The NBA basketball season is finally back, and the Celtics couldn’t have started it any better. In a thorough dismantling of the Andre Iguodala-less Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics began the preseason with a dominant 93-65 win. The sad part is that the game wasn’t even as close as the score would indicate. It was a contest that will likely cause Doug Collins, Philly’s new head coach, to dream of his harmless nights in the announcing booth.
For the Celtics, the usual suspects did their thing. Paul Pierce got off to a quick start, Kevin Garnett was disruptive defensively, Rajon Rondo ran the show and Ray Allen did nothing to prove NBA GMs — who voted him the NBA’s most pure shooter — wrong. But it was a new center who stole the night, who piqued the interest of Celtics nation.
No, it wasn’t Shaquille O’Neal. Semih Erden, the 24-year old Turk seeing his first NBA action, the Celtics’ 4th-string center when Kendrick Perkins returns from injury, showed why Danny Ainge took him with the final pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, why the team encouraged him to leave his Turkish team to accept a two-year deal in Boston. I wouldn’t put Semih-Automatic in the All-Star game yet (hell, I’m not sure I’d even bet that he’ll be on Boston’s opening-night roster), but Erden proved his worth on both ends of the court.
Like it was when Erden played for the world runners-up Turkish national team this summer, Erden’s dedication to providing the so-called little things stood out. In the first quarter, Jrue Holiday came around a screen and roll, handling the ball. Except there was Erden, patiently waiting, sliding his feet to stop Holiday’s process, using his left hand to knock the ball off Holiday’s knee and force the turnover.
In the second quarter, one of the Sixers had an easy look down low. But there was Erden, hands straight up in the air, to alter the shot and cause a miss. When the Sixers picked up the ensuing loose ball, Erden disrupted the play again, hands still raised to the heavens, to cause another miss. The Sixers again picked up the rebound, but — guess what? — Erden was there to force a third miss.
Erden made a couple nice passes, had a nice block on a driving Lou Williams, hit a hook shot with his right hand, and showed nice footwork on both ends. He drew fouls, dove to the hoop well after pick and rolls, and flashed a nice, strong set of hands.
Ahh, and this is where I get to the point where I need to caution that it was only one game. Only one preseason game. Don’t think I’m pitching Erden for Rookie of the Year. Don’t think I’m starting the “Semih for All-Star team!” campaign. I’m simply giving credit where credit’s due.
Erden’s still a bit raw offensively, he’s still far from an MVP candidate, and he was doing his damage against a frontcourt that started Trent Plaisted and Spencer Hawes. But he played well, damn it, and he demonstrated some tools that make him an interesting prospect going forward. So for now, we should praise Semih, even if it’s only the preseason, even if it’s only one game.
- Paul Pierce sat the second half. Doc Rivers said he was sick.
- I liked what Marquis Daniels did, utilizing post-ups and sharp cuts to the middle to score 10 points and notch 5 rebounds. Fellow subs Delonte West and Nate Robinson weren’t as impressive, but the three could become a hellishly staunch defensive unit.
- Glen Davis was overshadowed by Erden’s performance, but Davis was great in his own right. If he’s that active all season, the C’s frontcourt could be somewhere beyond dangerous.
- The jury’s still out on KG. He made a few athletic plays he likely would not have been able to make last year, but I wouldn’t consider him “revived” yet. Garnett still has a lot to prove in regards to his health. A 2 point, 2 rebound performance won’t ease anyone’s worries.
- Defense. Ahh, glorious defense. I know the Celtics only played Philly, but holding an NBA team — even one starting Trent Plaisted and Jodie Meeks — to 22 points is no shabby feat. The Celtics were everywhere. No shots were easy. And it helped that Philly would struggle to put the ball in the bucket even in an open gym.
- Stephane Lasme made the most of garbage time, with 12 points and 4 rebounds in only 7 minutes. After he made a double-clutch and-one, the bench — led by cussing KG and towel-waiving Nate Robinson — went berserk. Reason #1,596,384,848 to love the Boston Celtics: their starters cheer for an and-one, by the 17th man, in a 30-point preseason blowout, like the NBA Finals rides on the shot.
- Shaq looked pretty good. He did Shaq things. Missed free throws, bullied smaller defenders, finished layups. The one thing I was happiest about? Shaq made nice efforts to contest at least three jumpers. Which makes me feel like he’s Sheed all over again: I get excited about things I normally expect from everybody.
- Before the game, which Shaq started, Mike Gorman said, “That’s a good bet to be the opening night lineup.” Take that comment as you will.
- Gorman also said tonight was a matchup of “two of the better point guards in the East.” In a game that Jrue Holiday was playing. C’mon, Gorman. You’re better than that. Holiday then went on to shoot 3-13 and register 7 turnovers. If he’s one of the East’s better point guards, I’m the best blogger in the United States of America.
- Neither Von Wafer nor Mario West did anything to distinguish himself in the fight for the final roster spot. But I’d hate to have to dribble the ball with West defending.
- Oh yeah: Shaq painted his toenails green. Seriously.