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CelticsWeek #1: That new season smell

Welcoming a fresh NBA season with the first edition of our new weekly review.

NBA: Miami Heat at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

A new season always brings opportunities to expand our horizons, and this year, we’re making some changes to our weekly column format. The past two years, we’ve handed out Player of the Week awards throughout the season, celebrating players for their contributions towards each week's slate of games. Player of the Week will continue, but we’re folding it into a broader look at each week of Celtics basketball, adding in some additional segments focusing on the team at large, as opposed to just one player This way, we can paint a fuller picture of the progression of the season on a week-to-week basis. A weekly vibe check, if you will.

Let’s celebrate the dawn of a new Celtics basketball season and dive into our first weekly review.

Boston Celtics, Week 1: 2-0 record, +12 differential

Game 1: W @ Knicks, 108-104

Game 2: W vs Miami, 119-111

A nearly spotless start for a team looking to establish themselves as the favorite in the Eastern Conference. Two games up and two games down, both featuring Eastern Conference foes who won playoff series last postseason. The Celtics didn’t have an easy time with either of these teams — we’ll get to that — but a close win is still a win, and the 2023-24 campaign has begun on a win streak.

Cooling off the Heat provides a little extra satisfaction, of course. The Celtics surely haven't forgotten being perhaps just one sprained ankle away from completing the first 0-3 series comeback in NBA history, and they played like that was exactly the case on Friday night. The phrase "playoff atmosphere" often underrates exactly how different playoff basketball is -- the hyper-specificity of the schemes and matchups, the do-or-die nature of every possession. That can't be easily replicated in October.

On Friday night, though, we saw two teams who — changes and all — are intensely familiar with one another. Neither team's gameplan went exactly according to script, but both were prepared with counterpunches, whether it was a hefty dose of Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry from Miami or a huge scoring performance from Derrick White on Boston’s side. There are still questions about Miami in the wake of their failed pursuit of Damian Lillard, but it’s clear that the ingredients that fueled their postseason run — Butler and Adebayo, coaching, three-point shooting — are still intact and will make them a tough matchup this season.

What’s Trending: Execution in the clutch

The bugaboo for the Celtics in recent seasons has been their ability to close out late in tight games. Well, each of their first two have been tightly competitive, and they’ve found ways to walk away with wins.

Against the Knicks, there were some trouble spots. The team struggled in the fourth quarter, falling behind by as many as six points with just under four minutes to play; a familiar script for this team at times. This year, however, the Celtics have Kristaps Porzingis, and the aberrational center scored nine straight points in the closing minutes to earn a lead that they wouldn’t again give away.

Miami likewise provided a late-game challenge, leading Boston by one entering the final quarter of play, but this felt much less in danger of collapse. The Celtics reclaimed the lead with just under 11 minutes remaining in regulation and didn’t trail again. They rebuffed the Heat’s last few efforts, including a Kevin Love triple to pull within three points with 59 seconds remaining, and walked away victorious.

Player of the Week: Derrick White

2 GP, 20 PPG (62% FG, 60% 3PT), 6 REB, 2.5 AST, 1.5 STL, 2 BLK, +11

Apologies to Porzingis, who set the record for scoring in a Celtics’ debut with 30 points against New York, but his struggles to contain Bam Adebayo in his second outing held him short here. Ditto Jayson Tatum, dominant against the Knicks with 34 points and 11 boards but subdued against the Heat, scoring 22 points on 22 shots.

Instead, we’re going with last season’s Player of the Year. Joining the starting lineup with Al Horford taking over the role of sixth man (for now), White has looked eminently comfortable in his early minutes this season. He’s every bit the connective tissue kind of player we’ve grown to expect him to be, capable of sinking into the background and doing the dirty work (12 points, six FGA, three stocks against New York) or setting up as a featured option (28 points, five threes, four stocks against Miami).

Assuming he stays healthy, a repeat selection to one of the NBA’s All-Defense teams should be a reasonable expectation for White this season. He led NBA guards in blocked shots last season, and with four in his first two games, he looks primed to repeat that accomplishment. Sorry about your layup attempt, Jimmy Butler!

The Parquet Play: Jaylen Brown is too fast for the cameras

There probably isn’t a more embarrassing play for an offense than a steal off an inbounds pass. They’re almost always a product of inattentiveness, the inbound passer thinking too far ahead and not focusing on the immediate threat or the intended pass recipient not feeling the pressure from the defense.

Against the Heat, both were true, and Brown took the embarrassment to another level. After Holiday finished a rim-grazing layup to tie the game in the second quarter, Tyler Herro was a little too nonchalant on the ensuing inbounds pass and Kyle Lowry was a little too flat-footed on the receiving end. Brown swiped the ball and finished with a dunk that even the camera crew wasn’t ready for.

Around the League:

Though we are a Celtics-focused site, it can’t hurt to keep an eye on the shape of the rest of the league. The Celtics will play each of these teams at least two times, after all, and the length of the season leads to plenty of ebbs and flows. We'll keep tabs on compelling narratives that may or may not have consequences for the Celtics as the season goes on.

In the wake of perhaps the most anticipated NBA debuts since LeBron James, the shape of the league looks a lot like the 8-foot wingspan of Spurs’ rookie Victor Wembanyama. The 19-year-old French phenom took the court for the first time against the Dallas Mavericks, and though his first two outings have had some warts — foul trouble against Dallas, inefficiency against Houston — there have been plenty of flashes demonstrating why he’s built such a reputation as a prospect. The wunderkind is already warping the NBA court, opposing players more or less flummoxed by his outlier size and skill. Following in Spurs legend Tim Duncan’s footsteps with a rookie selection to an All-Defense team feels within the realm of possibility.

Elsewhere, two of the teams most pertinent to the Celtics’ interests squared off in their season debuts on Thursday. The Milwaukee Bucks debuted Damian Lillard on their home court against the Philadelphia 76ers, who remain mired in James Harden-induced drama, and walked away with a narrow, hard-fought win. Lillard made his Cream City debut with a sparkling 39 points, but struggled with the Hawks in equal measure on Sunday night, shooting just 2-of-12 from the field.

Lillard will play more like the first game than the second on most nights, but what's less certain is the defense — they've not provided much of an obstacle in either of their first two outings. Trading Jrue Holiday for Dame Lillard was a no-brainer decision, but it does leave them vulnerable on the perimeter on the defensive end. Whether or not new head coach Adrian Griffin can right the ship on that end of the floor will bear monitoring.

Up Next: @ Washington, vs Indiana, @ Brooklyn

Looking ahead to the second week, the Celtics will round out October with a road matchup against the Washington Wizards on Monday night, before kicking off November by hosting the Indiana Pacers at the TD Garden. Then, we'll enjoy our first weekend tilt of the season: a Saturday night road showdown against the Brooklyn Nets. It's a lighter slate than the first week, with only the Pacers convincingly in the conversation for a playoff spot based on current expectations. None of it can be taken lightly though; in this early season phase where water continues to find its level, anything can happen.

How long will the Celtics be able to maintain their season-opening win streak? Who will be the standout performer for the season's second week? Will Jaylen Brown catch another poor inbounds passer napping? Check back here next week for those answers and more.

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