Celtics Ground Hawks for First Win in Vegas

LAS VEGAS – Las Vegas is probably Lakers country, but for at least two hours on Monday afternoon, the Celtics looked at home in the Cox Pavilion. They prevailed 87-69 in front of a live crowd Monday afternoon – Orlando’s summer league was closed to the public – and there was plenty of green in the house.

It did take a few minutes for the Celtics to settle in; they started the game by connecting on just one of their first 10 field goal attempts. But the Celtics pounded the Hawks inside with guard penetration and post play and built a comfortable 49-31 halftime lead. The Hawks closed the gap to eight points (70-62) in the fourth quarter, but the Celtics closed the game on a 17-7 run thanks to some intense defense.

Tyronn Lue

Tyronn Lue draws up a play in the huddle during Boston's win over the Hawks in the NBA Summer League on Monday.
Peter Stringer/Boston Celtics

When the Hawks were threatening to make it a game down the stretch, Dionte Christmas hit a 3, then E’Twaun Moore found JaJuan Johnson for an open court dunk to push the lead back up to 79-64 with just more than four minutes to play. Kris Joseph (14 points) then finished a tough layup in traffic to draw the foul for a three-point play, and it was 82-64 with 3:24 left on the clock. The Celtics never looked back.

Fab Melo, whose play was up-and-down in the Orlando league, played perhaps his best first half of the summer. He didn’t post big numbers (Melo scored 10 points and grabbed a pair of rebounds), but his work on the defensive end is what’s catching the eye of the coaching staff.

“He’s getting better and better, calling out the coverages. I thought he was great on help (defense), took a charge, blocked a couple of shots,” said Tyronn Lue, who’s once again coaching the Celtics in Vegas after handling the team in Orlando last week as well. “I just thought he was in the right spot a lot in the first half.”

Given that it’s summer league ball, statistics aren’t very important to Lue and company. They’re more interested in teaching Melo and the rest of the Celtics’ young players how to play their system.

“We don’t care about missed shots, we don’t care about turnovers. We want to play hard, play together and be aggressive,” Lue said.

Dionte Christmas, who was originally slated to part ways with the Celtics after Orlando and play for the Houston Rockets in Vegas, has opted to stay with Boston. He continued his aggressive play from Orlando in the first game in Vegas, and at times he looked like the most polished player on the floor. Given the ragged pick-up game nature of most summer league games, that’s noteworthy.

“If you win, everybody’s going to get noticed," Christmas said after scoring 11 points and grabbing five rebounds. "If you lose, nobody’s going to get noticed.”

Lue is certainly noticing Christmas. Afterward, asked if there was one area Christmas needed to work on in Vegas, Lue indicated that Christmas should continue to keep doing what he’s doing.

“I just thought he played so well, Danny (Ainge) wanted to keep him around,” Lue said of Christmas deciding to stick with the Celtics in Las Vegas. “He has a good shot at making the team, so why would you leave?”

Meanwhile, Jared Sullinger, who was the second-leading rebounder in Orlando, once again played big down low, actively calling for early post ups. While he'd be better served by trying to establish deeper post position, he still finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. The main question mark on Sullinger’s resume coming into the draft was his conditioning, but the big guy from Ohio State looked strong in 24 minutes of action.

“I’m getting in better shape,” Sullinger said. “That’s the main goal, to get in the best shape of my life.”

Sullinger and company will have to get their rest and bounce back quickly, as the Celtics face the Chicgao Bulls Tuesday night in Game 2.