Keith Smith: We all know how the game started, and as much as it finished with a missed game-tying triple attempt, the almost finish was pretty sweet. The young guys staged a massive comeback against the best team in the East and almost pulled it off. When guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have a little more experience under their belts, the result might be different.
But as terrible as tonight started, it showed just how special Brad Stevens is. He obviously has a personal relationship with Gordon Hayward like no one else on the team and it had to tear him apart to see him go down. But has 15 other men to lead on that team. And there was a game to be played.
Stevens preaches ball and player movement, where the ball pings around the perimeter for open shots. He scrapped that and went right to isos and post ups. The Celtics repeatedly attacked the weakest Cavaliers defenders and made them pay. Whether it was Marcus Smart, Brown, Tatum or Kyrie Irving, Boston found a way to fight back.
The players are owed the bulk of that credit, but the coach sails the ship through troubled waters. Those troubled waters came early and they nearly capsized the team, but Stevens kept them upright. Long term adjustments will need to be made now, but the Boston Celtics have the right guy to make them.
Matt Chin: Marcus Smart looked lost in the first half, going 0 for 9 on some questionable shot selection. However, his typical energy and defensive effort ignited the Celtics second half comeback. He victimized Kyle Korver in the post. He was the first to the floor on a couple of crucial 50/50 balls, and made a few textbook reads in half-court defense. It was idyllic Marcus.
He finished with a all-around line of 12 points, 9 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks. With Hayward out for an extended period, Smart seems like the logical choice to push into the starting lineup. After going 5 for 16 tonight, Marcus' jump shot woes remain a concern.
Mike DePrisco: I was encouraged by Jaylen Brown's aggressiveness throughout the game. From the opening tip Brown was attacking the basket relentlessly, which he'll need to continue to do with Hayward out indefinitely. Starting off the year with a career high 25 points certainly wasn't on the top of my prediction list, but Brown stepped up in a big way.
With the amount of adversity this Celtics team dealt with right away against Cleveland, Brown responded simply by playing harder than everyone else on the floor. I'd really like to see him help set an example for the younger players on the roster that are also tasked with an increased role after Hayward's injury.
Romy Nehme: Outside of being nauseous, devastated and in denial, here are the things I'll remember from opening night-mare, in stream of consciousness style: Horford's fire is back and hopefully here to stay. We'll need angry Al (and for him not to get blocked by Wade). I always think the ball's going in when Kyrie's shooting it. He might average thirty this year without forcing the issue. Smart is otherworldly but needs to temper the punishing style of play and prioritize durability. He's going to destroy in the post this year. Tatum's And-1 on LeBron was Durant-esque. Making one or two threes a game is really going to boost his confidence. When Jaylen Brown wasn't on the court, I wanted him to be. Is he pound for pound the strongest man in the NBA? Maybe. I'd like to see him spend more time in the corners where he was lethal last year. Crowder ran into all of Australia and didn't like it. Baynes was HUGE for the Celtics and is going to turn heads this year. He might be one of the only non-All Star bigs that will still be valuable come playoff time. Marcus Morris, get well fast. This team needs you on the court. My heart goes out to Gordon. Hoping for the best with his diagnosis and recovery for what was truly an unimaginably cruel beginning to such a promising season.
Alex Kungu: Hard for all of us to talk about basketball after such a devastating injury. The first half was essentially a blur for me after the injury and it seemed like the Celtics were in the same boat. The second half was promising for a lot of reasons, mines without a doubt was the play of Jaylen Brown. As a second year guy who's being asked to guard the best in the world, Brown not only took the challenge, but was lethal on the offensive end going for 25/6/3. It wasn't always pretty, (was 2/9 from three, took 23 shots), but the important thing was that he remained aggressive and forced the issue. At times he was the only Celtic that was playing with any energy. In a world with Gordon Hayward I would say that we shouldn't expect this type of aggression every night, but with Hayward gone for the foreseeable future, Brown's offensive output will be desperately needed throughout the year.
Also thought it was interesting how the Celtics opted to use Irving. A big part of it had to do with the fact that Hayward went down, but due to the shooting woes of Smart/Rozier, C's are opting to play Irving off-ball in heavy minutes. Irving seems to relish those roles of being an attacker and they'll need him to be more of a scorer without Hayward. Unlike Cleveland, where playing off-ball essentially meant waiting for Lebron to find you while you stayed in a corner, off-ball in Boston means running through screens, grabbing dribble hand-offs, and keeping the defense on its heels at all times.
Bill Sy: The Celtics finished with a 100.0 DefRtg tonight (94.4 in the 2nd half after the team refocused on the game). Hayward will be a big part of this team’s defensive identity when he returns, but for the time being, they’re going to have to be gritty and nasty like they were tonight. Forcing seventeen turnovers helps. Allowing only nine offensive rebounds helps even more. Terry Rozier was flying around. Aron Baynes was a rock in the middle. Hopefully getting Marcus Morris back in two weeks will help. The darkest hour is just before the dawn. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum shined individually, but the team defense might be the guiding light this season.