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Five takeaways from Celtics' preseason game No. 3

Posted by Baxter Holmes, Globe Staff  October 12, 2013 08:05 AM

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NEWARK, Del. – The Celtics dropped their third game of preseason here Friday night, falling 97-85 to the Philadelphia 76ers before a solid crowd at the Bob Carpenter Center.

For more on the game, check out our story in Saturday's Globe.

That said, here are five takeaways you can enjoy with your morning coffee.

1. Coach Brad Stevens started Avery Bradley and Jordan Crawford and had the pair share point guard duties -- a move the Celtics made just to see how it might work.

From what we saw, it wasn't that effective.

It may have something to do with the fact that the 76ers boast some athletic, rangy guards who like to hassle opposing guards, as they did to Bradley and Crawford. It may have something to do with the fact that, overall, the Celtics played poorly, Bradley and Crawford included. Or it may have something to do with the fact that neither Bradley nor Crawford are point guards; they're natural shooting guards – and thus playing out of position.

Granted, it was one game, and the Celtics may break out this ploy in another, perhaps Saturday against New York in Manchester, N.H., and it may work much better, changing my mind about whether this is a viable option. At this point, though, I'm unconvinced.

It needs to be said (yet again) that the Celtics face no easy answers at the point guard spot while Rajon Rondo (knee) is sidelined. Undrafted free agent guard Phil Pressey is the only healthy true point guard on the roster, and he's a rookie who's adjusting to this level of play while, like Bradley and Crawford, learning the new offensive system under Stevens. Oh, plus the whole team is basically new and still adjusting to playing with each other.

So, for the time being, the Celtics will throw whatever it can against the wall and hope something sticks. But the looming issue here is that Rondo could be out until December or later, which leaves the Celtics basically up excrement creek at the point guard position, which is akin to saying that a football team doesn't really have a viable quarterback.

Get my drift? OK. Moving on...

2. As Gerald Wallace detailed in his strong postgame comments, the Celtics played poor from the start – a factor in them falling behind by 18 points in the first half.

"We started the game off like we were cool and we were supposed to win the game,” the veteran swingman said, “and they came out and hit us dead in the mouth.”

But if effort was the only issue, or at least the main issue, then that still doesn't explain some of the bone-headed mistakes we saw. The Celtics had 16 turnovers, but it seemed like many more. Their offense also broke down at times and they failed to get a shot off before the shot clock expired. They didn't play nearly as unselfishly as in prior games.

"We were five individuals out there playing against a Philadelphia team," Wallace said, hitting the nail on the head.

I asked Stevens after the game if he took the mistakes that the Celtics made with a grain of salt, as they're still mixing and matching lineups while the players are still learning the system/each other.

In his response, he took part of the blame but also credited Philadelphia, saying that he didn't want to take anything away from the opponent's performance. Stevens said the 76ers played with "purpose" and "great togetherness" and that they "set the tone."

The Celtics obviously have to do all those things, but it's also important for them not to have any lapses and to limit any and all mistakes, as their margin of error will be razor-thin.

As Wallace said, echoing a point we'll repeat here often, "We’re not going to be one of those dominant teams in the league. We’re not going to get every call. We don’t have the guys that can just dominate and take over the game. We’ve got to play with five people."

3. We touched on this above, but it's worth focusing on more: a better start. The Celtics have spent their last two fourth quarters digging out of double-digit holes, and while they've looked admirable during the excavation process, they should focus more on not getting in that hole in the first place. That's no easy task, but it's a worthwhile one to focus on.

Stevens noted that it's more important to find a group that plays well together "because we've obviously got to play groups for long stretches." That likely means heavy minutes for certain players who may or may not be used to such roles, which brings us to...

4. Jeff Green wasn't himself ... or the player he's supposed to be, again. He had 6 points on 2-of-7 shooting in the Celtics' first preseason game; 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting in the second; and then 4 points on 2-of-11 shooting Friday. He will play multiple roles, though Stevens said they're going to limit his workload and have him play just one or two for now. He's also dealing with defenses that are focusing on him more than ever before.

It's not easy being Jeff Green right now, is the point we're getting at. But riddle me this: when Green is coming up empty on the offensive end, who can the Celtics turn to? Their list of dynamic offensive threats who can create their own shot, especially around the perimeter, is pretty short – and it's even shorter with Rondo out – so the Celtics can't really afford in any game for Green not to be himself ... or the player he's supposed to be.

Green acknowledged before the game that it's tough to find a rhythm in the preseason when the games don't count, the stats don't count and his minutes are fluctuating because the head coach is tinkering with lineups and potential combinations of players.

In truth, Green might not find that rhythm for a while – and it might change some if/when Rondo comes back. Basically, Green's adjustment to his new role as "The Guy" will be a process that won't be completed anytime soon.

5. So, the 76ers were supposed to be the worst team in the NBA. Or, at least they were supposed to stink more than the Celtics, a fellow young team with a rookie NBA head coach.

Then what do we make of Friday's game, when the 76ers manhandled the Celtics?

Well...

Not too much. Remember, it's the preseason. (We'll come up with a new saying when the season starts.) How the Celtics look next month, let alone next week, won't be the same. It is a disheartening loss for the Celtics and their fans, though. After all, for as bad as the Celtics might be this season, there was always the belief that they were, at the very least, not as bad as that dumpster fire in Philly that is chasing a top lottery pick and nothing else.

Let's go back to this subject later in the season. If the 76ers again pound the Celtics and their records clearly show which team is more awful, then this game might have, in fact, foreshadowed something. As it stands, it's a bit too early to say which team might be worse – a fact fans care about because next year's NBA draft has some drool-worthy prospects.

Leftovers: The Celtics shot 5-of-21 from 3-point range. There's speculation that this might be a team that fires at will from distance, but their roster is also short on sharpshooters. There are solid shooters, yes, but not lights-out guys. They say that you live by the three and die by the three, and, those extremes sound quite applicable for these Celtics this season ... Hamilton product Michael Carter-Williams gave Bradley all kinds of trouble, a good sign for Carter-Williams because Bradley is one of the league's top perimeter defenders. His development as a point guard will be interesting to watch this season, but from what I saw, his physical tools – mainly athleticism and wingspan – will cause other teams trouble.

Lastly, a shout-out to North 3rd, located in Philly's Northern Liberties neighborhood. It's a very solid late-night spot to grab a meal, as it serves dinner until midnight or later most of the week. I enjoyed this place after a much-delayed flight into town and give it a hearty thumbs-up to you, dear reader. (Kudos to Esquire for the recommendation, too.) Also, when searching for a campus coffee house near the University of Delaware, you can't go wrong with Central Perk on Main Street. Its menu is vast and enticing, and it's a cozy place to set up and write.

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