The Boston Celtics submitted another lackluster preseason effort on Friday, falling to the Brooklyn Nets 113-89.
Here’s five takeaways from Kyrie Irving’s impressive return to an empty TD Garden.
As Tatum goes, so go the Celtics
This was true last year as well, but it might be even more pronounced this season — especially in the early going with Kemba out.
Like Tuesday’s preseason opener, the Celtics started strong with Tatum in the game. Much like Tuesday, the wheels came off when Tatum was subbed out. He helped right the ship somewhat when he returned and finished +5 in 26 minutes in a game the Celtics lost by 24.
Tatum didn’t even have a particularly efficient game — he finished 5-for-17 from the field and a paltry 2-for-9 from deep. But he got to the line eight times (7-for-8) and dished out three assists, and the threat of his offense opened up opportunities for others.
Aaron Nesmith can really shoot (just don’t ask him to dribble)
Payton Pritchard followed up an impressive performance in the opener with a less impressive follow-up (2-for-9 from the floor, 1-for-6 from three, five total points), but Nesmith, the Celtics’ other rookie, showed flashes of a player worthy of a late lottery selection.
Primarily, Nesmith can shoot. He isn’t much of a creator, but he’s very comfortable behind the 3-point arc, and he can hit shots off a couple of dribbles to buy himself a little space. In addition to burying a triple, Nesmith hit a couple of jumpers and a pair of free throws to finish with nine points.
But Nesmith’s hustle stood out as well. He isn’t a staunch defender yet (few rookies are, and even fewer will be this year with the shortened preseason.) He created a pair of second-chance opportunities with pure hustle, and he’s often moving without the ball, which will open up interesting looks for teammates.
The Nets look like a genuine threat in the East
This was always a possibility — the only question was whether Kevin Durant could find his old self after tearing his Achilles tendon in the 2019 NBA Finals.
The answer appears to be an emphatic yes. Durant picked the Celtics apart and looked every bit the superstar he was before the injury. Boston’s defense fell apart over and over, but Durant played a big role, and children might have needed to avert their eyes from the run Brooklyn’s stars went on against Boston’s second (and third) unit in the third quarter.
The combination of Durant and Kyrie Irving gives the Nets plenty of superstar power. The role players all appear to make sense within their roles. It’s only the preseason, which is a truism that should be observed on both sides of this blowout, but the Nets look very legitimate.
Javonte Green might be a stop-gap starter
For the second consecutive game, Green opened the game in the starting lineup alongside Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Daniel Theis. Green’s defense is interesting in that unit, he’s an impressive athlete, but he’s also a gambler who sometimes forces turnovers and sometimes makes mistakes. The other players in that lineup are solid enough to make up the difference, which might be what Brad Stevens likes about the look.
It will be interesting to see how Stevens goes about staggering Boston’s best players —Tatum, Brown and Smart— with Walker out. Jeff Teague’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, but he picked up the second unit offensively and might be worth examining with the starters when they are engaged on the defensive end.
The Celtics’ offense sputtered horribly
Most of the Celtics’ story on Friday can be told from their 3-point numbers: They hoisted 45 triples and made just eight of them (17.8 percent). Teams that shoot a lot of 3-pointers are often successful, but only if they make a few.
As Jaylen Brown noted after the game, the Celtics missed some shots they could have made.
“It wasn’t like the defense was stifling,” Brown said. “We got open looks and we’ve got to knock them down — step in with confidence and knock them down. I think if we can do that, the narrative is a little bit different.”
Still, Brad Stevens lauded the Nets’ effort juxtaposed against Boston’s.
“Obviously I felt like we missed some open ones but at the same time they played with more purpose,” Stevens said. “Sometimes the ball goes in when you’re playing with that kind of intent and purpose.”
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