It is hard to gauge how good an NBA team looks during the preseason, especially when their first game is against an Italian Pro League team, but the game still has to be played, and the Celtics looked very good in a 33 point win over Olimpia Milan. The best part about last night's game was the balance in scoring and minute distribution with no dropoff in quality of play. Former Warrior and now Celtic power forward David Lee had an excellent debut with Boston, playing 21 minutes and finishing with 13 points and seven rebounds. Lee was also a +22 for the game and showed the same excellent low post offense that the Celtics desperately need. Lee was one of the highlights of the game that featured many, at least from a Celtics point of view.
The starting five was David Lee, Tyler Zeller, Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley, and Marcus Smart; there is a good mix of offense, defense, experience, speed, and size in that starting five, so it would not be a surprise to see Boston open the regular season with this group. Evan Turner was out with a knee injury, so that might change how the rotation looks, but it is clear that Brad Stevens has many different options on personnel combinations, and there will be times when some groups struggle as they try to gain experience playing together. Jared Sullinger, who was the fifth big man off the bench, was impressive in his 15 minutes of play. He finished with 14 points, four rebounds, and he also shot 70% from the field. Sixth Man of the Year candidate Isaiah Thomas was also excellent, finishing the night with 18 points, four assists, three steals, and he was a +16 in just 21 minutes of play.
Brad Stevens was impressed with the effort:
"Our goal is just to get better and improve. We'll be able to look at the film, and see how to do that. The number one thing that pleased me is our energy. I thought we played hard, I thought we made a lot of mistakes but that's to be expected."
"We've got plenty of film of being late on rotations. We were fortunate that they missed a lot of shots. We'll have to improve that as we get ready for Madrid because their skill is outstanding, they make you pay if you're late."
Considering that they just started practicing, it's a great sign that the team is already showing signs of strong chemistry. Typically it takes a couple months for a team to come together, especially one that has added two significant players to the rotation in David Lee and Amir Johnson. The rookies- Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, and Jordan Mickey, were also impressive, flashing the same skills from Summer League and showing no fear of the NBA game. It will be very interesting to see how they play when they return to the states and face an actual NBA team. Mickey is going to push the bigs with his strong low post/strong effort style of play; Hunter is the definition of a coaches son that does everything right, proving he isn't just a gunner; Rozier will have to battle to hardest for playing time because he has talented players ahead of him, but he's also going to see his fair share of playing time.
The Celtics wrap up their European tour with a trip to Spain to battle Real Madrid, a team that is more talented than Olimpia Milan and will give the Celtics a better test. With the team battling various illnesses, fans should be ready to see a shorthanded team on Thursday.
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