Without Jae Crowder, Al Horford, and Kelly Olynyk, the Celtics gave the Cavaliers all they could handle in a 128-122 loss. There were a lot of bright spots from the team’s younger players, but some persistent problems still exist.
CelticsBlogger-on-CelticsBlogger crime (Bill Sy): We’ve got a great staff of writers here, but we don’t always agree. I thought it would be fun to troll my fellow CelticsBloggers during the game and put them on blast in The Read & React:
The Avery Bradley might be a ball-handler train is coming to a halt until further notice.— A.K⚖️ (@AlexKungu_) November 4, 2016
This kind of criticism always drives me crazy. Avery Bradley has improved off the dribble, and it’s opened up his game as a playmaker. I’m not saying Avery Bradley is a point guard now, but I’m not saying he isn’t either. That’s not the point. For some reason, there’s this emphasis on who should be initiating the offense as the official PG, but in Boston’s system, that position simply doesn’t exist. Everybody touches the ball and has a quick decision to make: should I try to score or move the ball? In a single half-court set, almost every wing player is going to get a look, and you could even argue that Bradley is a prime candidate to be the first option (in chronological order, not by importance) because by the time the ball swings to Isaiah Thomas or Marcus Smart, the defense has already been compromised.
But I won’t give Alex too hard of a time because he did come across this pic of Jaylen Brown’s 7-foot dad who was a boxer, so all is forgiven:
Zeller got abused in that 2015-16 first round series vs. Cleveland. Their bigs are so massive and physical. He isn't built for that battle.— Bobby Manning (@RealBobManning) November 4, 2016
Plus he can't keep anybody off the boards and that's Love/Thompson's speciality.— Bobby Manning (@RealBobManning) November 4, 2016
I don’t necessarily disagree with Bobby, but I’m also in the small minority that Tyler Zeller not only needs more minutes but is a better fit on a Brad Stevens team than Amir Johnson. TZ finished the night with 11 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, and two blocks in under 30 minutes. He runs the floor like a gazelle, makes up for his lack of size with great hands and quick triggers, and stretches defenses with his mid-range jumper. I understand there’s this pervasive stereotype that big men need to be tough and gritty, but this isn’t 1984 anymore.
Half: Cavs 68, Celtics 51. Boston's getting great minutes from Jaylen Brown. But team as a whole isn't guarding the perimeter or rebounding.— Tim MacLean (@TJMacNBA) November 4, 2016
You can’t deny the rebounding stats. The Celtics are 29th in the league in opponent’s offensive rebounds, but guess who’s 30th? The Cavaliers. Frankly, I think a lot of this is a defensive system thing. On the offensive end, the Celtics don’t want to take a lot of long twos, and on the defensive end they’re happy giving them up. Those mid-range shots generate long rebounds and can be trouble for the shortest team in the league.
There’s also the scheme on how Boston defends pick-and-rolls. With bigs retreating into the paint as they ICE ball handlers and on ball defenders guiding them away from the basket, it creates a lane for crashing bigs to grab an OR. That’s just one of those give-and-takes that Brad Stevens is willing to give up.
And here’s a fun fact from last night’s game: both the Celtics and Cavs gave up 10 offensive rebounds. However, Boston scored 21 second-chance points to Cleveland's 11.
Here’s one last tweet from last night. It didn’t come from another blogger though:
I'm rolling with Jaylen Brown. Dude is fearless.......— Jared Sullinger (@Jared_Sully0) November 4, 2016
Gotta love Jared Sullinger keeping up with the Cs. Get well, Sully.
Avery Bradley with another double-double. Is this a thing now? (Lachlan Marr): Despite the loss there were more than a few bright spots in this game against Cleveland. Brown’s play against LeBron was obviously pretty exceptional for a rookie, but Avery Bradley stepping further into his role as a team leader is just as important for the Celtics.
With a mandate from Stevens for guards to go for rebounds, the Celtics’ backcourt players have stepped up to various degrees. Avery has answered the call for additional help on the boards with enthusiasm, and in last night’s game he recorded his second double-double of the season, getting 10 rebounds along with 26 points. He also managed to get 11 boards in his 31-point outing against Charlotte and nearly got another double-double in the season opener against Brooklyn, where he had 9 rebounds. His assist numbers haven’t spiked to go along with the extra rebounding—he only managed to palm off the ball for a total of two assists in the game against Cleveland—but his on-court awareness and general offensive positioning have been better this season. If Avery continues to play at the high-level he has so far, then the Celtics will be in good shape going forward.
Slow down the Jaylen Brown hype train (Tim MacLean): Jaylen Brown was tremendous in this one. The rookie played 35 minutes in his first career start and finished with a line of 19 points (50% FG, 50% 3FG), five rebounds, two assists, three steals and a block. Brown gave the Celtics way more than they possibly could have asked for considering he was also tasked with guarding LeBron James on the other end of the floor. His jump shot looked good and, obviously, that was one of the biggest knocks on him coming out of Cal. Of course, we should pump the brakes on the hype train just a little bit. It was one game—a really good game but still just one. It's not realistic to expect even 15 points per game from Brown this year, but the offensive outburst bodes well for him earning and keeping a large role off the bench when Jae Crowder returns to the starting five.
And getting off the Jordan Mickey hype train (Bobby Manning): It's a shame to see how minimal of an impact Jordan Mickey has been able to have with a significant opportunity early this season. Offensively he's simply floating around, which is to be expected, but on the defensive end he hasn't been the assertive presence as he could be. On one play LeBron—albeit a tough assignment for any player—blew right by Mickey on the perimeter as the sophomore unwisely gave him a lane to the basket. Last season there were a few moments where Mickey was able to shake up games in spurts with a few strong rebounds or a massive block or two. There was an energy boost associated with his presence. Then there was the intrigue of his dominance in Maine. Little of it has translated early on this season, and tonight he had more personal fouls than points, rebounds, steals, and blocks combined. It's a small sample size, but his lack of involvement in nine minutes was glaring. They need more of what he does well as a team, and his emergence would be such a boost, but we've yet to see him even lay a single fist on a game yet.
Jaylen is growing up so, so fast (Jared Weiss)
This is not supposed to happen:
Jaylen Brown takes it baseline and throws one down on the Cavs pic.twitter.com/yRPPaGS9dO— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 4, 2016
That’s a newly minted 20-year-old rookie, an alleged “reach” or “risk” at the third pick in the draft, walling off and dunking on LeBron James.
There has been enough of a sample size of Brown in open space to understand he can attack gaps and rule the air. But in his first career start, lining up opposite LeBron, Jaylen showed that he already can break out some refined NBA skills on the biggest stage. His body control is already at the level most guys have coming out of their rookie contract. He still struggled to finish from pretty much everywhere, but he can get anywhere.
He hit some important threes, which is a critical to establishing his role as a closing-lineup player. But he is showing that he can manufacture space whether in transition or the half-court. Most rookies drive blindly into the paint without a plan and learn the hard way how to get their shot off.
Jaylen is a man with a plan. And so far, so good.