Lots of excitement heading into opening night for the Cs and they definitely did not disappoint. Yes, it was still a Celtics game that was a roller coaster of emotions, but a great way to start the season.
Leading for the majority of the game, the Celtics rallied back late in the 4th to pull off the win in MSG 108-104. Jayson Tatum started off the season with a bang, pouring in 34 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists on 59% from the field, 83% from the free throw line and 38% from three. Kristaps Porzingis also started his tenure as a Celtic with an unbelievable performance. KP had 30 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks on 53% from the field, 90% from the free throw line and 56% from the three.
My first takeaway from this game is a simple thank you to Brad Stevens. Hard to not overreact but KP’s dynamic to this team is just doing wonders. The pick and roll with him and Tatum might end up being one of the most difficult things to guard in basketball. I see it as a pick your poison type of play because you can take away Tatum with a simple trap, but then you leave KP on the roll or wide open for a three ball. If you decide to stay attached to KP, then Tatum will either have a wide open three or a drive to the basket. Kristaps came up clutch after some chants from the Knicks crowd, knocking down a huge three ball and some cold blooded free throws.
Another big concern going into the season was the paint presence due to the loss of Robert Williams III. Those questions were answered tonight with Porzingis having a game high 4 blocks. Even if the possession didn’t end in a blocked shot, you could visibly see the impact he has in the paint. Many times throughout the game, Knicks players were hesitant to go up, forcing a kick out. This is a huge bright spot that was already going under the radar with KP. His length is an x-factor on both ends of the floor but on the defensive side, it can lead to having a potential top 5 defense this year.
My next takeaway is as simple as this; Jayson Tatum is on a mission this year. The work in the offseason looks as if it paid off. His handle was extremely tight and he has added different dimensions to his game. Some things we saw was the willingness to go into the post and get a bucket when needed and the mid range game. Expanding his game is something that I believe Sam Cassell has worked on with him after practice and it looks as if it could pay off in the long run. We all know Tatum has a stretch of struggling for some months and then follows it up with some of the most dominant performances for the next few months. If he can continue doing what he did on opening night, making the game look effortless, we could be witnessing a MVP season.
Roller Coaster Start
All the talk going into the season was the contract extension of Jaylen Brown and if it was going to backfire on the Cs. Those concerns were definitely brought back up in game one of the season. Brown finished the game with 11 points 6 rebounds 5 assists on 36% from the field and 75% from the free throw line. It seemed as if he was out of rhythm all night and couldn’t get anything going on the offensive end. But that shouldn’t take away from the intensity he played with on the defensive side of the ball. He was apart of the reason why Jalen Brunson struggled all night to get a good look, going 6/21 on the night. There was also a huge stretch in the 3rd quarter when the Knicks had some life and Brown made some great plays, setting up his teammates for some easy buckets.
People tend to automatically think rough shooting night equals a bad game, but in reality, the beauty of basketball is you can impact the game in so many different ways besides scoring. Especially when you have guys like Porzingis and Tatum who can’t miss, the best thing is to go and make a play on the defensive end or free them up with a solid screen. Jaylen did a great job of that and we should all expect a huge bounce back game in the Garden on Friday.
Making Winning Plays
Jrue Holiday made his debut as well and he started off hot on the offensive end, but a couple of bad shots slowed him down. He ended his night with 9 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists on 40% from the field. But like I stated before, making an impact in other ways and Jrue’s defense will not go unnoticed. He absolutely hounded Julius Randle all night, holding him to a 5/22 night. Especially in the 4th, he had some timely strips and forced whoever he was on into tough shots. Everyone knows what he can do and what he brings to the team, but as the 4th option on this team, 10-15 points a night can be a great thing and easily doable for him.
Struggles of the Bench
One of the main concerns and that will continue throughout the season is bench production and we saw it on opening night. It was a 9 man rotation with Horford, Pritchard, Hauser and Kornet getting run and they combined for 12 points. The bench without a doubt, has capable players but it is going to take time to figure out who those 2 others players making an impact will be. We know what Al and Payton are capable of and they will have more of an impact as the season goes on. Al settled down more in the 2nd half and hit some timely threes and Payton hit two clutch free throws to seal the game.
With a starting unit like this, it is going to be difficult for any bench player to have a steady contribution night in and night out, but I think the options are there. If they need shooting one night, they can turn to guys like Payton, Hauser or Svi and if they need bodies on the defensive end, they have guys like Brissett and Stevens. It will all come with more time and chemistry as the season goes on.
All in all, it was a great start to a season that is going to be absolutely electric. One of the biggest things in this game was the fact that this team had the same story of letting their opponent claw their way back in. But we saw this team show fight and dig themselves out the hole and pull out the win. If they can continue to do that, they will be a tough out for any team in the league.