C's Show Flashes of Dominance During Preseason Opener in NC

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – If you want to judge the Boston Celtics by their first half of preseason play, they’re gonna be really, really good.

If you want to judge them by their second half of preseason play, they’ve got a lot to work on.

Such is the preseason.

The Celtics dominated Charlotte through Friday’s first half while their top players ate up all of the playing time. The second half was far more competitive, as Boston’s most inexperienced players were forced into a battle that they lost, 104-97, on the campus of the University of North Carolina.

Boston, with its starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford whole again for the first time since last year’s Opening Night, overwhelmed the Hornets from the opening tip with its deep pool of talent. Seven players scored at least six points during first half, led by Jaylen Brown’s 12. The Celtics also nailed eight 3-pointers – and they felt as if they should have connected on even more.

“I don’t think we shot the ball well as a team,” said Gordon Hayward, who logged 23 minutes of playing time during his first game action since Oct. 17 of last year. “But we got some really good looks.”

Charlotte’s offense, meanwhile, did not, as it managed to shoot only 35.6 percent from the field during the first half while the lengthy and agile Celtics hassled them.

The first half featured the type of performance many expect to see regularly from Boston this season. The offense was ultra-aggressive and all of the talent came together as a unit at both ends. The Celtics led by as many as 20 points during the second quarter and owned a 60-45 lead at the break.

“We were playing fast as hell,” said Terry Rozier, who scored 11 points on the night. “We were going out there and having fun.”

The second half was not quite as enjoyable for Boston. The rhythm it showcased during the first half disappeared and seemed to transfer directly over to the Hornets. Charlotte began to move the ball and create open shots, and it capitalized on them by scoring 39 points during the third quarter alone – just six fewer than it scored during the entire first half.

Granted, this all happened as the Celtics began tinkering with their lineups and resting their top players, but still, Brad Stevens still saw many of his rotational players lacking the effort that’s necessary for the team to become great.

“We’ve got to play lower in a stance because we were fouling all over the place,” Stevens said, alluding to the 24 personal fouls Boston was whistled for during the second half. “We knew that that was an emphasis coming in.

“Everybody has talked about that, that you’re not going to be able to wrap guys. You’re not going to be able to hold guys. To play better, you have to play lower and you have to play in a stance. So we have a long way to go to rebuild that.”

Rozier, who was on the court for seven minutes of that third quarter, agreed, He witnessed Charlotte’s collective confidence to grow in front of his very eyes, and once that happens in the NBA, a double-digit lead can disappear in an instant.

“We didn’t stick to our defensive tendencies and what we practice, and we let them get comfortable and they started hitting shots and they just took off from there,” he said. “We let our foot off the gas, and a lot of credit goes to them.”

Boston may have been braking during the second half, but the C’s also gave a glimpse of what they’re capable of when their collective pedal is pushed to the metal. They can dominate opponents with their skill, their athleticism, and their defensive abilities, but they are the first to acknowledge that they have a long way to go in that regard.

“I’m not going to give a letter grade,” Brown said of Boston’s performance, “but I’m just going to say we can do a lot better. We can do a lot better.”

That’s what the preseason is all about. There will be a fair share of good, and there will be a fair share of bad. Boston had both Friday night, and it will look to have more of the latter when it returns to the court Sunday night to host the Hornets at TD Garden.