LAS VEGAS — After an impressive and dominating four games, the Celtics were completely exposed and embarrassed on the biggest stage in the Las Vegas Summer League.
After taking an early 10-point lead, the Celtics were blitzed defensively, committing a whopping 28 turnovers as the Kings turned the second half into a dunk show in beating Boston, 100-67, in the summer league title game at Thomas & Mack Center.
“It was a humbling experience,” Celtics second-year swingman Aaron Nesmith said. “We played very well in the first four games and blew teams out and come into this game and be on the other end, it hurts. It sucks. It’s motivation to get right back to the drawing board.”
The Celtics entered Tuesday 4-0 with three consecutive blowout wins, but could barely get the ball up the floor after the opening minutes. The Kings shut down every Celtic option on offense, especially focusing on second-year guard Payton Pritchard.
Pritchard returned to the team Monday and lobbied to play after scoring 92 points in a Portland (Ore.)-area pro-am game. The Kings obviously were alerted of that performance because they stuck first-round pick Davion Mitchell, called the best defender in the draft, on Pritchard.
Pritchard did not score his first points until the final second of the first half as the Kings defense stifled the Celtics. Boston committed 15 turnovers over the first 20 minutes and attempted just 29 shots. The Celtics never got into any offensive flow because of the Kings defensive pressure.
“They just beat us at our own game,” summer league coach Joe Mazzulla said. “As I told the guys, it’s a great opportunity for us to just figure out what we can all get better at and move on.”
Pritchard finished with 6 points as the Celtics made just nine field goals and committed 14 turnovers in the second half. In one sequence, Pritchard airballed one of his customary 30-foot 3-pointers and walked back down the court shaking his head. The Kings bench cheered in delight.
“I think he was fine and that was on me and I told him that,” Mazzulla said. “I could have put him in better spots to make the right read and Davion’s a great defender and Payton’s a great player and they got the best of us today and I don’t think there’s much more than that. Payton’s a tough kid.”
Romeo Langford was a late scratch with a right wrist strain that is not related to the surgery that cost him a chunk of last season. Mazzulla said he was not aware of the injury until just before game time.
It’s a rather unsettling development considering Langford has dealt with injuries throughout his short career and said he was finally healthy. It robbed the Celtics of another offensive weapon and they became one-dimension against the aggressive Kings.
The Celtics resorted to chucking up the first available shot and completely stopped the ball movement that sparked an early 12-2 lead. Carsen Edwards finished with 15 points but it required 16 shots.
Nesmith, who had been a reliable shooter through the first four games, reverted to settling for contested 3-pointers instead of attacking the basket. The Kings, who also won the summer title in 2015, outclassed the Celtics with their athleticism and won despite shooting in the 30-percent range throughout most of the game.
“They did a good job of speeding us up,” Nesmith said. “As the game went on we were trying to slow ourselves down and run the offense and do the things we have the last four games. We didn’t do a very good job of getting back to that.”
The Celtics come away from summer league with positive experiences and performances from most of their core players. But Tuesday’s performance against a team that appeared hungrier and more cohesive likely taints the experience as the club prepared for training camp in late September.
There’s also more questions. Yam Madar, the former second-round pick who wanted to prove he was worthy of a roster spot, did not play in the final two games because of a strained groin.
Louis King, who has played in 10 NBA games and with three organizations over the past three years, was named game MVP after scoring 21 points in 23 minutes. Sacramento grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, scored 38 points off turnovers, and ended the Celtics’ summer league on a sour note.
“I wanted to win,” Nesmith said. “Obviously we made it to the championship game but didn’t complete the goal. That’s something (we) didn’t achieve. It was a humbling experience. The next step is to take this and learn from it. Dictate the game your way and that’s the next step for us.”