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Celtics deliver on training camp promises

After emphasizing pace, sharing the ball, and attacking the paint in training camp, the team delivered in their first preseason win.

Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

“Obviously, it was a pretty ugly win overall,” Ime Udoka said of Boston’s 98-97 win over Orlando to open their preseason schedule. “We know we’re not going to shoot 35% again.” It certainly wasn’t “the beautiful game” for the former Spurs assistant coach, but it’s game #1 of a long season and the now Celtics head coach should be fairly happy with what he saw on Monday night.

Throughout the first week of training camp, Udoka has stressed several areas on the offensive side of the ball: playing with pace, sharing the ball, and getting downhill.

The sixteen turnovers notwithstanding, the Celtics moved the ball well. Maybe too well. “We got the looks that we want, they were short. This is preseason for a reason. They didn’t have their legs,” Udoka said of their unselfish play in the first half. “Overall, it was up and down. Sometimes, we moved it well, sometimes we got stuck in a little bit too much one-on-one.”

Udoka stressed after the game — and frankly, since getting the job — “passing up a good shot for a great shot.” Boston’s first bucket couldn’t have been a more perfect example.

The deep penetration from Jaylen Brown’s drive. The swing pass by Jayson Tatum. The unselfish return from Smart to a wide open Tatum. That should be Celtics basketball under Udoka.

At his introductory press conference, he joked with former coach and now President of Basketball Operations, saying, “sorry to mention this, Brad, but 27th in assists last year...we want to have more team basketball there.”

The offensive strategy seemed simple in team’s first action of the year: attack the paint in the half court and in transition and find open shooters. To wit, 40 of Boston’s 91 field goal attempts came from behind the arc (hitting 14 at a respectable 35% clip) and the team collectively went to the free throw line 23 times (five trips for Tatum, six for Brown).

One of the common themes at Media Day was the versatility of the roster and with so many ball handlers and drivers, the Celtics should be getting good shots at every opportunity. However, it is possible to overpass.

“I had to tell them in the first two timeouts to take the shots when they’re there. Guys that have been aggressive their whole career were passing up open shots,” Udoka said. “They might have listened to me too much and tried to be too unselfish and passed up shots.”

The team is a work in progress and much of this lives in a gray area. In a game of a hundred possessions, you’re goin to have a dozen great plays and a dozen clunkers. Heading into Week 2 of training camp, there are certainly areas to clean up. The Celtics have to cut down on turnovers, particularly for a team blessed with so many good ball handlers. Some players are still trying to figure out their spots. That’ll come. But for the first test after the first week of the 2021-2022 season, Boston passed in front of a lively TD Garden.

“On offense, we’ll hit shots. All that stuff will take care of itself. We got a lot of crafty guys that can run with good pace,” Brown said after the game. “We get that ball moving, I think we can get what we want on offense.”