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Boston opened up its preseason slate in thrilling fashion Monday night by logging a 98-97 win over the Orlando Magic that taught them some important lessons along the way.
Romeo Langford saved the day for the Celtics by snagging a clutch steal and then drilling a game-winning 3-pointer, all within 4.2 seconds of action. What happened before that shot, however, might be even more important.
New C’s head coach Ime Udoka has plenty of information following the victory, much of which could shape what we see from Boston not only during exhibition game No. 2 Saturday night, but also what we may see from Boston the rest of the season.
The most important note of all is that Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are exactly who we thought they were: two burgeoning All-Stars who are the pillars of this organization.
Tatum and Brown were the game’s top two scorers, as they combined to notch 43 points that included 10 makes from the free-throw line. Tatum scored 16, and Brown scored 25, and each made five free throws.
They each also showcased individual stretches of dominance, first by Brown, who scored 16 points during the first quarter alone, and next by Tatum, who scored nine points of his own during the second quarter.
Brown’s dynamic play was of utmost importance to Boston considering the fact that he hadn’t played in live game action since May 2, when he injured his left wrist and went on to undergo season-ending surgery. Despite being at only 80-85 percent of full health, according to Brown, he still consistently beat Orlando off the dribble and splashed an assortment of 3s through the net from all over the court.
“The Playoffs, it was really hard for me to watch,” Brown said after the win, as he referenced his inability to participate in last postseason. “But I’m back, I feel great, and I’m ready to play some good basketball.”
He played great basketball Monday night, and one would think that he’ll only get better from here on out as he gets healthier and healthier.
Brown and Tatum shined through, as was expected. However, despite the victory, there remains significant room for improvement for the Celtics as a whole.
Udoka rattled off a long list of observations following the contest, many of which were constructive criticisms of his team. Defensively, he and his coaches witnessed correctable mistakes throughout the contest - mistakes that the C’s weren’t making on the practice court over the last week.
“Defensively, the errors we were making, we were trying to teach them on the fly a little bit,” Udoka said. “I had my coaches talking to them on the bench, and some of the things we weren’t doing as well as we were in the practices and the scrimmages, we were hitting those points there.”
Udoka didn’t go into detail on those mistakes, but the C’s were certainly beat on backdoor cuts far too often, their communication at times left something to be desired, and their shot contests could have been more impactful.
The first-time head coach is far less concerned about the team’s play at the other end of the court. Boston shot a woeful 35.2 percent from the field, but as Udoka stated postgame, “We know we’re not gonna shoot 35 percent again.”
Rather than concentrating on the makes and the misses, Udoka was more interested in the overall decision-making of his group. Poor decisions led to the ball sticking at times, and also led to 16 total turnovers. Given the talent and basketball IQ on this Celtics roster, those are easily correctable mistakes.
One exhibition game is now in the books for the C’s, and there is far more good than bad to take out of it. The Jays are already ballin’. Langford and his young teammates came up clutch. Boston’s defense allowed only 97 points.
That’s all good and well, but what’s even more important is that the team is now armed with its first download of game information to learn from and take its game to another level as the regular season quickly approaches.