The Celtics returned to action after nearly having a week off due to health and safety protocols that postponed three games. Boston hosted the Orlando Magic on Friday night, another squad decimated by their own issues with health and safety protocols and injuries.
The result? A 124-97 blowout win, and an important wakeup call.
“If this past week wasn’t a reminder, then we don’t deserve to play at all,” Semi Ojeleye said after the game.
It was good to see the Celtics get back on the court although the team looked different than anything we’ve seen, even in this COVID-stricken season. Boston had 12 players available but was missing its alpha in Jayson Tatum and spark plug in Robert Williams.
“It’s great to be together,” Brad Stevens said postgame. “We’re still going to be in this [COVID] test all the time and be on weird hours and hit curveballs, so any chance we get to be in the gym together whether it's practice or the game, I think that’s the right mindset -- To enjoy it and don't sweat the small stuff. To enjoy this unique journey.”
It has certainly been a unique journey so far and Friday showed the Celtics ability to adapt in such a weird season, one in which often rewards a team's ability to do so.
No Tatum, no problem (as was evident by the Celtics winning every quarter by four or more points).
Here’s some quick thoughts on each player after the win.
Jaylen Brown - With Tatum out for about another week, this is Brown’s team. He only played 25 minutes and yet tied his career high in assists with eight (12/11/19 at Pacers). Four of his eight assists went for made threes. Jaylen didn’t even know if he’d be available or not until this afternoon after originally being listed as questionable due to health and safety protocols.
Tacko Fall - Folks, I don’t care what the box score says. My eyes saw Tacko Fall hit a three and we don’t need a referee to spoil our fun from that play. How awesome would it have been to see the reaction from a sold out TD Garden to that play. Even better, Tacko showed off his handles and broke his defender down from the top of the key for a dunk just moments later. Who knew Tacko had anything like that in his bag? That play was the highlight of the night and the reaction from his Celtics teammates on these plays may be the highlight of the season so far.
Payton Pritchard - I’m no longer impressed by his performances like this each night. I expect it. Sixteen points, four boards and three assists. I expect this because he’s that good and mature as a rookie. Brad Stevens' trust in him continues to grow as he had the most minutes (25) of any player off the bench and the second most of any Celtic on Friday. I know we are only 10 games into the season but Pritchard is on pace for a 50/40/90 shooting split season, a rare accomplishment for any player in a season in the history of the NBA.
Semi Ojeleye - Playing with confidence and one of the better performances on Friday night. He used to be very limited off the dribble. Now he’s showing off a euro step when he gets in the paint or the patience to pass it out to an open teammate instead of freaking out for a turnover. I was so down on Semi entering this season and I have to admit I’ve been wrong and impressed.
Jeff Teague - Had 17 points in 20 minutes tonight. Jeff was guarded by Orlando rookie point guard Cole Anthony, who was selected one spot ahead of Aaron Nesmith. I love how Teague gets pissed when a defender has the nerve to get into his airspace and pressure him. He will make the defender pay. He had 17 points and could have had 4-6 more with some easy looks at the rim after blowing by inferior defenders who dared pressuring him.
Tristan Thompson - I wasn’t sure how he’d fit in Brad Stevens “system”, especially with the concerns about a lack of jumpshot. Tristan is a perfect fit with this team. He sets a million screens, hit the boards hard, play great defense and hit the occasional hook shot in the paint. Thompson had 10 boards in 20 minutes and may have set 50 picks in the win.
Grant Williams - He might have delivered one of the emptiest box scores in a 20 minute performance you’ll find. And this is no knock on Grant, he plays the right way in terms of effort, movement, etc. The game script just didn’t require him to assert himself offensively. As Boston continues to play shorthanded, Grant will be called upon to play multiple positions.
Daniel Theis - Came off the bench tonight for a quiet eight-point, 10-rebound night. He was also questionable heading into tonight’s game due to health and safety protocols.
Marcus Smart - He managed a game high plus-28 in a team high 28 minutes. The point guard position hasn’t been affected by COVID (other than Carsen Edwards, who was out Friday night). Marcus will have to take an added responsibility on offense to score and create while Boston plays short handed over these next few games.
“To have everybody that was actually here and available to play today was huge for us,” Smart said postgame. “We missed each other. We missed being on that court. Unique night where everybody that doesn’t usually get to play or doesn’t really get as much time, was able to go out there and showcase their talent and showcase what they’ve been working on.”
Aaron Nesmith - His shot is still a struggle right now and he seems to be trying too hard on the defensive end. Which is OK, I guess. You’d rather one try too hard than not give enough effort. But Nesmith is routinely a step or two slow in rotations and then tries to take a charge, which often looks pretty awkward. He gave Gary Clark the baseline way too easily which resulted in free throws. I think Brad would be willing to give him more opportunities if he could show something offensively but his shot remains broke.
“A couple games that he’s got in, the preseason games, he was a little timid.,” Smart said of his rookie teammate. “Tonight we were telling him “if you’re open, shoot the ball. Be as aggressive as you can. You’re a good player. “”
Nesmith has shown to be aggressive but just hasn’t been able to make the defense pay yet.
“We know how good Aaron can be on both ends of the floor, especially that offensive end” Smart added. “We’re going to need him. Tonight he really came out and showed it. He didn’t make as many shots but the way he was able to attack with confidence, to make plays with confidence, and shoot the ball with confidence is what we’re definitely going to need.”
Javonte Green - Showed off his explosiveness in drives to the rim in short spaces. I wish Javonte had a somewhat reliable jumper. The wing depth on this team is an obvious hole screaming for a guy like Green to take advantage of.
Tremont Waters - He didn’t appear in the game until it was clearly over, finishing with three points and two turnovers in nine minutes.