The team isn’t the same, but some of the same problems the Boston Celtics had last year flared up in their first time on the court in together this year.
Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum accounted for most — if not all — of the offense in a 98-97 win over the Orlando Magic to start the NBA preseason. When outside shots didn’t fall initially, jumpers were forced. The jolt the bench offered as veterans rested was only just enough to pull it out.
But this was just the preseason, and you can’t read too much into anything yet. Even if it gave you deja-vu at times.
“We couldn’t make shots, obviously it was a pretty ugly win overall on the offensive end — I don’t know how many 35% (shooting) wins you’re gonna get but we made them late when it counted,” first-year coach Ime Udoka said, referring to Romeo Langford’s game-winning 3-pointer.
Udoka felt his shooters had some good looks but still are working to get their legs under them. They turned the ball over 16 times while making one-too-many passes despite the preseason being the perfect opportunity to “let it fly.”
“They were trying to be too unselfish, I had to tell them in the first two timeouts to take the shots when they’re there,” Udoka said. “You know, guys that have been aggressive their whole career were passing up open shots and might have listened to me too much and tried to be unselfish.”
The Celtics included Juancho Hernangomez in the starting lineup with Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Robert Williams. But rotating in, Josh Richardson showed what he’ll offer defensively, Aaron Nesmith changed the course of the fourth quarter, and Dennis Schröder and Al Horford showed off their chemistry and experience playing off each other.
“We know what we have with Al,” Udoka said. “We wanted to take a look at some other lineups. But like I said, don’t read too much into who we’re starting, who we’re playing this (preseason). We know we have in Al with that group.”
Udoka certainly is lucky to have Horford, a veteran who watched and worked with Boston’s young core of Tatum, Brown, Smart and Williams as they were developing. Experience off the bench was a refreshing change from the youth of years past, but Brown wants more out of the defense.
Especially from himself and Smart, who like Horford, is capable and qualified of owning a bigger responsibility as an on-court coach.
“I think we can be even better,” Brown said after scoring a team-high 25 points with four rebounds and three assists in just 26 minutes. “And I definitely demanded more from myself on the defensive side of the basketball. (Am) demanding more from Smart. You know, even though he’s All-Defensive, be more of a leader, talk more, set the tone every game and we’re gonna follow his lead.”
For all their offensive woes Monday, the All-Star wing believes chemistry and offense will come when they zero in on scrappy defense, disruption and pace.
“I’m all focused on defense,” Brown said. “I think the offense will hit shots, all that stuff will take care of itself. We got a lot of crafty guys who can run with good pace to get that ball moving. I think we’re gonna get what we want on offense. I just think defense is when we’re gonna make an impact this year. If we hang our hat on defense I feel like we got a shot to be really good team this year.”