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Here are five things to watch out for when the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets meet at 7:30 p.m. tonight at TD Garden.
From an emotional standpoint, Opening Night is a whole lot like Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs (save for the fact that both teams are as sharp as spoons rather than knives). Every team is filled with positivity. Every team believes. Every team is excited. Every fan is excited.
It’s easy to get caught up in such emotions. In fact, we’ve seen it happen to the Celtics during their opening Playoff games the past two seasons.
This is really the first season since the Big Three era during which the C’s are expected to be one of the top teams in the East. Those expectations come with some pressure.
Boston’s players must overcome the emotions and expectations of Opening Night when they take the court tonight at TD Garden. They cannot allow themselves to become overexcited. If their emotions are not kept in check, Brooklyn will have a chance.
Real Minutes, Really Good?
Avery Bradley was the only Celtics starter to log more than 24 minutes of playing time in a game during the preseason (he did so twice). That trend will change, starting tonight. Expect Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Al Horford all to log 30-plus minutes of action against the Nets.
The question is not about how many minutes Boston’s starters will play, but more so how well will they play during those minutes. The Celtics’ starting unit was unbelievably impressive during the preseason, outscoring opponents at an insane rate; all five of Boston’s starters finished the preseason with a net rating of at least 21.0.
But the preseason was a small sample size considering the limited minutes that group played together. Tonight, we’ll be able to see if they can maintain such impressive play during extended playing time.
When people talk about Isaiah Thomas, they almost exclusively talk about his offense, and rightfully so. But tonight, he’ll need his defense to do some talking.
Brooklyn’s starting backcourt of Jeremy Lin and Randy Foye can put the ball through the basket. Both players are score-first guards.
Thomas will typically defend the lesser offensive power of the opponent’s starting backcourt and allow Bradley and Marcus Smart to harass the better offensive player. However, Brooklyn will likely rely similarly on Lin and Foye to score during this game, and Smart isn’t available tonight for Boston. That means there will be much more defensive responsibility for Thomas during this game, and he is capable of handling it.
There is no doubt that the Brooklyn Nets have recently gained a reputation for poor on-court performances – and rightfully so – but that reputation is ever-so-slightly beginning to change.
Brooklyn has a new general manager in Sean Marks and a new head coach in Kenny Atkinson. Those two guys, who both came to the Nets from consistent winning programs in San Antonio and Atlanta, respectively, have already improved the team’s culture and will continue to do so moving forward.
Marks has also done a good job of adding talent to this team. Lin is a proven NBA player, and this is his first opportunity to be the alpha dog on a team. Foye, Luis Scola and Greivis Vazquez are all solid, veteran additions that complement returning Nets such as Brook Lopez, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Bojan Bogdanovic.
While the reputation of this team may not be superb, Brooklyn is certainly positioned to improve over its 21-win season in 2015-16. This team will play hard, and it has some talent, too.
Smart will not play tonight due to a sprained left ankle he sustained during the preseason. Boston will take a hit due to his absence, but the strength of that hit is yet to be determined.
The three players who will likely eat up his missing minutes, in some way or another, are Terry Rozier, Gerald Green and Jaylen Brown. All three of those players are somewhat unknowns for this C’s team.
Rozier, a second-year point guard, has never played extended minutes in the NBA. He did, however, show great promise during Summer League and preseason play.
Green signed with the Celtics during the offseason and missed the team’s first two preseason games with a strained hip flexor. He did not play many minutes alongside any of Boston’s starters during the preseason.
Brown is Boston’s top overall draft pick from this year who is a lot like Smart in terms of entering the league as a capable defender while lacking a sharp offensive game.
There is no doubt that these three, most likely led by Rozier, will be relied upon to fill Smart’s void tonight. In Boston’s eyes, there is also no doubt that they are capable of filling in admirably. But that has yet to be proven during regular-season action.