The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers kicked off the NBA season with a terrific first game between arguably the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. The reigning Eastern Conference champs were able to take home the victory in dominant fashion through their defensive play and hot shooting performance. Taking away too much from the first game of the season can lead to unreliable conclusions, but there are some things that can be noted and patterns to look for as the season progresses. Here are a few things that were on full display in their game one victory that could be a sign of things to come for Boston this season.
The Offensive Key
Malcolm Brogdon looks like everything Boston needs him to be, especially offensively. The Celtics looked stagnant on offense to start the game. They’ve done a much better job playing fast and getting out in transition off of defensive stops, but in the halfcourt they settle for a lot of jumpers and in-between shots. Jaylen Brown in particular struggled to generate efficient shots for himself and his processing was extremely poor.
However, Brogdon made everything much easier for their offense. His self-created drives opened up the floor tremendously and collapsed the defense in a way that no one else on the roster can:
Cannot stress how important Brogdon’s ability to get paint touches is for this team. pic.twitter.com/r26m40uBYv
— Thomas Stapleton (@TStapletonNBA) October 19, 2022
It wasn’t just his scoring either. He’s finding shooters on the perimeter, wrapping passes on the interior to the bigs, and actually creating advantages for the offense. He’s able to do it with and without the ball as well, making instinctual cuts and attacking gaps in the defense off the catch.
Malcolm Brogdon heating up 🔥 pic.twitter.com/E5siWjrdJe
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) October 19, 2022
I detailed everything I thought Malcolm Brogdon was going to bring to this Celtics team, and so far he’s done everything I’ve expected. He’s been creating his own offense and generating easy looks at a level that few can match. He may not be the second best player for Boston, but he may just be their second most important.
Another Grant Williams Leap?
While casually watching the Celtics in the preseason, I noticed Grant Williams playing a lot differently than he had in years prior. Before this season, he was often reluctant to dribble and attack the rim and was a fairly limited offensive player. He developed into a lethal three-point shooter for them off the catch last season, but he was still limited as a scorer and almost never created his own offense.
However, during my preseason viewing, I noticed him hunting to get to the basket off the dribble more and using his newfound shooting gravity to attack closeouts:
It’s nothing more than an ancillary skill, but Grant Williams keeps getting better as a slasher.
Last year, it was more attacking closeouts off the catch with his improved three point gravity.
Now we’re seeing some live-dribble action.
— Aidan Maher (@Aidan_Maher17) October 11, 2022
You could chalk it up to him simply exploring boundaries and thinking it’s something that won’t translate to the regular season but the first play he touches the ball in the game versus the 76ers, he showed off this newly developed ancillary skills:
I noticed Grant was attacking off the catch and getting downhill more frequently in preseason. This type of simple stuff can expand his offensive ceiling tremendously going forward. pic.twitter.com/KitF6p8RaF
— Thomas Stapleton (@TStapletonNBA) October 19, 2022
Williams has developed himself into a knockdown shooter. He’s always been an extremely intelligent player with an excellent feel for the game and tremendous processing speed. However, his threat to score was always lackluster, making him an ignorable offensive player.
However, now that he’s become a tremendous shooter and is learning how to leverage the attention he’s getting from defenses, he can expand his offensive game. With his complimentary passing skills and strong frame, Williams can be a capable slasher. He’s got excellent touch and while he’s not an elite athlete, he has a few post moves he can use to score when he gets into the restricted area. If this aggression continues going forward, he can have significantly more offensive value and become someone who could start for them going forward if they need it.
Jayson Tatum’s All-Defensive Campaign
Jayson Tatum was dominant offensively. He connected on several pull-up jumpers from mid-range and three, thrived at the rim, and generated a ton of free throws. All night long, he looked like the best player on the floor and he was doing an incredible job at probing the defense and being decisive.
However, what stood out most to me was his incredible defense. He’s truly one of the best wing defenders in the NBA and that was on full display all night long. Whether it was stunting off the ball, digging at the nail, sending help early to force turnovers, he was everywhere on the defensive end:
Tatum’s offball defense>>>
— Barstool Boston (@BarstoolBoston) October 19, 2022
His timing on rotations has been crisp, his help defense has been outstanding, and he’s been bothering offensive players at the point of attack. Very few offensive stars in the NBA play with this level of attention to detail and discipline on the defensive end. It’s truly what makes Jayson Tatum one of the premier two-way stars in the league.
With the Celtics’ bigs getting into foul trouble early, Boston was forced to go small from time to time but it never really affected them majorly because of their help defense led by Tatum. They threw countless double teams at him, shaded help from the opposite dunker spot, and forced Joel Embiid to read the floor quickly with active hands and pressure whenever he touched the ball in the post.
Tatum is going to get a lot of love for his offensive performance, but his defense was just as critical and it’s a huge reason why Boston was able to contain Embiid for a large portion of the game.
A 3rd Center Is Needed
It’s clear that the Celtics need a third big man who can be the backup center for Al Horford as Robert Williams continues to rehab. The Celtics were in foul trouble with their centers all night and this won’t happen on a regular basis but they need to find someone who can fill the role as the backup big man for this team.
Al Horford is getting up there in age and you could see that he’s starting to decline even more athletically, which is a scary thing to think about. He was missing open layups, not getting up as high as he used to, and his movement skills look a lot worse. With him being as limited as he is, they need to find someone to competently fill his role. Noah Vonleh had his moments but he was late on rotations and consistently got bullied inside by Joel Embiid. He is not a very skilled offensive big and his defense isn’t good enough to make up for it.
With Boston’s early-help scheme and switch heavy system, they don’t need their 3rd center to be incredible. But they need one to be able to play 15-20 during the regular season and not destroy their entire defensive identity. Boston should be looking to package Payton Pritchard with a draft pick to haul in another rotational big that can help the Celtics in situations like these.
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