You might be asking yourself, “what can be learned from a 6-point win against a bottom-of-the-barrel Magic team in the first week of the NBA season?”
Well, actually a lot.
Saturday night’s contest against the Magic had all of the makings of a let-down game. The Celtics played their first two games of the season against a couple of Eastern Conference title contenders, one of which was a revenge-driven Heat team on Thursday night. Al Horford was out due to back soreness (likely resting on a back-to-back). And finally, the game was played in Orlando (not exactly the most exciting NBA environment to play in if you ask me).
Everything about the game screamed an impending loss. Or, at the least, a sub-par effort on the end of the Celtics. And, I would argue, it WAS a fairly sub-par effort. But, that’s why a win shows how good this year’s Boston team is.
The on-ball pressure wasn’t where it needed to be. The Celtics were sluggish in their defensive rotations, allowing the Magic to get tons of open looks from the three-point line, resulting in a 15-of-34 (44%) night for a supposedly “bad” shooting team. The defensive transition was average at best, and there didn’t seem to be any urgency to pack the paint on fast breaks. Orlando outrebounded the Celtics 48-37, while Wendell Carter Jr. looked like a prime Tristan Thompson on the offensive glass.
In general, the C’s lacked the intensity and focus needed to be the defensive team that we know and love from last season. To put it plainly, they gave up 120 points to a really bad Magic team whose best player is a 19-year-old rookie (yes, he’s fantastic, but not quite the best player on a good NBA team yet).
But, the Celtics offense looked like a well-oiled machine, which is what I’m concerned with this early in the season. Despite a down game from Brown and a noticeably lethargic Celtics team, the men in green were on autopilot all night, driving into the lane and kicking out to open shooters, making extra passes, and knocking down open shots. And, quite frankly, the offensive success overshadows the defensive struggles at this point in the season.
We know what the Celtics defense can and will be. With individual defenders like Smart, White, Tatum, Brown, Brogdon, and Rob (I could go on), they are going to figure it out on that end. The foundation for success is there; the roster is the same as last season (when the Celtics had the best defensive rating in the NBA) with an additional great perimeter defender (Brogdon), and the switching versatility is just waiting to be unleashed in the right matchups. There is no world in which the Celtics are not an elite defensive team come playoff time.
What was up for debate, though, was how the offense would look. Would Tatum resort back to isolation ball? Would Brown continue to dribble into multiple defenders and cough up the ball? Would White be able to knock down open shots? Would Grant come back to earth after his otherworldly playoff three-point shooting? The Celtics are confidently answering all of these questions, and more. They look like one of the best offensive teams in the league with better outside shooting from role players than they’ve had the last couple seasons.
They are dangerous. And when the defense catches up to the offense (which it will), watch out.