By: Ethan Fuller
After four grueling months of speculating, hypothesizing and predicting, Celtics fans rejoiced when this year’s fully healthy squad took the floor last week.
The NBA schedule thrust Boston into high-level play right from tip-off. They took on the Philadelphia 76ers at the Garden to open up the NBA season, walking away with a convincing 105-87 victory. However, Friday’s contest against Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors brought the C’s back to earth, as they lost 101-113. Boston concluded their first back-to-back of the year by holding on to beat a young Knicks team, 103-101. The results were to be expected from a team still learning how to make their compilation of talent a cohesive unit.
Here’s what we learned about the Celtics through their first three games.
Biggest Positive: Gordon Hayward Looks like a Perfect Fit
The 6’8″ forward made his highly anticipated regular season debut for the Celtics, and while Hayward was clearly not at full speed quite yet, he flashed numerous positive signs. In the season opener, Hayward swiped four balls and grabbed five rebounds. Then against the Raptors, he managed another steal and seven boards.
While he didn’t light up the offensive numbers, Hayward’s defensive intensity impressed given how long he’s been away from competitive basketball. The Celtics are a notoriously frugal team, and Gordon Hayward has helped contribute to their 100 defensive rating (good for second in the Association).
Coach Brad Stevens has pointedly been careful with the veteran as he carefully lowers Hayward back into NBA waters. He’s played no more than 25 minutes in either of the first two contests and sat out the game against New York simply for rest purposes. It may take weeks for Hayward to find his role within Boston’s multitude of scorers, but for now, this long-underrated defender looks to be a good match.
Biggest Negative: Shooting Woes Persist
So far, Boston has disappointed in both the preseason and opening week in terms of their shot efficiency. Kyrie Irving is shooting just 34% from the field, while Jaylen Brown is nearby at 37.5% through three games. Of course, there are some strange anomalies; Terry Rozier is shooting 37.5% on two-pointers, but a blistering 55% on long balls.
In a league where shooting is prized, the Celtics have so far gotten off easy for their sloppiness. They played a 76ers team with scarcely any perimeter game sans J.J. Redick and a Knicks squad with a myriad of young, inconsistent prospects. However, Boston is currently has the third-worst field goal percentage in the NBA. They haven’t eclipsed 105 points in a game. The past month has likely just been a slump, but the slowly growing trend of poor shooting is becoming a concern.
An aside, Aron Baynes has hit 37.5% of his triples. The Australian’s transformation into a perimeter player serves as a testament to both his work ethic and the changing of the NBA landscape.
Player of the Week: Jayson Tatum
Tatum has blossomed during the sunrise of his sophomore year. He’s demonstrated continued growth from last season and emerged as a fluid, effortless scorer. Tatum is one of only nine non-centers to average a double-double, posting 21.0 points and 10.7 rebounds per game thus far.
His clutch gene is improving as well. The second-year wing nailed a crucial contested mid-range jumper that effectively sealed a win against the Knicks. Under the lights at Madison Square garden, Tatum’s jumper capped off a 24-point, 14-rebound effort.
The Duke product has silenced doubters of his ability to find scoring chances. It may be early, but Tatum is already flaunting his All-Star skill set for this winter.
The Celtics return to TD Garden on Monday, Oct. 22 to host the visiting Orlando Magic (1-2). Aaron Gordon has been the star for Orlando, but the team is going through some growing pains as they work to integrate youngbloods Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba, Their offense has been putrid and their defense mediocre, so expect the Celtics to come out on top.
Then the C’s hit the road for two games, facing the 0-2 Thunder on Friday and the 2-0 Pistons next Sunday. OKC has floundered without Russell Westbrook, forcing Paul George and Steven Adams to pick up the slack. However, Westbrook is expected to return early in the week, which would bolster the Thunder on both sides of the ball.
Meanwhile, Detroit has relied on their two star bigs, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond, to dominate the glass. The Pistons rank first in the Association in defensive rebound percentage and third for offensive boards. This could prove challenging for Boston given their lack of prolific rebounders.
I predict Boston to finish the week at 2-1. Oklahoma City boasts a budding big three in Westbrook, George and Adams. Detroit has ferocious board control that can create second chances. The Celtics are much deeper than either of these squads, and the B.W.A. should greatly impact the games. They could conceivably drop a contest, but look for Boston to continuously improve as the starting lineup gels with each other.