UNCASVILLE, CT. — The Celtics wrapped up their busiest week of the preseason in disappointing fashion Saturday night, falling to the New York Knicks 96-80 at Mohegan Sun Arena. It was the second straight loss for the Celtics, dropping them to 2-2 in the preseason. Jared Sullinger and Marcus Thornton led the shorthanded Celtics in scoring for the evening as each finished with a team-high 15 points. Kelly Olynyk and Gerald Wallace were both given the night off for rest, while Jeff Green (calf) also remained sidelined due to injury. Here are three things we learned from watching the undermanned Celtics in Saturday night’s game.
1. Jared Sullinger’s offseason work is paying dividends.
Last season, perimeter shooting from Sullinger was a painful sight for Celtics fans, as the third-year power forward struggled to expand his range to the 3-point arc. Sullinger committed to improving his outside shot this summer though, and on Saturday night we saw yet another example of his progression in that department. The big man hit his first five shots of the evening, including two from beyond the arc against the Knicks, giving him 12 of his 15 points before the half. With a clean bill of health and improved conditioning heading into the year, the 22-year-old is emerging as one of the more reliable contributors in Boston’s improved offense this preseason.
2. Marcus Smart’s offense continues to be a roller coaster ride.
The No. 6 pick of the 2014 NBA Draft has not been shy about hoisting up shots from the perimeter so far and that trend continued Saturday night. All five of Smart’s shot attempts came from beyond the arc and the young guard misfired on four of them. The ineffective shooting, combined with some sloppy ballhandling (preseason-high four turnovers), limited Smart’s production within an offense that lacked several key weapons. If Smart doesn’t show some improvement from downtown (4-for-21 during preseason), he’s going to have scale back his range for the time being.
3. Plenty of backup center minutes remain up for grabs.
With Kelly Olynyk getting the night off, coach Brad Stevens got an extended look at Joel Anthony and Tyler Zeller at the five spot against the Knicks. Neither player did much to strengthen his case for regular minutes in Stevens’ rotation once the regular season begins. Anthony continues to provide strong defense and rim protection, but his struggles on offense (1-for-6 from the field in 22 minutes) were exposed on a Celtics roster that was short on firepower. Zeller (seven points) still has the inside track for the backup center spot thanks to his ability to run the floor, but the seven-footer has looked uneasy at times on both ends over the course of the first four preseason games. His development and comfort level within the Celtics’ system over the next few weeks will be intriguing to watch.
The Celtics return to action Wednesday night when they face off against the Toronto Raptors in Portland, Maine.