In the first preseason game in advance of the 2012-13 season, the Boston Celtics lost to Fenerbahce in Istanbul, Turkey 91-97. Since the passing of the ‘Ubuntu’ era, this is the first opportunity we had to gauge the potential of the ‘new look’ Boston Celtics who will be the Heat’s biggest hurdle in the East. Here are some early impressions –
The era of stingy, tough-as-nails Celtics defense might have passed as well. Courtney Lee, Jason Terry and Jeff Green are great offensive players, but fairly average on the defensive end and this showed against Fenerbahce. Fenerbahce point guard Bo Macalebb repeatedly split the Celtics’ defense off the pick-and-roll, which should be a major cause for worry for Doc Rivers. Though KG played limited minutes (19), he remains their only defensive stalwart upfront. Macalebb finished with 21 points on 9-14 shooting, with 7 of those baskets coming at the rim. Given that the NBA is currently flush with fast, quick PGs capable of scoring off the pick-and-roll, this has got to be a major worry for the Celts moving into the season. With slow moving Darko Milicic backing him up, this might just be the season the Celtics defensive superiority fades a bit.
Green in green
The biggest takeaway for the Celtics was Jeff Green’s stellar freaking awesome play. He was ballin’ way better than he ever did in Oklahoma City, and may prove to be the biggest surprise of the upcoming season. It’s just a one game sample, but his play was so good that former Celt/Bull Brian Scalabrine (now a color commentator with Comcast Sports Boston) compared him to James Worthy not once, not twice, but thrice during the game. Green was unstoppable in the fourth quarter, bringing the Celts back into the game after trailing by 11. Green got to the rim in a variety of ways, off the dribble, off the screen, muscling his way past the defense, drawing contact, you name it. I don’t remember Green ever being his athletic or strong in getting to the hoop, so whatever heart disease kept him out last season hasn’t killed him, it has only made him stronger. He scored 16 points off the bench on 7-10 shooting in 27 minutes, including 11 consecutive points in the 4th quarter. In fact, only Green scored for the Celtics from the 6:45 mark in the 4th, bringing the Celts back from an 8-pt deficit to within 3.
…is fine, and don’t nobody need to worry about Jared because he looks legit and ready to play hard-nosed basketball. Sullinger, picked #21 in the draft by the Celts, was a force on both ends early, scrappy in the paint and hustling back on the defensive end. He finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds off the bench, including one blocked shot for good measure. The Celts have a way of getting good talent late in the first round, and will be thanking their stars that 17 other teams passed on this guy. Muscular, tough and scrappy, Sullinger figures to be a more agile version of Big Baby and that’s exactly what the Celts’ thin frontline needs. The other first-round pick, Fab Melo, had his moments on defense in the second half, the highlight of which was a crazy athletic block at the hoop which involved him rising about a foot above the cylinder. Wow. He’s raw and about two years from being a meaningful contributor, but if it works out – watch out!
Free agent bombers
The Celts lost Ray Allen and signed Courtney Lee and Heat-nemesis Jason Terry to fill the void. Even before the season started, Jet vowed to “kill the Heat” in the upcoming season. So, did the Celtics gain or lose from Allen’s departure? Tough to say at present, but both Jet and Lee had their moments on offense, especially from behind the 3-pt line. Terry finished a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc in his twenty minutes of play (12 points) off the bench. Lee was less than stellar, tallying nearly as many fouls (6) as points (7). Both these two will really have to pick it up on defense, especially till injured guard Avery Bradley makes his return from injury. Darko Milicic seemed barely ambulatory, but showed how his passing skills can turn the Celts into an exciting team next season. Pulling down a defensive rebound, Milicic found Rondo for a bullet outlet pass that whizzed across the court, piercing through about three Fenerbahce defenders. Rondo fastbreak layup, thankyouverymuch.
The Rondo Watch
Rondo played the most of all Celtics starters, finishing with 13 points, 9 assists, 3 steals and 5 turnovers. As usual, the best and worst of Rondo was on display over the course of the game. When Rondo attacked or pushed the pace, the Celtics were a treat to watch. And then there was Rondo of old, turning over the ball, making lazy plays, turning invisible on offense. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t see how Rondo plays consistently enough to be a legitimate MVP challenger. Oh, and that jumpshot he supposedly worked on in the offseason? It’s just one game, but no dice.