The Celtics dropped their preseason opener Monday night against the Toronto Raptors, 97-89, at TD Garden. It was the first NBA game of any kind for rookie Celtics coach Brad Stevens and for more on his debut, here’s our story in Tuesday’s Globe.
That said, here are five takeaways you can enjoy with your morning coffee.
1. The Celtics are still mixing and matching on the lineup, trying to find solid pairings of players, but the plus-sized trio of Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger and Gerald Wallace proved to be an intriguing combination of players, as Stevens foreshadowed before the game.
Wallace, a swingman who roams the wing, led the Celtics with 16 points; Sullinger, a big-bodied-but-undersized power forward who has a soft touch around the basket, added 14; and Olynyk, a rookie 7-footer from Gonzaga whose passing and shooting will probably keep him more on the perimeter this season, added 4 points and a team-high 5 assists.
When they played in concert, their differing styles of play meshed together well, as Sullinger could play down low while Wallace and Olynyk played somewhere on the perimeter to within 15 feet or so. Wallace and Olynyk are good enough shooters that defenses can’t sag off and crowd the paint, which gives Sullinger some room.
“I love playing with those guys,” Wallace said. “Those are two bigs that spread the floor, they are able to cut, and both of them are great passers, so they complement me because they open up the floor for me to drive and they are able to make passes in the paint.”
Their quick passing was effective, in part because all three played unselfishly, as Sullinger harped on after the game.
“I mean, honestly, everybody is very unselfish,” he said. “They’re just always moving, Kelly and Gerald … They’re constantly moving and they’re open, so it’s easy to find them.”
Olynyk didn’t light it up on the offensive end in his first NBA game, but Stevens said the rookie’s scoring will come along.
“There’s probably a little bit of jitters for him too, but he’s a good player and his ability to make plays passing the ball makes others better,” Stevens said.
Olynyk did admit to a bit of nerves after the game.
“I guess there are a little nerves every time you make the next step, but that goes away once you realize it’s just a game of basketball again,” he said. “You know you’re playing the same thing; the hoops are still 10 feet, the free-throw line’s 15. And you know the vets are real good at calming me down, making sure you’re all right out there, and just go with the flow.”
2. On the offensive end, Stevens kept encouraging his players to move faster, even motioning from the sidelines that they needed to pick up the pace.
The players should get the hang of that in time, but it’s worth noting that Kris Humphries said he and Jeff Green ran sprints on the treadmill after the game to help sharpen them up, conditioning-wise.
But overall on offense, the Celtics shared the ball well, earning 25 assists on 33 field goals.
“That’s pretty good,” Stevens said. “I like that. That’s a good place to start. If we can keep moving the ball like that, again, I think we’ll knock down a few more of those shots. I think one of the strengths of our team in the first seven days has been an unselfish nature playing the game.”
Ah, unselfish. That word was tossed around a lot in postgame interviews, including by Avery Bradley, who filled in at the point guard spot for Rajon Rondo, a role Bradley will be playing for a while while Rondo (knee) is sidelined.
“My job is to make everything else easier on both ends of the floor,” Bradley said. “I’m going to try to do that and continue to improve and I know our team is going to continue to improve. I feel like we’re an unselfish team and we move the ball well and if we continue to do that, I feel like it will be hard for teams to guard us.”
In terms of how Bradley performed, Stevens said that the fourth-year guard, who had three assists and three turnovers, was solid overall. But Stevens added that it’s hard to judge his assist totals. “I thought he made a lot of nice plays that led to the next pass,” Stevens said.
3. Monday’s tilt was Jeff Green’s first as “The Guy,” also known as the player typically tabbed to lead his team in scoring most every night. Green struggled, scoring 6 points on 2-of-7 shooting from the floor, and said he noticed how the defense was focusing on him.
“All that attention is coming my way, but my shot just wasn’t falling,” he said.
Sure, it’s the first game – the first of many – but it will be interesting to see how Green handles that attention. Before, he only received part of it, as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett usually collected more focus from opposing defenses. Now, the bulk of it is on Green.
Green said he also wants to channel Garnett’s advice and be an (expletive).
“It’s coming,” Green said. “I didn’t bring it (Monday), obviously, the way I played. It’s coming. It’s coming.”
4. He’s known as “Crash” and he played as hard as his nickname indicated.
“The one thing I’ve learned about Gerald Wallace in my short time knowing him is he’s going to give it everything he has, regardless of whether it’s in practice, an exhibition game, or a regular season game,” Stevens said. “That guy plays hard. And it’ll be good — I think that sets a really good tone for our team.”
That appeared to be the case, according to Wallace’s teammates.
“Gerald is kind of a quiet guy, but he goes so hard, man,” Bradley said. “All you can do is respect him. It rubs off on me and I want to go out there and play hard for him.”
Added Kris Humphries, Wallace’s teammate in Brooklyn and now in Boston, “The funny thing about Gerald, in life he moves around so slow. So slow. But when he gets on the court, he turns it up. He’s a guy that can get layups and get shots. He knocked down shots. He really looked good offensively.”
Wallace, who hit 6 of his 10 shots, said he still feels a step or two behind defensively. But he also said “I’m playing more freely now” as compared to his time in Brooklyn, where All-Stars Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez ate up a lot of the shots and minutes.
Let’s not forget that Wallace is entering his 13th NBA season and he’s doing it on a rebuilding team with a rookie coach – less than ideal circumstances for a player at this stage of his career. (He pointed all this out on Media Day.)
But it appears that Crash is only wired to play one way, and that alone should have a positive effect on a team with many young players.
5.The Celtics had six rebounds in the first half. That’s not a typo. By the end of the game, they were out-rebounded, 46-26, and that wasn’t too bad considering how lopsided that figure was earlier in the game.
In fact, given how the Celtics were smashed on the glass, it’s surprising that the final margin was single-digits when it could’ve been a lot worse.
It’s early, of course, but the main problem is that the Celtics are undersized, with only one true center – 7-footer Vitor Faverani, who, by the way, is a 25-year-old Brazilian rookie who was last playing in Spain and will need some time to adjust to the NBA game.
“But we have to become a better rebounding team, and that’s not just for our bigs, it means guard pursuit,” Stevens said.
The Celtics could attribute some of their rebounding awfulness to the fact that the Raptors shot the ball well (52 percent from the floor) and had so many turnovers (25), which didn’t leave too many rebounds to be grabbed. Still, the Celtics need to improve in that area.
“We’ve got to continue to help out when guys are driving and build that wall on the strong-side and stop the ball and fan out from there and have each other’s backs,” Humphries said.
Perhaps Wallace put it best:
“That’s one of the main things we realized (Monday) with this team, that we’re small at that forward/center spots, and we have to get in there as guards and help those guys out and get some of those long rebounds, take some of the 50/50 balls and see if we can come up with those or help them box out and help them rebound.”