BOSTON — The Celtics’ season opener was all going as planned. Until it wasn’t.
The C’s looked well on their way to an expected victory over the lowly Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night, owning a comfortable 23-point lead in the fourth quarter that allowed head coach Brad Stevens to give his starters some rest.
Fast-forward to 46 seconds remaining in the game, when Bojan Bogdonavic’s 3-pointer cut the Nets’ deficit to just three points, and Boston’s starters found themselves back in the game fighting to avoid disaster in Al Horford’s debut. The starting five accomplished that goal in a 122-117 win, but Stevens and his new-look club learned its lesson: No win is guaranteed in the NBA.
“I was hopeful not to have to put (the starters) back in, but I probably went a little bit longer than I normally would have, not doing that,” Stevens said after the game. “We’ve got to play better in that moment.”
Brooklyn’s furious comeback exposed some poor play from the Celtics’ reserves, who in the absence of Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk committed costly turnovers, including an errant inbounds pass by Jonas Jerebko that was followed by a Joe Harris 3-pointer.
“We threw it to the other team. It was not good. Best thing we can do is avoid doing that,” Stevens said sarcastically.
“It’s not fair to the starters,” he added of Boston’s sloppy play down the stretch. “… They’re sitting over there and they’ve got to get re-geared up. It’s hard to sit over there for 10-12 minutes and not play.”
Starting swingman Jae Crowder can testify to that.
“Yeah, we had checked out a little bit, mentally and physically,” Crowder admitted. “I know our bodies were not warm enough to do what we did, but we got it done. We’re not complaining. We’re just going to learn from it.”
Point guard Isaiah Thomas, who topped Crowder’s 21-point effort with a game-high 25 points, was a little more blunt in his assessment.
“If we want to be great — if we want to be one of the top teams in the NBA, that can’t happen. There’s no excuse for it,” Thomas said. “If we want to be a top team like they say we’re going to be, we have to do a better job of closing games out.”
Thomas has a point, but the Celtics still came away with the win and got a wake-up call in the process. For a new-look team with high expectations trying to integrate Horford and rookie Jaylen Brown, learning such a lesson on Day One may not be the worst thing.
“That’s the NBA for you: It’ll humble you sometimes,” Horford said. “… This is a good learning experience for our group. We have to keep playing the right way for 48 minutes.”
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images