The Celtics Summer League Team (whew, that's a mouthful) played it's first game of the offseason tonight, against the summer team from the Utah Jazz. Both teams featured a ball-handler that was drafted highly in 2014; Marcus Smart for Boston, and Dante Exum for Utah. The two of them had a very entertaining duel throughout the game, and showcased their rapidly developing games. However, many players for both teams were using the game to vie for a spot on an NBA roster.
The Celtics went with Smart, Terry Rozier, James Young, CJ Fair, and Jordan Mickey to start the game. Colton Iverson removed himself from the Celtic's Summer League roster, so Boston was forced to give up some size to Utah.
Right out of the gate, Smart showed an increased willingness to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim. He missed two quick threes, but scored 5 of Boston's first 9 points on powerful drives to the hole (and an accompanying free throw). He then proceeded to make the court his personal playground, scoring on a pair of three-point shots before he drained a pair of free throws at the end of the frame.
The starting big men also showed that they could be successful on the offensive end early on. Jordan Mickey showed some good flashes offensively in the first quarter by making his first three shots, in a variety of ways. CJ Fair also shot well, shooting 50% for the game for 12 points.
The second quarter brought continued aggression from the entirety of Boston's roster. Defensive intensity helped the Celtics hang on to their lead for a time. However, the size of the Jazz started to yield solid results. Jack Cooley, in particular, was able to make life uncomfortable down low. The big man finished his night with 13 points, 13 rebounds, and a block.
More importantly for Utah fans, the Jazz's marquee young guns continued the development that they showed towards the end of last year. Dante Exum and Rodney Hood were both very effective at the end of the first half. The two of them led the Jazz to a 51-40 lead at halftime, scoring 12 and 8 first half points, respectively.
The start of the second half was more back and forth, with some poor shooting from both teams. The intensity was there on both sides, but the offensive execution was inconsistent, other than solid overall play from Exum and Smart. One other notable exception was Jordan Mickey, who continued to represent himself well on the court.
The fourth quarter got a bit chippy. Some hard fouls and a lot of intensity brought some severity to the contest, although the game did stay cordial. Smart picked up a flagrant foul when he took down Cooley while trying to fight through a screen. It was very apparent that the players responded to Coach Steven's message that everyone's first goal of Summer League should be winning.
However, despite their fight, the Celtics fell to the strong overall play of the Jazz, who took the contest by a final score of 100-82.
Boston will look for a better result in its second game of the summer, as it returns to action against the 76ers on Tuesday.
Marcus Smart is progressing well, but his shot still needs work
Maybe playing against a point guard taken immediately before him was fueling his famous competitive fire. Perhaps last year's ankle injury hindered him more than most people realized. Perhaps he just improved his skills in the offseason. Likely, it's a combination of all three. Whatever the reason, Marcus Smart showed the production on the offensive end to match his trademark defensive presence. He finished the game with a stat line of 26 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and a block, while only recording 2 turnovers. He competently ran the offense, played the pick and roll better than he showed at any point last year, and got to the rim better than we've seen since he was in college. He played as though it was game seven, earning a flagrant foul in the process, not to mention multiple steals and countless hustle plays. However, his shooting still needs a lot of development. While 12-for-13 showing from the stripe was impressive, he only shot 30% from the floor. Smart has taken steps in his development, without question. However, to maximize his potential, he needs to be able to shoot the ball effectively.
Jordan Mickey has more to his offensive game than advertised
The big man from LSU was billed as a rim-protector throughout the pre-draft process. That much seems to be true; he did block 3 shots over the course of the game. However, he also demonstrated a solid offensive game that looks like it could translate to the regular season. He finished rolls to the rim. He hit jump shots. He showed off some post moves. After giving us a taste of solid basketball on both sides of the ball, Mickey looked like a good candidate for one of Boston's final roster spots.
CJ Fair does not like to share
The forward out of Syracuse had some good offensive moments throughout the night, but his 3 assists hide the number of times he drove the ball into the teeth of the defense without enough of a driving lane. His assists showed that he can be a very effective passer, and a good team player, and he did finish the night shooting 50% from the floor. However, it looked like he was trying to force the issue tonight. Although, to be fair, what is the Summer League for, if not to make an impression?
James Young has improved... a bit
James Young did some great things tonight. His on-ball defense seems to have improved, he showed off the 25 pounds of muscle that he has gained since last year, and used that strength to make some positive contributions on the boards. Most importantly, he dove on the floor for loose balls, left and right. It seems that his mentality has developed, which bodes well for the young wing. However, he still makes several of the same mistakes he made last year. He still has a terrible habit of ball-watching, and he still takes too many off-balance jumpers. Those sorts of errors will continue to hinder his ability to earn consistent minutes. With that being said, his increased intensity did show that he is more serious and dedicated than ever to becoming a successful player. However, it will take more than that for him to reach his potential, or even break into the rotation.
They weren't lying about Hunter's athleticism, or his IQ
R.J. Hunter was labelled as a shooter during the pre-draft process, and with good reason. He has shown a consistent ability to make deep shots, and his quick release suggests that that skill will eventually translate. That wasn't what he displayed tonight, though - he taught us more about his defensive game. There were several times throughout the contest where Hunter had trouble staying in front of the man he was guarding, or fighting through screens. His lack of strength and lack of quickness showed. However, his basketball IQ showed, as well. Despite sometimes being a step slow, Hunter was consistently in the right place at the right time. None of his counting stats were particularly good, except that he led the Celtics with 3 steals on the evening. He'll need to get quicker and stronger to be successful on the defensive end in the NBA, but his awareness and intuition will do wonders to help make the transition easier.
As always, Summer League games should be treated as they are; an exhibition. Players use them as a chance to showcase their skills, either as a pre-season measuring stick for their development, or as a job interview. Over-reacting to these games is as treacherous as it is easy. All of the above takeaways should be taken with approximately a tablespoon of salt.
More importantly, the "Celtics" just played their first "game" of basketball since April, and that's a beautiful thing. All hail the return of basketball, even if it's only Summer League.