The Celtics emerged victorious on Tuesday, defeating the Knicks 123-110 in their second-to-last pre-season game, a significant moment for their new-look roster.
Here’s the scoop:
On Celtics Media Day, Jayson Tatum made quite a stir when he revealed that he had gained 12 pounds of muscle. This claim was equally concerning for opponents who have to deal with his aggressive attacks on the rim and for the Celtics, who want to see him as a skilled 3-point shooter. Pressure on muscles could affect some players’ shots.
On Tuesday, Tatum remained a source of concern (for opponents) because he successfully threatened several defenders on his way to the basket. But his 3-point stroke also looked good. He ended with 28 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in 30 minutes. While this evening may not have been as extraordinary as last year could have been, it was a reminder that Jayson Tatum is a contender for a consistent season hardware haul.
The Celtics have multiple ways to beat you in their regular rotation.
Kristhaps Porzingis provides dozens of small wrinkles that were missing last year – pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop, pin-downs, post-ups, lobs, and even a bit of off-the-dribble action that nearly knocked Yashayah Hartenstein off his feet.
Juwan Holiday has various methods to score, even if he’s not hitting 3-pointers (though he can make quite a few of those).
Celtics can be deadly in transition, especially when they’re seeking an open 3-point shooter unselfishly.
They can punish you for being overly committed to one person – at one point, the defense was so focused that Horford was free to find Al Horford for a 3-pointer. If the opponent’s defense is so focused that Horford can take them one-on-one, the Celtics are in a great place.
The young players went deep into the game, playing at a high level. Whether they play in the preseason or not, we have plenty of evidence that the Celtics’ rotation can be a real threat.
It’s possible that Holiday showcased his best pre-season performance in the first half. In an extraordinary rebound, Holiday leaped bizarrely, gathered the ball with Ivan Fournier, and dribbled it through Fournier’s legs to score. On the other end, Holiday dished a pass to Payton Pritchard for a three-pointer.
We also got a glimpse of what Holiday brings as a defender. He moves his feet better than most of Marcus Smart’s counterparts and can stone ball-handlers – putting a halt to their drives effectively. Even if they try to stick to the ball (which isn’t a guarantee against Holiday’s quick hands), the ball-handler’s aggressive action is significantly hampered.
Holiday reads angles well and is content to disrupt passes and lanes, making it clear how Holiday and Derek White can make the Celtics’ defense tough and versatile.
The Celtics challenged an out-of-bounds call in the second quarter, which Kristaps Porzingis clearly beat a Knicks player. Last season, if the Celtics needed to challenge it later in the game, they could have been stuck on their challenge, but NBA rules now allow teams to challenge another challenge after winning the first one.
This opens up an opportunity for Celtics assistant Matt Reynolds, known as the Celtics’ favorite coach for challenges, and Mażulla has full confidence in them.
Mażulla told the Boston Sports Journal, “If he tells me to do it, I’m always doing it a thousand percent.”
This year, Reynolds and the Celtics expect to see many more challenges in early games. Earlier, they weren’t using their challenge on an out-of-bounds call without much thought, if they needed it for a crucial moment. This new rule will promote more precise implementation.
The Celtics allowed their 27-point lead in the first half to slightly diminish in the second half. We’ll argue that worrying about a natural tendency to lose a spectacular pre-season game is unnecessary, but the Celtics weren’t entirely secure last year with a big lead. So, those worried fans with memories of any permanent damage might be forgiven.
Starting the fourth quarter lineup might actually be exciting, even though neither Tatum nor Jaylen Brown was a part of it. The group of Porzingis, Horford, Al Horford, Payton Pritchard, and Delano Banton offers ample scoring ability and depth.
It’s also noteworthy: Banton was the first out-of-rotation player to enter the game, which is a good sign for him. Oshae Brissett also performed well, but Semi Ojeleye, Javonte Green, Tremont Waters, and other pre-season standouts remained on the bench.