Orlando might be in the middle of a total rebuild, but their roster is littered with talent. From the scoring exploits of Cole Anthony (a personal favorite of mine) to the versatility of sophomore forward, Franz Wagner. Orlando is a team that has the potential to beat you, and if you come into a contest against them expecting an easy W, you might just get punched in the mouth.
Still, Boston is a championship-contending team with a point to prove, so we shouldn’t expect anything less than complete professionalism. With that being said, here are my three primary topics to look out for in tonight’s game.
You don’t need a speedometer to see that Boston’s pace of play has taken a significant leap to begin this season. The defense is clogging passing lanes, jumping into traps, and crashing the boards as they look to generate fast break opportunities with regularity. The upside of this faster playstyle is that everyone gets involved, and at the moment, it’s getting Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown playing off each other and leading to some solid scoring nights.
The downside, however, is that the additional pace puts added pressure on the legs. You cover more ground, your legs get tired. Now, I’m not a fitness instructor or an elite-level athlete, but to me, playing at such a high tempo in a back-to-back is certainly going to see you run out of steam somewhere down the stretch.
Of course, Mazzulla could counteract this fatigue by going deeper into his bench or incorporating a more half-court brand of basketball for stretches of the game. Either way, we’re going to learn a lot about how Boston intends to deal with double headers or short turnaround times between games tonight.
Getting fired up for facing a conference rival or an outside contender is easy. It’s a chance to prove you’re credentials as a genuine contender on national TV. However, staying locked in against a team that’s clearly playing for development is another thing entirely, and can often be seen as a ‘trap game’ due to a team's propensity to take their foot off the gas.
Throughout the summer, we’ve all heard how the Celtics have been buoyed by their NBA Finals loss, and how this year’s roster is more focused, locked in, and business-like than what we’ve seen previously — it’s games like this that will prove those statements to be correct.
Can Boston stick to their game plan? Execute their defensive and offensive schemes? Avoid the urge to go into hero mode? Sometimes, how you play against an inferior opponent is more telling than when you play against the elite. So, we should learn a ton from this upcoming contest.
Will we see Luke Kornet?
A significant talking point throughout the summer was the likelihood of an increased role for Luke Kornet. An ankle injury in training certainly threw a spanner in the works there, but now, Kornet is reportedly healthy but hasn’t seen the floor over the first two games.
Instead, Noah Vonleh has been making his presence felt and is potentially proving himself as the Celtics' best backup center option while Robert Williams continues to rehab from surgery. But, we’re still only two games into the season, and I find it hard to believe all the talk of Kornet being a core rotation player was simply smoke screens.
Now, with Al Horford set to miss tonight’s game due to load management, the stage is set for a deeper big-man rotation off the bench! Could we finally see the three-point shooting 7-footer play a large-ish role? Or will Mazzulla stick with Vonleh and Blake Griffin?
I’m not saying Kornet is an upgrade, but we were sold on his inclusion in the rotation, and I want to see how it looks, don’t you?
Tonight’s game should be fun! Orlando is a young team with some really interesting talent on their roster, who will all be playing free of burden and expectations. We should get some awesome matchup battles, and learn a bunch about Boston’s approach to minutes management.
But most of all, it’s a chance for the Celtics to officially be on a win steak (I start classifying it at three) and to continue building momentum to begin the year. Hopefully, we can see some Payton Pritchard minutes and Sam Hauser gets some more run! And who knows, if the Celtics can jump out to an early lead, we might get to see some Justin Jackson and Mfiondu Kabengele (if he’s with the team).