HARTFORD – The Celtics got their first real taste of NBA-level competition Wednesday night and were up for the challenge, handily defeating the New York Knicks 106-86 at the XL Center.
With the victory, the Celtics improved their record to 2-0 in the preseason. Knowing the final result doesn’t mean much in the preseason, here are four things we learned about the Celtics after tonight’s action.
1. Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger look smooth shooting from the perimeter.
A major component of Boston’s offensive plan of attack is the ability to spread the floor with their big men. Sullinger (game-high 23 points) and Olynyk (12 points) are a key parts of that equation and after spending much of the offseason honing their 3-point shots, the pair showed off their improved range against the Knicks.
The duo took advantage of lazy New York defense to bury 5-of-8 combined attempts from 3-point range. Olynyk particularly looked much more comfortable with his perimeter shot, as opposed to his rookie season when he passed up countless open looks most nights. If Olynyk and Sullinger can continue to keep defenses honest with from downtown, it will create plenty of opportunities and space for their teammates within the Celtics offense.
2. Boston’s depth is coming in handy… for now.
The Celtics were missing several key contributors with injuries (Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, James Young) against the Knicks but you wouldn’t have known it watching the team’s performance. Boston didn’t miss a beat thanks to their ample depth on the wing and backcourt.
The deep roster showed off an edge Brad Stevens will have over opposing teams this season: the ability to withstand injuries. That strength may become an issue when everyone gets healthy and there isn’t enough playing time to go around, but for now, it’s working to Boston’s advantage.
3. Marcus Thornton is fun to watch when he gets hot.
The 27-year-old guard has been known for one thing throughout his NBA career: offense. Stevens is giving him plenty of freedom within his offense and the veteran showed Boston fans what he an bring to the table Wednesday night.
Thornton scored a quick seven points in just six minutes of action in the third quarter, jumpstarting a run that helped the Celtics turn a close game into a blowout. On a team that was sorely in need of shot creators last year, Thornton is making a strong case to be a fixture in Boston’s rotation when the regular season begins.
4. Marcus Smart is proving he can handle the point.
It’s only two games into the preseason, but Smart is living up to the rave reviews he received while playing for the US Select Team this summer. The 21-year-old started at point guard for the second straight game and continued to do the little things on both ends of the floor (11 points, four rebounds, six assists, two steals) that has made him an early favorite of the coaching staff. Smart also hits a number of open jumpers in rhythm which should help put Celtics fans at ease after an 0-for-8 shooting debut Monday night.
The Celtics return to action Friday night against the Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre.