Turkey rocketed to the top of that list Friday, when Fenerbahce
Ulker led most of the way before handing the Celtics a confounding loss in the
exhibition opener. Another stinker against AC Emporio Armani Milano on Sunday
might have raised some serious doubts as to whether this team can be
"scary good," as Paul Pierce suggested in a tweet, or just plain
frightful to watch.
The Milano squad turned out to be much less trouble for the
Celtics. Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green were strong once again, but this time their
teammates remembered that they know how to play basketball, too, in the
Celtics' 105-75 victory. Unlike Fenerbahce point guard Bo McCalebb, the
Brooklyn-born Omar Cook was never able to crack Boston's defense consistently
and, as a result, Milano was much less effective offensively.
As the Celtics players look forward to their off day in the
fashion capital of the world on Monday, here are some impressions from the win.
DARKO KNIGHT RISES
Sane-minded observers gave up a long time ago on Darko
Milicic ever blossoming into the uber-star many scouts predicted he would
become after the Pistons made him the second pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. That
said, if Milicic provides anything approaching his production in these two
games in Europe, the Celtics would be ecstatic. The 7-foot, 270-pound center
contributed nine rebounds and four blocked shots in less than 19 minutes, and
he also flashed the soft passing touch that enamored scouts a decade ago.
Milicic will not be a nightly double-double threat in Boston
— unless a major injury to Kevin Garnett forces Celtics coach Doc Rivers to
use Milicic more extensively than he would like to — but he adds needed depth
to the Celtics' front line. Milicic's heft, Chris Wilcox' willingness to run
with Rajon Rondo and Garnett's all-around excellence could be an intriguing
combination for the Celtics.
TERRY-ING IT UP AT THE POINT
Possibly because Courtney Lee was beyond terrible in the
first game, or maybe just because he needs to get comfortable playing with
Rondo, Jason Terry got the starting nod at shooting guard. Terry and Rondo
seemed to mesh almost immediately on offense and defense in a way Lee did not
against Fenerbahce, with Terry pouring in 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting
(3-for-5 on 3-pointers) in more than 27 minutes.
Starting both players meant that the Celtics had to sit both
players at the same time occasionally, and their shared absences highlighted a
potential problem for the Celtics. Beyond Rondo, the Celtics have no true point
guard. Terry comes closest, as his ballhandling ability and pick-and-roll savvy
have been severely underrated. Jamar Smith brought the ball up when Rondo and
Terry were both out, but Smith did not play a traditional point guard role.
Smith generally dribbled the ball upcourt to hand it to Jeff Green, who
initiated the offense. This approach may offer a hint of how Rivers plans to
address this shortcoming in his backcourt.
As for Lee, he was much better on Sunday. Lee hit four of
his five shots and attacked the rim. It figures that Lee will need some time to
develop a rapport with four players (Garnett, Brandon Bass, Pierce and Rondo)
who played together extensively last season.
BASS GETS FAST
Bass appears to be doing a lot less thinking with the ball
than he did last year. That is not to say he is making bad decisions. On the
contrary, through two preseason games the 27-year-old power forward is playing
more aggressively than ever. Whereas last season almost all of Bass' offense
came on 18-foot jump shots from kick-outs by Garnett, Bass looks like he has
expanded his game slightly.
Against Fenerbahce, Bass caught the ball with his back to
the basket and pivoted to face his defender almost every time, leading to a
couple of quick jump shots and two trips to the free throw line when he used
his first step to beat the defender to the hoop. On Sunday, Bass paired with
Terry on a smoothly executed pick-and-pop. Bass was a decent screener on the
ball last season, but his awkward footwork made it difficult for Rondo to dish
him the ball out of the play. If Bass developed that part of his game in the
offseason, he and Rondo could have a lot of fun together.
FREEBIES FOR NEWBIES
Few teams made things harder on themselves offensively than
the Celtics did last season. Dedicated readers know how I railed away at the
Celtics' turnovers and their overreliance on long jump shots last season. Both
bad habits hurt an offense in obvious ways, but they also affected Boston in a
not-so-obvious way: They limited the Celtics' free throw opportunities.
Pierce was pretty much a one-man threat when it came to
getting to the foul line last year. Although Boston was the fifth-best foul
shooting team in the league, they attempted the fourth-fewest freebies.
Shooting well from the foul line is irrelevant if a team does not get there
regularly. Long two-point jump shots, which tend to be contested but seldom
draw contact, do not lead to many free throw attempts. Who knows how the
ability to stop the clock, slow Miami's run game and get a few free points
might have influenced the outcome of the Eastern Conference Finals?
Some of Boston's new guys are not the type to settle for
those midrange looks. Milicic, Lee, Jared Sullinger and Green (who I'm counting
as a "new guy") combined for 19 of the Celtics' 29 free throw
attempts on Sunday. They only made 12 of 19 — with Milicic's 2-for-6 masonry
job largely to blame — but simply getting to the line is an improvement. The
Celtics took more foul shots than their opponent Sunday, and were within two
free throws of matching Fenerbahce on Friday, so watch to see if that trend
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