An issue the Boston Celtics wanted to address in the offseason was more scoring off the bench.
And after a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in their first preseason game of the season Tuesday, their two highest performances on offense came off the bench.
Jeff Teague, who the Celtics acquired in free agency by way of the Atlanta Hawks, impressed in his debut with a team-high 18 points in just 19 minutes on the floor. He was 4-for-4 from beyond the 3-point arc.
“I though Jeff Teague was excellent tonight,” head coach Brad Stevens said in his postgame media availability.
“He got us several baskets that were just easy. Like, pushing the ball up the floor, doesn’t look like he’s breaking a sweat. Sometimes it was him, sometimes it was others. But really, in the first 30 minutes, I felt like that was the only time the ball was moving like it needs to, when he was in the game and so we need to improve when he’s not.
“I thought the first group had some moments at the start of each half, but I though we looked the most fluid offensively when Jeff was in the game tonight,” Stevens added.
Teague was instant offense and managed to get into the paint all night, despite being on a new team and having not played in a game in nine months. Tuesday showed he’ll serve as a more than capable ballhandler in the absence of Kemba Walker.
“I’m just blessed to be in this opportunity, in this position to keep playing basketball, something I love to do,” Teague said postgame. “I’m here for whatever the opportunity is, when Kemba gets back hopefully I continue to play and keep part of the team and play a good role. But as he’s out I think we have a lot of guys left to step up and play for our team to be successful. I think you seen that tonight, we’ve got to depend on some guys to make some plays and be good. I think we have enough talent to do that.”
Here are some other notes from Celtics-76ers:
— For the Celtics’ second-highest scorer on the night, Payton Pritchard, Teague set a great example.
The rookie guard supported Teague’s performance with 16 points of his own.
“It’s big,” Pritchard said of Teague’s impact. “Jeff knows how to run the team, obviously he’s been doing this a really long time and been really successful at it. He’s a perfect person for me to follow and learn things from and just seeing how he’s poised and makes plays out there he’s a perfect example.”
Pritchard went 6-for-10 from the field in his 22 minutes, and also had four rebounds, two assists and a block.
The Oregon product said he was trying to get back into the flow of things, adjusting to the NBA’s game after having not even played in a college one since early March.
Aaron Nesmith was in the same boat, and after his second-half appearance, he added eight points, five rebounds, an assist, block and zero turnovers in his 19 minutes on the floor.
“I thought they did a lot of good things,” Stevens said of the rookies. “There’s a lot of film they can improve off of but I thought Payton and Aaron played well.”
Still, Stevens may be ready to reel in some of their responsibility as the coach sees more work to be done.
“They are in every which way in a crash course, and we’re just trying to expedite it as much as we can,” Stevens said. “Part of that is simplifying their roles and I think we’re going to have to do that, especially early on. There were a couple of times I called a defensive coverage or offensive play and they looked at me sideways, they didn’t know what I was saying so we’ll have to work out all that and get them a basic set of things that we can play with while they’re in.”
— With Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis out, Robert Williams and Grant Williams got a lot of playing time.
Robert Williams certainly didn’t translate the flashes we saw of him in the playoffs to the first preseason game right away, but seemed to look less lost in the second half.
“We were just over-dribbling as a team in the first half and finally we got off of it or made quicker decisions, so that’s not on Rob,” Stevens said. “Obviously when he’s a threat at the rim and that helps out offense either through lobs or pulling in the defense and being angle to kick it to the corner.”
Robert Williams had eight points, six boards, an assist and a block.
Grant Williams, meanwhile, didn’t light up the scoreboard with his five points, but adding six rebounds, three assists and a block, he did a lot of the right things in 24 minutes to create plays for others. He used all his fouls without fouling out of the game, too.
— There shouldn’t be much concern over this team after just one preseason game, but the Celtics certainly have their work cut out for them.
Especially in experimenting with different lineups.
“Yeah that’s our biggest thing just trying to build some chemistry,” Teague said of their early struggles. “You got a couple of new guys, I know they have a nucleus but we got some guys that are out right now but I was just trying to adjust and get a feel for the game. But also trying to get aggressive and get my legs under me, I haven’t played ball in nine months.”
Stevens started Javonte Green as he rotated a third wing to get an idea of who best compliments Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and he actually looked eager to take advantage of his time on the court.
In fact, most of the young players had positive contributions, with exception of maybe Carsen Edwards who needs some more work.
But on a night where Marcus Smart and Brown combined for a 2-for-15 shooting performance from the field, and with just 10 points from Tatum, someone else is going to have to step up.
“I thought the young guys were good tonight, but we’re going to need more if we’re going to have the chance to be good,” Stevens said. “Obviously we have some things to manage with Tristan and Kemba and Romeo out.”
Fortunately, Boston has one more preseason game to learn from before things start counting against their record.
“The best thing about the preseason is no matter win, lose or draw you always have a ton of film to work off of,” Stevens said.
“Everything is information right now, so we’ll take that.”
— Up next, the Celtics finish out their preseason games back at home, hosting Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, Dec. 18 at 8 p.m. ET.