Sat. Nov 26th, 2022

The past month has not gone to plan for the Boston Celtics. Key free agent signing Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL while playing for Italy, Robert Williams III underwent knee surgery that will keep him out for eight-to-12 weeks and most recently head coach Ime Udoka was suspended for the entire season over a reported inappropriate relationship with a team staff member. 

All of which has left everyone wondering how the Celtics, coming off their loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Finals, would fare to start the season. How big of an impact would the on-court losses and off-court drama have? With the obvious caveat that games don’t matter until later this month, the initial answer is not at all. 

The Celtics were dominant on Sunday afternoon in a 134-93 win over the Charlotte Hornets in their opening preseason game. Jaylen Brown led the way with 24 points and five rebounds, while Jayson Tatum put up 16 points and six rebounds and Malcolm Brogdon added 11 points and nine assists off the bench. 

Here are some key takeaways from the Celtics’ first action of the season:

1. Going small to start

With Williams out until likely sometime in 2023, the first key decision for new interim head coach Joe Mazzulla is what to do about the starting lineup. There’s no Williams replacement on the roster, nor in the league, so the decision is not straightforward and could be subject to change. Here are the options:

Kornet suffered a minor ankle sprain during training camp and was unable to play on Sunday, so that option was not available for this game. As a result, Mazzulla decided to go small with White inserted into the starting lineup. Mazzulla said to read “nothing” into that decision, but he can’t expect anyone to actually do that. 

That group got off to a sloppy start, but then there was a one-minute stretch where they buried three consecutive 3-pointers, which showed the offensive upside of going small and spreading the floor.

2. Brogdon shows his worth

In addition to signing Gallinari, the Celtics also traded for Malcolm Brogdon during their exciting start to the offseason. The veteran guard has been injury prone throughout his career but figures to be a perfect addition if he can stay healthy. He showed why against the Hornets. 

The raw numbers: 11 points, five rebounds and nine assists on 4-of-9 from the field and 2-of-6 from 3-point land in 24 minutes off the bench. His experience and comfort level playing multiple different roles was obvious; he can run the second unit or play alongside the likes of Tatum and Brown as a spot-up shooter and/or second-side decision-maker. His driving ability, either to score, get to the free throw line or find a teammate also gives the Celtics another dimension they sorely missed in the playoffs. Defensively, his ability to switch and guard all perimeter positions is ideal. 

“There’s definitely a freedom in my mind of not having to be the guy that’s scoring all the points,” Brogdon said. “I don’t have the best defender on me when I’m in the game most of the time now playing on this team. So it really opens me up to get downhill to create for everybody.”

3. Turnovers still an issue

All playoffs long, turnovers were the key barometer for the Celtics. They were 15-2 when they had 15 or fewer turnovers and 1-8 when they had 16 or more. In the last three games of the Finals, all losses, they turned the ball over a combined 57 times. It does not appear they’ve solved that issue in the offseason. 

Tatum lost the ball while driving to the basket on the second possession of the game, and things did not get any better from there. Once again, the star duo of Tatum and Brown were a major part of the problem, as they combined for nine turnovers. As a team, the Celtics coughed it up 23 times. 

It’s easy to chalk some of that up to this being the first game of the preseason, but given their issues in the playoffs, it’s a bit discouraging — especially when Tatum, Brown and Marcus Smart were the main offenders. They simply have to clean that up this season. 

4. Kabengele makes his case

Former first-round pick Mfiondu Kabengele impressed during his stint with the Celtics’ Las Vegas Summer League team, and inked a two-way contract with the club. A 6-foot-10 athlete with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, he’s a potential frontcourt option that the team will seriously look at during camp. 

He made a strong case for a full roster spot on Sunday, finishing with 10 points and three rebounds on a perfect 4-of-4 from the field. Even more important, he played extremely hard; he was diving on the floor for loose balls, finishing through contact and contesting shots at the rim, all of which garnered plenty of excitement from his teammates on the bench. 

Kabengele has a long road toward earning any significant playing time, but he’s a name to keep an eye on. He’s the only frontcourt option on the roster that gives the Celtics any sort of vertical threat resembling Williams. 

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