almost: Boston Celtics drop preseason game 103-102 to New York

Pressey almost led Boston to a dramatic come-from-behind win tonight.

After running an interesting, tantalizing series of offensive sets on Monday in a 97-89 loss to Toronto, Brad Stevens tried a much more basic approach during Wednesday’s preseason match-up with the Knicks: Operating out of a pick-and-roll

Working with pick-and-roll spacing is one of the most basic tenets of an NBA offense, and it was clear Stevens wanted to test out those principles as Boston screened and rolled, screened and rolled, and screened and rolled ad nauseum.

The problem with this is that the Celtics have been playing Avery Bradley at point guard, and Bradley is just not a good pick-and-roll player. His handle is bad, his pocket passes frequently bounce off legs before they reach their target, and he doesn’t have the one-dribble pull-up jumper yet that makes many offensive point guards so effective.

I want to be clear about something: Bradley is a very useful NBA player. His defense is incredible, his 3-point shooting is good when his feet are set, and he is an excellent, intelligent back-door cutter. But between his shoulder injuries and Rondo’s injury last season, Bradley hasn’t played the role that gave him starter’s minutes over Ray Allen since 2012, and it’s clearly starting to take its toll. He looks tentative and uncomfortable on offense, which is tough to watch. On a team that is very focused on development, one of the best young assets appears to be regressing due to misuse.

With the assumed addendum that it’s one preseason game, tonight’s performance by Phil Pressey was extremely encouraging, especially to those of us who want Bradley to be more successful. I’ve been solidly aboard the Phil Pressey bandwagon since I watched extensive tape on him and wrote this during Summer League, but all biases aside, Pressey was excellent. He dished out seven assists and didn’t record a turnover, but it was his pestering defense that helped turn the game around in the fourth quarter as Boston pushed the pace and nearly won the game.

Boston did lose, falling 103-102 after trailing by more than 20 thanks to a fading jumpshot by TIm Hardaway Jr., but that’s hardly the point in preseason. They are playing (and we are watching) because it’s important for teams to develop together, helping one another become better both individually and within a system. Pressey’s 13 points, seven assists and zero turnovers came in a preseason game, so they may seem unimportant. But if the Celtics can use Pressey to move Bradley back to shooting guard, where he so clearly belongs, we will have seen the preseason fully living up to its potential usefulness.

Let’s do some bullet points:

  • Before the IMMORTAL Chris Babb checked in with eight minutes remaining, Boston was borderline unwatchable. The Celtics were shooting, defending and rebounding poorly. Those are three fairly important aspects of the game. The comeback was a lot of fun, as was repeatedly typing CHRIS BABB!!! and PHIL PRESSEY!!! on Twitter, but realistically, the Celtics turned the game around against New York’s scrubs, and the Knicks never re-inserted their good players. I’m not trying to be a killjoy, but there. I killed your joy. Sorry everybody.
  • Kelly Olynyk struggled tonight, shooting 2-for-5 from the field recording one assist and rebound. His slow start, however, is far from reason to panic. He has been showing flashes of excellent court vision and passing ability, and if Summer League (and his entire college career) is any indication, his shot will start to fall. More concerning was his solitary rebound, but Boston is going to be beaten badly on the boards this season. We knew that already.
  • Vitor Faverani was first-half Chris Babb, which is a sentence that no Celtics fan from 2012-13 would understand at all. Faverani ran the break with surprising success for a man who, frankly, fills out his jersey…a little too well. He was 5-for-9 for 11 points, and here’s his quote after the game, per the Celtics’ Twitter account: “I make the dunk and get back on defense.” EXCELLENT.
  • I said this on Twitter after the game, and I stand by it: If Babb continues to shoot 80% from 3-point range, he probably has a future in this league.
  • Jeff Green’s performance so far is concerning, not because Green is being exposed as a bad player, but because defenses are finding it pretty easy to clamp down on him when he is the primary, secondary and tertiary scorer on this squad. Say what you want about Boston’s offense last year (and believe me, I have), but it’s a heck of a lot easier for a player like Green to drive into the lane when Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are spacing the floor. Olynyk and Jared Sullinger both have range (and Faverani even knocked down a three tonight), but none of them are the reliable threat Garnett was from just inside the stripe. That space created a lot of Green’s easy baskets around the rim. I suspect Green will adjust, in part because I think Stevens can work out ways to better utilize him, but Green may struggle more than most in the early going.
  • Sullinger was solid on the glass again, grabbing six rebounds in 16 minutes, but he appears to have a very high opinion of his range. Ordinarily, I hate long two-pointers, but I don’t mind Sullinger taking the occasional pick-and-pop mid-range jumper. He was 0-for-2 from 3-point range, however, and a lot of his offense came away from the basket. That’s not ideal, especially since he is far and away Boston’s best offensive rebounder and long jumpers prevent offensive boards.
  • Boston actually won the rebounding battle last night, and once again, the Celtics out-assisted New York 28-21. That means 70% of Boston’s offense was assisted which, when you factor in Pressey’s coast-to-coast baskets, makes a lot of sense. The Celtics will need to move the ball to score this year, and they are doing so thus far.

That should do it for last night’s game. Next up: Boston’s third preseason game will be against Philadelphia on Friday, the kind of cant-miss television the NBA normally reserves for Christmas Day. Happy October to us.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

  • Ryan

    I see no problem with Sully sniping from 3-point land, he's a good shooter and he's being left unguarded. I suspect the 3 will be a big part of Stevens' gameplan this season, and getting open 3 for one of your best scorers seems smart. Better than another Courtney Lee front-rimmer for sure.

    • check12check

      he is being asked to. Stevens has the entire team practicing 3 point shots (there is nobody on this team who is incapable of hitting them to some degree.). He doesn't plan on sticking our bigs out on the arc much, but he has told sully and KO that if they are presented with an open 3, they are expected to take it.

  • therockneverstops

    I still hate this roster and am awaiting a trade to bring in better balance. Too many old expensive players on a rebuilding team. Young talent with no natural distributor to get them the ball. No true Center or Point Guard, and waaaay too many SG's, SF's, PF's.

    Contending teams would love Kris Humphries, Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace, and hopefully also Courtney Lee in exchange for a young natural PG or C. What's that Houston, Asik is available, San Antonio, Oklahoma, Portland anybody … anybody?

  • skeeds

    excellent point about Green. My concern is exactly this. We have a ton of good complementary scorers, but none of them is dependable as a first option. Stick Bass, Green, Wallace, Bradley, Rondo next to an alpha pure scorer (like a Paul Pierce) and they can easily find their 12-15 pts a game. But with the defense focused on them, none of them is really even close to being versatile enough to produce…
    This can still work, but Stevens needs to pull a George Karl and aim for an offense so evenly spaced that no one can predict where the scoring will come from at any given moment.

    Other than that, I predict that Olynick will have a rough stretch. Yeah, he's talented, but not nearly talented enough to live up to the hype. Big, bad NBA defenders will keep coming at him. He is now facing what I call the "Gasol dilemma" (patent pending). He either perfects his moves, shooting and positioning to a point where he can dominate with finesse (a la Pau), or he hits the gym hard and sweats the "soft and slow" label right off ( a la Marc). That, or, his otherwise sweet moves will remain irrelevant since proper NBA big men rotate faster than the eye can see, and can block his shot while sitting in an armchair.

  • roadsidenotes

    Stevens may need to implement some form of the motion offense with this crew. This team's not set up well to execute the pick and roll–few catch and shoot snipers, and few big men that can create their shots. And forget about iso plays. Green's going to draw at least a double team every time he tries to work iso, and everyone else is too short or too young or both (Sully) to be effective at creating a shot. There's also the issue of Olynyk's screens so far…. đŸ˜€

    Transition ball and motion offense are the best options here, IMO. You've got young players and a deep roster, you can move them a lot in your offensive sets.

  • hax

    Celtics Offense: Sully comes off the screen, shoots a 3.
    Yeah that's right, Ray Allen, we replaced you.

  • hax

    A key point of rebounding is position. Most rebounds go right to you, without the need to out hustle or use some great skill to get it. Olynyk is at the 3 point line 80% of the game, so let's not criticize his rebounding when he is 30 feet away from the basket all game. His baseline blow-by for the backdoor lay-up was impressive, you just don't see many centers doing that.