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Zeller Breaks Out Of Shell with Perfect Night

Marc D'Amico
Team Reporter and Analyst

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PORTLAND, Maine – Tyler Zeller forgot to tell us to get our popcorn ready. The guy put on a show during the first half of Wednesday night’s Celtics-Raptors game.

Zeller, who seldom hit the sexy button during his first three preseason games as a Celtic, made play after play during the opening half of Boston’s 92-89 loss to the Toronto Raptors in Portland, Maine.

The big man finally broke out of his shell with the C’s. He finally looked comfortable in his own skin.

Finally, he looked like the player Boston believed it had stolen from the Cleveland Cavaliers in an offseason trade.

“I feel like I’m getting back to what I’m supposed to be doing,” Zeller said after the contest. “I hope I can continue to grow in that and continue to get better than I used to be.”

His growth over the past two weeks has been exponential. Zeller’s most memorable plays from the early preseason were of him fumbling passes, being overwhelmed around the bucket or simply being out of position. Boy, has that changed over the past two contests.

Zeller began to right the ship Saturday night against the Knicks. He came off the bench and scored an efficient seven points while grabbing five boards. He was one of only two Celtics (Evan Turner being the other) to finish with a positive plus-minus rating in the game.

He was even better Wednesday night. Perfect, actually.

Zeller handled every pass and shot attempt that came his way. Literally. He finished the night having made all six of his field goal attempts en route to 13 points off the bench. Five of those attempts fell through the basket during the first half, when he scored a game-high 11 points.

By the time the came had come to an end, Zeller had tied for the highest field goal total in the entire game, all while providing four boards and three assists. And let’s also not forget that he blocked three shots on the night – three more than the entire Raptors team.

Much of the big man’s offensive success came off of pick-and-roll plays with Evan Turner. Zeller praised Evan Turner after the contest for finding him around the basket for open looks. Brad Stevens didn’t need to be so humble. He gave well-deserved credit to Zeller for his finding space and capitalizing on his shot attempts.

“He did a great job rolling and finishing with all of those left hands,” Stevens said. “That was a real positive sign for us. I thought he did a really good job tonight.”

Stevens went on to point out that Zeller is capable of finishing with both hands. The coach complimented his big man by saying that Zeller has “ a nice little touch around the rim.”

Stevens let us all in on a secret that the Celtics already knew: Zeller can play. He just hadn’t been himself early on in the preseason.

“We just knew it was a matter of time when in the game he was going to start doing those things,” rookie Marcus Smart declared after the game.

Had Smart or his coach made such statements a few days ago, some would have thought they were crazy. Not anymore.

Zeller’s perfect touch, shot-blocking skills, rebounding ability and court vision were all on display against Toronto. They made the popcorn pop in Portland.