BOSTON — The Celtics’ second team was first rate Monday night at TD Garden.
The starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Aaron Baynes, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum raced out to a 37-20 lead after a quarter and blew away Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons and the visiting Philadelphia 76ers, 113-96, to remain perfect in the preseason. Boston finishes its preseason Wednesday in Charlotte, with the season opener Oct. 17 in Cleveland.
Coach Brad Stevens used the game to rest his three stars, as Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford watched the game from the bench. Stevens said before the game that all three would play in the preseason finale at Charlotte Wednesday.
The second team used a formula that the first team often uses: good, crisp passing leading to open threes. Tatum, Smart and Rozier all hit their first 3-point attempts of the night as the Celtics built a 17-5 lead. The lead mushroomed to 20 points late in the second quarter thanks to an all-around dominant effort from Rozier. The third-year guard had 15 points, seven rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block in the first half.
“I thought it was one of the things that was kind of missing from our first five days of so of practice, as we were trying to figure out what we were going to do with that unit,” Brad Stevens said of the energy from Smart and Rozier. “You know, we basically had them separated most of that time and I just think they bring a lot when they’re on the court together and, again, the energy that they play with, the way that they can lift you on offense and defense. Terry’s defense has made really good strides and it’s a credit to him. And I think part of it is you’re in the league another year and you just become more experienced and more used to it. So hopefully that can be a real uplifting group for us; they certainly led the way.”
Rookie Semi Ojeleye also impressed, with 16 points (including 4 of 7 from downtown) and four rebounds.
With 7:38 left in the second quarter, Celtics fans held their collective breaths when Terry Rozier threw up an alley-oop pass toward the basket. Only one problem—both Guerschon Yabusele and Jayson Tatum went up for it. Yabusele was directly under the basket and undercut Tatum, causing the rookie out of Duke to fall awkwardly out of bounds, beyond the baseline.
He rose to his feet and got back in the play on the next offensive possession as he collected himself.
Another highlight came when Marcus Smart found a cutting Abdel Nader with a perfect overhead pass for a layup midway through the second quarter.
The Celtics built a 59-39 halftime lead, expanding it to 33 midway through the third when the scoreboard read 84-51. Rozier finished 5 of 8 from the field with 10 rebounds and six assists while Smart and Brown each had 12 points.
The Celtics held Fultz and Simmons in check. Coming off a 2-for-13 effort in his debut against Memphis last Wednesday against Memphis, Fultz was 5 for 11 with 12 points, two rebounds, and one assist off the Sixers bench. Simmons started and had 15 points and six rebounds.
The game did, however, produce the first big challenge for this Celtics squad.
On a roster where big men are at a premium, Baynes came up with a hyperextended left knee in the first quarter. He played the first eight minutes and 21 seconds before coming out for Daniel Theis. Baynes, who was initially diagnosed with a knee sprain, did not return.
“Baynes hyper-extended his knee in the first half,” Brad Stevens said. “Don’t know the severity of it, don’t know what it means, other than that was what I was told at halftime. He hyperextended his knee. He’s going to be re-evaluated, after he’s iced it, everything else.”
The loss of Baynes for any period of time could significantly impact Boston’s ability to defend and rebound in the paint. Baynes has been arguably the biggest pleasant surprise in camp, showing an ability to rebound and score close to the basket.
The Baynes injury comes as the Celtics are still trying to work Marcus Morris back into game shape, which, by Morris’ own admission, he has not quite achieved yet.
Brad Stevens continues to be impressed with what the rookie Tatum shows in the preseason.
"In the preseason, you're just looking forward to the film he will provide us,” Stevens said. “Inevitably, he did tons of great things against Philly last time but did a couple of things that he can get better from, and are we making strides toward the things we can get better from. That's not (just) him. We're pretty young out there, even when you consider Kyrie and Gordon are 25 and 27, the other day we started, 19, 20, 25, 27 and 30. That's pretty darn young. So, every day is going to be a great opportunity to learn."
Stevens also indicated that he’s leaning toward having flexibility with his starting lineup as opposed to a set lineup every night, with an eye on the postseason next spring.
"It's funny because we always talk about how we love the familiarity of the regular season and then once playoffs hit, you better be flexible,” Stevens said. “I think our best bet would be to be flexible."
Despite Fultz’s’ struggles Monday night and in the preseason in general, Stevens only had the highest praise for a player they passed on when they traded down for Tatum with the third pick in June’s draft.
"He's a great kid,” Stevens said of Fultz. “He's a really talented scorer. Obviously, a tremendous prospect and player. He's clearly a guy you're going to have to account for on both ends of the court, and can really score the ball."