New-look Boston Celtics show promise, but have plenty to work on

In first preseason game, Boston flashed signs of what's to come

The sequence could not have been drawn up more perfectly to usher in a new era of Boston Celtics basketball.

Kyrie Irving, Boston’s brightest offseason acquisition, dove on the floor and wrestled away a loose ball away from the Charlotte Hornets’ Dwight Howard with an enthusiasm usually reserved for role players. Gordon Hayward, the free agent that Boston wined-and-dined away from the Utah Jazz, led a fast break to the other end. Unselfishness manifested itself in a flurry of passes from Hayward to rookie Jayson Tatum back to Hayward to Al Horford and finally back to Tatum, who stood wide open as a result of all that selfless goodness.


And so went the Celtics’ first star-studded impression in preseason action, with “preseason” being the key word. By the time the games count in the standings, it is doubtful that Boston will shoot just 41.8 percent every night. Irving, Hayward and Horford will play more than 52 minutes combined and earn more than four total free throws in the process. Second-round rookie Semi Ojeleye will not play more minutes than any of the starters, let alone all five of them.

Signs of what is to come could be found even among such experimental play. Jaylen Brown showed welcome poise amid the excitement with which the Celtics were clearly playing. After Rozier rebounded his own miss in the third quarter, he found Brown in the corner. He countered Rozier’s frenetic pace with a slow dribble down the baseline, then a disarmingly lazy pocket pass to Aron Baynes for a wide-open jumper. He also got his supporters salivating with a much louder tomahawk jam.

Speaking of Baynes, the seven-foot Aussie did start in the frontcourt, enabling Horford to play at his preferred power forward spot. Time will tell whether head coach Brad Stevens is comfortable with that bigger lineup in crunch time, or if 2016 draft-and-stash big man Guerschon Yabusele (0-for-3) can provide the kind of spacing he showed in China and the G League.

Even with all the new faces, the passing looked fantastic. Six Celtics logged at least three assists on Monday night, compared to just 10 total turnovers — a miracle for a team still learning about itself in preseason game No. 1. Oh yeah, and they won.

“We’re building a foundation,” Irving said after the game. “We got a lot of open shots, a lot of rebounds. We beat them to a couple 50-50 basketballs. We’ve just got to continue with that consistent effort. We’ll be fine.”

The Boston faithful spent the offseason (rightfully) excited for what could be. They saw those hopes manifested in offseason transactions. Now, they want to witness the results on the court. For now, flashes will do.