Confession: My first reason to go to a Celtics game this season was to see someone on the other side.
My dad picked up a few tickets about a month ago for a bunch of us to catch the Thunder at the Garden November 12.
Can’t wait. In person, I’ve never seen …. whaddaya mean Kevin Durant broke his foot?!
Really? Well, there’s always Perk.
I suppose that will be a common theme among Celtics fans who trek to the Garden for the live act this season: They’ll be there as much to watch the stars of the opposition as they will to see this rebuilding team still in transition.
I’m not catching that November 14 matchup with the Cavs to watch Tyler Zeller take on his former team, you know? I’m watching it to envy (and remember) what a true Big Three looks like.
That’s not to suggest the Celtics are to be ignored. A lot will be lost this season, sure. But not everything.
There are plenty of reasons to watch this team, especially if basketball is in your bones and you appreciate this league, which is at its most appealing since the Bird/Magic heyday.
In fact, I’ve got 17 of those reasons, right here.
1. Everything about Marcus Smart. Well, all right — he won’t be much of a shooter right away. I’ll give you that, Skeptical Guy. That aspect of his game is going to be multi-season work in progress. But everything else — the relentless defense, the tireless movement, the deft passing skills, the leadership verbally and by example, the refusal to back down to anyone, the sad yet inspiring back story — will conspire to make this kid a fan-favorite before tonight’s game is through. When we look back and evaluate the 2014 NBA Draft, ending up with Smart will feel like a blessing rather than a consolation prize. You’ll see.
2. Brad Stevens is one of the best coaches in the NBA. Not best young coaches. Best coaches. There’s aren’t five others in the league who would have had the inspiration to try reckless Jordan Crawford at point guard and used him in a way that he was productive and efficient. My worst fear for this team is that Stevens gets tired of the losing and heads to Duke or Indiana in the next few seasons. He was a brilliant hire, and I hope we get the chance to see what he can do with actual talent.
3. Rajon Rondo can still be the best player on the court on any given night. Yes, he can be enigmatic. A pain the hindquarters even. He broke a screen with a water bottle that one time. Oh, and he was smarter than Ray Allen and let Ray Allen know it, which did not sit well with Ray Allen. All annoyances. All minor, especially compared to how damn fun he is to watch, especially when he plays against his most talented peers.
They’re probably going to trade him. I’ll miss him like hell when they do.
4. Jared Sullinger’s skill and instincts near the hoop. He plays the game — at least on the offensive end — like the quintessential coach’s kid, all savvy and smarts and well-trained skill. Which is exactly what he was. He’s turning into a decent 3-point shooter, but I’d much rather see him down on the block, carving out space and his own niche as one of the most effective post scorers in the league.
5. Sullinger’s mitts. Mitt, actually. If he gets his hand on the ball — just one — it’s his, and no one else is getting it until Sullinger up-fakes twice then lays it up and under. Then they can have the ball as they pick it out of the net. In another life, Sullinger could have been Jermaine Wiggins circa the Snow Bowl.
6. Avery Bradley is a steal. A soon-to-be 24-year-old guard who plays dogged defense …
… and is improving as a shooter (39.5 percent from 3 last year)? Yeah, that’s a player who is a keeper, despite the annual injury concerns. That four-year, $32 million deal he signed in the offseason is going to be a bargain once the new TV deal kicks in and the salary cap rises.
7. James Young is another Danny Ainge draft steal. He’s just 19 and played one season of college ball, but he was Kentucky’s Mr. Reliable last season, especially in big moments when John Calipari was making excuses for Julius Randle. Young has a soft shooting touch and plays fearlessly. He’ll be a Celtics mainstay someday, though you might see him at his best this season during a stint or two with the Red Claws.
8. Gerald Wallace likes to crash into stuff. Wallace’s all-out hustle is admirable even if it’s not always the most efficient approach, such as when he collides with the stanchion before taking the layup. He gives his all and doesn’t suffer losing well. That’s a pretty good role model for the kids on the roster.
9. Once every dozen games, Jeff Green will playing like vintage James Worthy. OK, once every 20 games. Or 25. But those swooping tomahawk-ish dunks almost make all of the inconsistencies worth enduring. Almost. But that one time a month, man, he’s Big Game Jeff.
10. Once every dozen games, Marcus Thornton will play like vintage Vinnie Johnson. Thornton is actually a better points-per-100-possessions scorer over the course of his career (26.4) than the vaunted Microwave (23.3). He’ll give you Mike James flashbacks when the shot isn’t falling. But on the nights when it is, it will seem like he’ll never miss again.
11. They have a legitimate NBA center. No, really. Tyler Zeller may not be an above-average center. But he’s a center, and it helps to have one. Get this: He’s averaging more blocks per 36 minutes (1.3) over his two-year career than Eric Montross (1.2) did in his. Related: Wouldn’t you love to know Bill Russell’s blocks-per-game numbers?
12. Mike and Tommy. Now, I do not know if this is true, because I haven’t heard every NBA broadcast team on television and radio. But I do believe it to be true: there isn’t a franchise in the league with a better tandem of broadcast tandems than the Celtics. Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn are back for a 34th season.
13. And if you’re listening rather than watching … Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell are informative and entertaining in the good times and bad.
14. Evan Turner has a real chance to live up to his promise. The former No. 2 overall pick and accomplished Celtics killer should thrive as a ballhander and initiator in Stevens’s motion offense.
15. Kelly Olynyk will make a big leap forward. The second-year Gonzaga product averaged 8.7 points per game last season, which is more than adequate, especially when you notice he played just 20 minutes per game. That’s a 15.6 ppg average per 36 minutes, and given that he should see a significant bump in playing time this year, it would not be a surprise at all to see him average around 16-17 ppg this year.
16. They’ll win at least 10 more games than the Sixers. Make it 15! The Sixers will be terrible. Where have you gone, Darryl Dawkins?
17. They will play hard just about every night. Yes, it’s a young roster with mismatched pieces, a rebuilding process that is still in its early stages. It’s not always going to be an easy thing to watch, and I should probably acknowledge it since you figured it out somewhere around No. 10 — there probably aren’t as many reasons to watch this team as there are championship banners hanging from the roster. Their talent suggests they should win 25-30 games. They’ll win more because of coaching and effort, and while that may be counterproductive to the big picture (more ping-pong balls, please), it is admirable in the moment.