The Celtics defeated the Suns, 117-103, in a scrimmage in Orlando on Sunday afternoon. Jaylen Brown led Boston with 21 points. Kemba Walker made his restart debut and had 6 points. The Celtics play their final scrimmage on Tuesday night, when they face the Rockets.
Observations from the game:
▪ Walker missed Friday’s scrimmage for precautionary reasons as he rebuilds strength in his left knee. He was 2 for 6 in nine first-half minutes Sunday, but the Celtics had to be pleased to see him showing some of his usual burst. He started the game by taking a bump and hitting a tough running hook, and on one second-quarter play, he did well to carve into the paint, then looked confident as he absorbed contact and landed on the left leg.
“I thought he looked good,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought he had his burst, I thought he played hard defensively. He created chaos on a couple of different plays. Offensively I thought he got to the rim and/or got his shot. So, encouraged by it.”
Added Walker: “I’ve got to be smart about things. At this point, it just is what it is. I want to be there for my teammates when we are in the playoffs. Hopefully, by then, the restrictions and things of that nature are completely off.”
▪ For the second game in a row, Brown was Boston’s best offensive player. The forward was 7 for 13 from the field, 3 for 6 on 3-pointers and 4 for 4 from the foul line. Brown has looked poised and patient over these two games. And with all the attention that will be paid to a Jayson Tatum and Walker, he’ll certainly have opportunities. He started the game with a smooth corner 3-pointer and a tough fadeaway. And his most impressive moment came in the second quarter, when he attacked on a fast break, was fouled, and then hung in the air long enough to avoid having his shot blocked before converting the 3-point play.
“I just see a guy that’s continuing to add experience on experience,” Stevens said. “He’s a huge part obviously of our team and we’re going to need him to be good to have a chance.”
▪ The offense looked crisper than it did on Friday, but there were some defensive issues, particularly when the top players on both teams were in during the first half. The Celtics struggled with their transition defense and were outscored, 27-13, on fast-break points. Again, that typically comes down to energy, and it’s certainly possible Boston’s players are downshifting until games that matter arrive. But it’s something to clean up.
“I thought we looked on a couple of occasions like we were staring instead of running,” Stevens said. “So I don’t know that it’s necessarily a lack of effort. I just think we just have to make sure we do a lot better on that end of the floor. A couple of them were they got to the rim, and a couple of them were we just didn’t pick up [Devin] Booker high enough. If we play like that against Milwaukee, you know, they could set records. So we’d better be a lot better.”
▪ Tatum missed his first four shots, making him 1 for 10 including Friday’s loss to the Thunder. Early in the second quarter the Celtics were making a clear effort to get him involved in the offense. He saw the ball go through the hoop on a free throw, and then made his next three jumpers, including a tough step-back 3-pointer. Still, he finished just 6 for 17. It hasn’t looked like defenses are doing anything unusual against him, but the concern level is hovering near zero.
“I think that’s what these scrimmages are for, just to knock some of the rust off and try to get back in a rhythm and a groove,” Tatum said. “I played a little bit more today, so it felt good to see some shots go through.”
▪ Stevens has really harped on the importance of in-game communication in recent days, particularly after Thunder guard Chris Paul put on a clinic on Friday with his effective instruction. Stevens said he spoke to Marcus Smart about claiming a similar role. Boston’s bench was noticeably more active and engaged on Friday.
On the bench, seats have been arranged in three rows, with each chair separated by a few feet, for social distancing reasons. So Stevens said that those barking from the back might be in line for a seat upgrade. “We’ll probably look at our bench and determine who’s going to be most vocal on the bench and then put them in the seats that they can be most impactful in,” he said. Grant Williams was sitting in the front row Sunday, and he was loud. It was unclear if that was by design.
▪ In his press conference after Friday’s game Brown was asked about his role in the social justice movement. After the question was shown on NBC Sports Boston’s postgame show, the station switched back to its studio coverage and did not show Brown’s answer. It was criticized for the move and later issued an apology, citing communication issues in the control room. At halftime of Sunday’s game, the station showed Brown’s answer in full.
▪ The first scrimmage games were reduced to 10-minute quarters. Given that there’s been a four-month layoff, starters are not playing their usual minutes anyway, and these games do not count, it seemed like a perfect idea. I’m not sure why that lasted just one game, though, as the 48-minute game returned for this exhibition matchup.