BOSTON – The shots were falling. The passes were vertigo inducing. The Celtics were finally the team they had been aiming to become for three long years.
Not only were they brought to life, they were brought to new heights. the Celtics’ 36 assists were the most in a season opener in the NBA since 2001, per Worcester Telegram’s Bill Doyle.
It was about the time that Jae Crowder’s third three of the night went down that it was truly confirmed: this Celtics team is built to make a serious run. Crowder had 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting in just 29 minutes in the Celtics’ 122-117 season-opening win against the #NetsPick. The Celtics nearly blew a 23-point lead to close the game, but they walked out of the Garden 1-0.
Crowder was joined by Amir Johnson and Al Horford as starters who played less than 30 minutes Monday, a crucial feat for coach Brad Stevens with his team flying directly to Chicago to face R.J. Hunter’s Bulls Thursday. However, a late Nets run forced Stevens to rip a hole in the space-time continuum, hammering his hands into a T to furiously call a timeout with 2:07 left in the game. The starters came back in and put the Nets away.
Jae has made some important improvements to his offensive game, becoming a more reliable deep shooter and a more capable passer. He flashed his potential to distribute on this nifty touch pass to find Horford on the seal.
Crowder’s scoring wasn’t a surprise in this game, as the starting unit’s passing has gone from creative to neck-breaking. The passes were so crisp and staggered that the Nets would often get completely lost trying to recover two passes ago. Al Horford’s first five shots as a Celtic came nearly uncontested, with Isaiah Thomas routinely whipping wrap-arounds from under the rim to find Horford waiting on the elbow, running his toes through the sand.
Horford had a solid Celtics debut, smacking four blocks in the first half—which would have been a team-high mark last season.
Horford denies Lin for his FOURTH block of the game! No other player has blocked a single shot pic.twitter.com/Y6SeL6fiHu— Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 27, 2016
Stevens used some inventive rotations, bringing out starters like Amir Johnson and Isaiah Thomas for just three minutes before subbing them back in to create more small lineups. Stevens would often rely on five-minute rotations, but threw out a new wrinkle that will surely evolve over the year when Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk are healthy.
Of course, Jaylen Brown did not begin his career with a whimper. Brown nearly kicked things off with a dunk-of-the-year candidate, but was fouled by Justin Holiday and couldn’t reach the rim on a thundering slam. He did however show a knack for working the baseline, where he thrived in the preseason.
“I thought he had a lot of good moments,” Stevens said. “I thought overall offensively we were pretty sound as a group; I thought defensively we were a sieve. But I thought that Jaylen did a pretty good job for a first game.”
In the third quarter, the Celtics ran a few minutes of offense through Jaylen on the block, starting him in the corner and then using a cross-screen to give him deep post positioning. They scored four straight baskets to maintain a 20-plus point lead.
Jaylen Brown is a smooth operator on the block! The rook makes this turnaround bank shot look easy: pic.twitter.com/VBQ7jTtNaA— Boston Celtics (@celtics) October 27, 2016
Brown was nervous, but he stayed composed enough to keep the team functioning well going into the fourth quarter before the ground caved in. Just how nervous was the third overall pick?
“On a scale of 1 to 10? About maybe a 7 or 8. Just opening night, starting your career, you’re anxious, and you just want to come out. You have a lot of energy, and it’s hard trying to suppress some of that energy. I guess I did a good job. It’s cool.”
Brown didn’t feel any nerves when he nearly launched his career with a poster on Justin Hamilton. Hamilton fouled Brown, which left the dunk a couple feet short. But flashes of Jaylen’s bounce, power and body control were mouth-watering.
“It was just read-and-react,” he said. “I’d seen the play, I was in the present, and I tried to make a play. That was it.”
Brown had the Celtics rolling going into the fourth quarter. But just when it looked like the door was closed, the Nets unleashed an 18-2 run to finish the game. They fell short, but showed how the Celtics’ second unit can still crumble late.
“I had a coach one time tell me that if you’re going to turn it over, just punt it. And, you know, we haven’t gone over the punting thing.”
The second unit will have to find better options than sending the ball sky high, as they are billed to be an uptempo unit that can overcome half court weaknesses by running and gunning. But they fell completely flat down the stretch and forced Stevens to bring the starters back in.
“I thought that it would be, obviously, a great opportunity to play the right way and figure out a way to keep them at bay as they come hard-charging,” Stevens said. “It’s hard to play with a team that’s got nothing to lose, that’s flying at you and everything else. Wasn’t to be. Probably will be…less, less likely to leave them in that long if we’re in a similar scenario. Hopefully we learn from it and we’re not.”
The Celtics hurried out of the locker room Wednesday night ot catch a short flight to Chicago. They will save an hour on their body clocks to get some extra sleep, but it won’t save them from the haunting image of Bojan Bogdanovic leading a furious Nets comeback.
They escaped with just the skin on their backs, but they face one of the league’s most bizarrely composed teams Thursday.
“Unbelievable. That’s tough. But we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” Crowder said. “We’re a great back-to-back team. We hang our heads on playing back-to-backs and winning a second night of a back-to-back. So Brad has already put it in our heads that we’re gonna win tomorrow and we’re gonna prepare to win the game.”