Celtics

4 takeaways as Jaylen Brown returns in Celtics’ preseason opener vs. Magic

"I feel great, and I’m ready to play some good basketball."

Celtics Magic takeaways
Boston Celtics Jaylen Brown reacts after getting fouled against the Orlando Magic. Photo by Matthew J Lee/Globe staff

COMMENTARY

Here are the takeaways, as the Celtics rallied late against the Magic in front of a raucous TD Garden crowd (by preseason standards) to claim a 98-97 victory in their preseason opener.

1. After the game, NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin noted to Jaylen Brown — who returned from wrist surgery — that he looked happy to be on the floor. Chin specifically pointed out that Brown blew kisses to his teammates.

“Kisses?” Brown asked incredulously. “Me? Kisses? I don’t know about that one.”

Chin laughed and offered to find video of the moment (she does work for the broadcast station, after all). For the record, we did not see Brown blow kisses to his teammates, but Chin is a very reliable narrator.

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Much more important for the Celtics: In his return, Brown looked every bit the star the Celtics need him to be. He dropped a game-high 25 points, shot 50 percent from the floor, dished out three assists, took on ball-handling duties (as Ime Udoka said he would prior to the season) and was part of the reason the ball zipped around the perimeter at times.

Interestingly, Brown said his wrist only felt 80-85 percent healthy. He noted that he got hit at one point,, which hurt once the adrenaline wore off.

“As the season goes on, it’s going to get better,” Brown said. “So today was a good test.”

Brown added that this was his first injury that required surgery. He was nervous before he went under, and he didn’t enjoy watching the playoffs. Still, he said he appreciated the perspective he gained.

“When you’re forced to look at it from different angles, the game just looks different in a sense,” Brown said. “I don’t know how to describe it. It doesn’t look the same. The game definitely feels different but in a good way.”

2. The play of the game was Romeo Langford’s go-ahead 3-pointer.

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A close second? Jayson Tatum’s monstrous dunk over Wendell Carter Jr. Interestingly, Tatum started the play in the mid-post against Gary Harris — a much smaller defender. The Celtics want Tatum — who is 6-foot-9 and stronger this year — to take advantage of those opportunities to bully opponents more often.

“Big boy ball down there,” as Udoka put it after the game.

Like many players, Tatum looked up to stars like Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, and he might relish the opportunity to attack opponents in the mid-post. His footwork and touch around the rim make him a solid candidate.

3. Robert Williams does a lot of things very well, but shooting a basketball isn’t one of them. Twice now, Williams has used an exhibition game as an opportunity to try spacing the floor — once the last time he played at Summer League and once on Monday.

Both times, Williams’s coaches — former assistant Scott Morrison in Las Vegas, and now Udoka — said they want him to dial it back.

“He showed he can make some, but we know where his bread is buttered — him getting to the basket and causing that tension down there,” Udoka said. “He can mix it sometimes, but we want him to roll and be a threat down there more often.”

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Williams, who shot 72.1 percent from the floor last season, was 0-for-7 on Monday.

4. The Celtics surprised everyone with an odd starting lineup that included Williams and Juancho Hernangomez with their three stars. All week, Udoka warned everyone not to read into the starting lineup on Monday (we didn’t believe him and stand corrected). After Monday’s game, he once again hinted that Al Horford might be in the starting lineup when the regular season begins — calling the veteran “steady” and “reliable.”

“We know what we have with Al,” Udoka said. “We wanted to take a look at some other lineups, but like I said, don’t read too much into who we start and who we are playing. We know what we have in Al with that group.”

The Celtics’ offense looked coherent and smooth at times with Horford in the game, even though he shot just 2-for-6 from the field and 1-for-4 from deep with no assists.

As Horford rekindles his chemistry with Tatum and Brown, the Celtics might increasingly see why Brad Stevens was willing to include the No. 16 pick in the 2021 draft to offload Kemba Walker and acquire Horford. Words like “steady” and “reliable” might not be easy to advertise to casual fans, but for NBA head coaches, they are irresistible.

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