It was an NBA basketball game that should have been shielded from young eyes. Turnovers and missed shots ruled the day. A lineup containing Boston’s rookies, training camp invites and Avery Bradley almost lost a double digit lead, somehow holding off Toronto’s regular season crunch-time lineup when Greg Steimsma’s third chance at a putback bucket fell with 12 seconds remaining to give Boston a 76-75 win. But the key is that it was an NBA basketball game. Even if it was just preseason, the sound of Mike Gorman’s voice soothed the soul just like it always does.
Because it’s preseason and it’s impossible to fit all my observations into a coherent recap, my thoughts give way to numbered observations:
1. JaJuan Johnson’s role, or lack thereof
Johnson didn’t enter the game until the fourth quarter, a fact that will probably make a number of fans stand in a picket line outside of Doc Rivers’ office, holding signs saying ”Free the youngsters.” But Boston’s rotation will have four big men. Considering how well Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox played, Johnson will only play a role this season during bouts of foul trouble or if (slash when) injuries decimate Boston’s frontcourt. Nothing Johnson did during his seven minutes on the floor indicated that he’s worthy of minutes.
2. Brandon Bass vs. Glen Davis
Boston still has a power forward who loves to float around the perimeter and shoot jump shots. The only difference now is that those shots are more likely to drop. Bass is a far more efficient scorer than Davis. He always has been. Seeing it on the court only made it more apparent than ever. Bass is a better offensive weapon than any other backup big the C’s have had in the Big Three Era. That may sound like hyperbole, but it’s true. Of course, he doesn’t have much competition.
3. Jermaine O’Neal’s movement
O’Neal keeps telling everyone that he feels better than he ever did last season. At one point, I noticed increased lift when O’Neal drained a turnaround jumper over the outstretched hands of Andre Bargnani (who, admittedly, is not the world’s best defender). And maybe O’Neal ran a little more freely, especially when diving to the hoop on pick-and-rolls. But if you expected him to start dunking on people’s heads, A) you should reevaluate your own intelligence level, and B) you will be sorely disappointed. That said, O’Neal doesn’t need a 40-inch vertical to defend the rim. Health is the key.
4. A solid bench?
Boston’s bench the past couple seasons has made me cringe. Whether it was Nate Robinson pulling up for a deep (and usually contested) three-pointer, Glen Davis losing his scruples and shooting shots he had no business shooting, Jeff Green nonchalantly failing to grab a rebound or Rasheed Wallace falling asleep in the middle of the paint, Boston’s bench has been anything but solid. Today, everything felt different. Maybe it was just me giving new acquisitions a grace period, but the bench insanity of the past few seasons gave way to Chris Wilcox working his ass off, Bass getting buckets, Marquis Daniels slicing to the hoop with or without the ball and Keyon Dooling smiling like a 12-year old who just had his first kiss.
Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce have praised the professionalism of this year’s bench unit. We saw that on the court tonight. On the other hand, sadly enough, the bench has zero perimeter playmakers. And no, Sasha Pavlovic doesn’t count.
5. Marquis Daniels doing Marquis Daniels things
Today’s performance was quintessential Daniels. He made a few sharp cuts to the hoop, posted up whenever he felt a smaller defender on his back, didn’t make very many mistakes and probably didn’t change expressions once. If you were worried that Daniels’ spinal cord surgery might have set him back, today was evidence that it probably didn’t.
6. You’re my boy, Chris Wilcox
Offensive rebounds, hustle plays on defense, nothing overtly stupid. Keep playing like that, Wilcox, and my heart will make plenty of room for you.
7. The Big Four is still The Big Four
Nothing much to say here. Rondo can still pass, Garnett can still impact both sides of the court, Allen can still shoot and Pierce (I’m assuming, since he missed the game due to injury) is still a professional scorer. Stay healthy, guys.
8. Notes on the rookies
E’Twaun Moore is solid. He contests jump shots. He makes the extra pass. He knows how to play. He drained two clutch jump shots to keep the Raptors at bay. He won’t wow anyone with athleticism, he’s a tad short for a shooting guard, he’s not a real point guard (even though he played some down the stretch) and he didn’t always make his presence felt. But he was good.
Gilbert Brown looked like a rookie, albeit an uber-athletic one who played great defense on DeMar DeRozan during the final possession. If the Celtics don’t sign anybody else, Jeff Green’s season-ending surgery gives Brown a better chance at making the roster.
Greg Stiemsma looked over-matched (despite his game-winning putback, which came after he missed two consecutive layups), but I didn’t see enough of him to make a real judgement.
Game two comes Wednesday. I can’t wait.