NEW YORK – Ex-Celtic Paul Pierce faced his former team for the first time Tuesday, when the Brooklyn Nets beat the Celtics, 82-80, in a preseason game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It was the Celtics' fourth loss in five preseason games.
That said, here are my five takeaways from the game for you to enjoy before Wednesday's preseason game in Toronto between the Celtics and Raptors.
1. We'll start with Pierce, because that seems appropriate. He didn't do much, shooting 1 for 6 with 4 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 27 minutes. But I kept watching him, and the only thing that really came to mind -- other than how odd it was to see him playing against the Celtics -- is how different his role is now.
First of all, if you think back to last season, after Rajon Rondo (knee) went down, Pierce had to assume this complicated role in which he was being asked to score even more along with distributing the ball as more of a point forward. The future Hall of Famer wasn't bad, either, as he more than picked up the slack, along with earning three triple doubles. But the role was just too much of a load and he wore down in the playoffs against the Knicks.
Tuesday, it really sank in how much easier it will be for Pierce in Brooklyn with Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson, not to mention Kevin Garnett and some of the others on a deep bench. Pierce won't have to work nearly as hard or be asked to do nearly as much, and that alone could help the 36-year-old be pretty effective for the Nets this season. It may even extend his career for another season.
2. As we touched on in the notebook, Avery Bradley is going to play more off-the-ball defense this season versus just guarding whoever had the ball and, specifically, guarding that player pretty much the full length of the court.
However, it was pretty clear Tuesday night -- as well as in the previous game -- that this is going to be a work in progress. He's still chasing guys up the court, and he's still going for steals that some might call gambles. Why is he doing this? Because it's who he is and it's how he's played defense almost his entire life. You can read my in-depth feature on him from earlier this year to get a better sense of what I'm talking about.
It will take time for Bradley to transition into his new role, and that's not to say that he still won't body-up opposing guards who are bringing the ball up the court; he just won't do it nearly as much.
I do see the reasoning behind Brad Stevens's move here, though. By having Bradley guard someone off the ball, the Celtics can often have him match up against one of the opposing team's top perimeter scorers, which in a way makes him the Celtics' version of a shutdown cornerback. And given that the Celtics don't have a defensive anchor in the middle as they did with Garnett, they'll more often have to focus on players like Bradley keeping their man from penetrating the paint.
3. We keep harping on Jeff Green, but he is paramount to these Celtics, and his struggles are disconcerting. There are three popular schools of thought regarding Green. The first is that he just needs to get to the basket for some easy shots and that will boost his confidence, thus opening up his offensive game. Green subscribes to this theory and said after the game that he just needs to be more aggressive because his shots aren't falling.
"I can’t rely on my jump shot," he said. "I’ve got to attack. I’ve got to get back in attacking mode. I’ve just got to continue to be aggressive."
He was a bit more aggressive against the Nets. He had 12 points on 5-of-11 shooting and scored on a couple nice drives to the hoop, one a powerful baseline slam on Nets big man Reggie Evans and the other a layup in traffic after grabbing a rebound on one end and then taking it the the length of the court by himself.
However, Green settled for outside jumpers and, outside of those aforementioned drives to the bucket, played passively for most of the game. He has repeatedly said after games that it's still early in the preseason, and it's clear that he's tired of being asked about his struggles. But this was a player who Stevens assured us at media day would have more on his plate this season, including potentially playing three positions. Green responded to that with the phrase, "Bring it on." So far, though, Green has simply looked overwhelmed.
Which brings us to the second school of thought. It is essentially the idea that Green is best when he's the second- or third-most dynamic player on a team. He played well alongside Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City and looked solid last season when he played alongside Pierce and Garnett. Those other players soak up most of the attention from opposing defenses, which gives Green more opportunities to attack. It would seem, then, that he's a player who thrives when he's alongside others who have a lot on their plate, leaving him with a manageable portion. It follows, then, that Green isn't fit to be the only dynamic scorer for the Celtics. He could potentially be much better in that role once Rajon Rondo returns, though, but that's a big if.
And then there is the third school of thought, which is that Green is simply not the player that so many want him to be. Yes, he has brilliant games and even strings of games when his size, talent, skill, and athleticism is befitting a top-10 player in the league, and it appears as though Green can, in fact, be among the NBA's elite. But he has never really shown that he can be elite for more than those flashes -- and he might never be that way. It can be frustrating for NBA front offices, for the teams and players and the fans and even the media, because such a player could seem to be more than he is, but he just isn't.
You can believe whatever you wish. I'm reserving judgment because it's still early.
4. MarShon Brooks is caught in a logjam at shooting guard, and it's reflected in his minutes. He has played a total of 50 minutes in five preseason games, but he played 19 in one of them and 16 in another; he didn't play in one game, played two minutes in another, and played just three against the Nets, his former team.
With Jordan Crawford, Bradley, and Courtney Lee all playing the 2-guard -- along with Green at times -- Brooks just might not be able to get on the court this season, and there's really not much else to say. For Brooks, it's disappointing, as he wanted to return to New England (where he attended college) and resurrect his career after playing fourth fiddle with the Nets.
Again, there are still a few preseason games left, so there's a chance something could change, but we knew heading into this season that the Celtics had too many shooting guards and too many power forwards (Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger, Kris Humphries, Kelly Olynyk), which means that some of them will be squeezed out.
5. It was nice for Lee to have a bust-out game, as he hit two clutch 3-pointers that tied the score at 80 in the final two minutes. He missed the potential game-tying shot at the buzzer, but he finished with 14 points, his best outing all preseason.
Lee struggled last season, which he'll openly admit, and, like several other Celtics, it's not yet clear what his role will be this season, especially as he's at a crowded position (see above). But he is an athletic defender who, as he proved against the Nets, has range.
Leftovers: Green has 8 rebounds in five preseason games. Bradley had 9 against the Nets ... Humphries had a solid outing with 12 points and 8 rebounds. His minutes have been up and down as Stevens has tried different combinations, but in the minutes he has played, Humphries has looked solid. He could surprise some Celtics fans this season.
Lastly, a shout-out to the NoMad Hotel in Manhattan's Flatiron neighborhood. I didn't stay here, but I met my younger brother here for dinner at its renowned bar and this spot lived up to the hype. Everyone raves about the roast chicken, and rightfully so. It's definitely pricey, but it was a belated birthday outing for my brother, so I was happy to pick up the tab. Also, if you're into barbecue, as I am in accordance with my Oklahoma roots, I also recommend stopping by Hill Country BBQ near Madison Square Park. Bring an appetite.