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12 Takeaways from the Celtics preseason opener

It was an up-and-down opener for Boston, but good signs were there.

NBA: Preseason-Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

1. The first preseason game is always a tricky one. You have to balance excitement and hype with some level of realism about the coming season. With that said, let’s wildly overreact to the Celtics first preseason game!

2. Robert Williams was somewhat of a surprise starter alongside Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. If Williams can harness his athletic ability by focusing on rebounding, rim protection and rim runs like the below, he may be the starting center Boston needs.

3. Speaking of Hayward, his early minutes were miles better than a year ago at the same point. Hayward looked confident driving to the hoop and making plays at and around the rim. Overall, everything looked smoother from him than it did a year ago. Paul George said it was at the start of his second full year back that he felt like himself again. If that’s the case for Hayward, the Celtics have a very different player from the guy they had for large chunks of last season.

4. Kemba Walker was as advertised as the new point guard, except he made a few more plays as a passer than he did in his Hornets days. Walker finished with four assists in his 20 minutes, including hitting the paint twice to kick to Tatum and Hayward. With more offensive talent around him than most of his time in Charlotte, it won’t be a surprise to see Walker top his career-high of 6.1 assists per game this season

5. Brad Stevens’ rotations will be something to watch throughout the preseason and the first month of the regular season. With so many new faces, and so many of them being younger players, Stevens will likely do a lot of mixing and matching. Semi Ojeleye and Brad Wanamaker got early minutes in this game. Ojeleye’s defense and increasing confidence on offense should have him a rotation regular. Wanamaker seems to have the early lead on the backup point guard role. He’s a steady, if unspectacular option behind Walker.

6. Jaylen Brown had his typical mixed-bag of plays. He was able to make a lot of plays off the dribble, but at times his body seemed to be moving faster than his head. When he slowed down, he was under control and kept himself out of trouble. When he figures out that balance permanently, Brown may just become the All-Star that Tommy Heinsohn already deemed him to be.

7. Interior defense will be an area of concern for the Celtics as long as the current personnel is holding down the paint. At times the Hornets ran a layup line to the rim. It was the first game and Boston clearly wasn’t on the same page with their coverages. That should improve with more time together, but it’s still going to be a challenge all year.

On the flip-side, the interior offense was good. The Celtics finished around the rim better than they did most last season. This is where Enes Kanter’s offensive game is an improvement over most of the players Boston has had recently. For all he lacks defensively, Kanter is a plus scorer in the paint.

8. After his solid start, Robert Williams was a mess to open the second half. He had some bad turnovers that were caused by him trying to do too much. Williams needs to focus on screening and running to the rim. Asking him to do much more than that is going to result in empty possessions for the Celtics.

9. Grant Williams flashed tremendous defensive instincts throughout NBA Summer League. He consistently read plays the right way and made things happen. Whether or not that would translate in real NBA games or not was a question, but reads like this show what a smart defender Williams is:

10. Jayson Tatum looked a lot more like first-year Tatum than second-year Tatum. He took good shots and looked confident and smooth. He drove bigs and shot over the top of smaller players. And this clip is a good one, as Tatum dribbles himself into a good corner three-pointer vs settling for the long two that plagued his game last season:

11. Start or come off the bench, Marcus Smart is going to make plays:

12. Danny Ainge has a tough decision to make on the 15th roster spot. Javonte Green has a $150,000 guarantee making him ineligible to play for the Maine Red Claws. (Players can only have a max guarantee of $50,000 in order to play for the NBA team’s NBAGL affiliate.) Green had a monster game, as he shot 7-of-7 from the floor for 15 points. That shooting included five dunks, a layup and a three-pointer, and all of it came in the fourth quarter. Green’s got NBA athleticism for sure, but he needs to show his skill-game is there. This was a good start.

The challenge in front of Green is a big one. 7’6’’ big. Tacko Fall is clearly the fans’ choice for that 15th spot and nothing he did in his debut did anything to dissuade from that opinion. Fall made plays on both ends and looks to have improved from Summer League. If Boston lets him go, there is a good chance he’ll be claimed off waivers or sign elsewhere.

At this point, the best option may be for Green to grab the final spot and for Boston to waive Max Strus from his Two-Way spot and give that spot to Fall alongside Tremont Waters.

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