MIAMI — Midway through the third quarter of the Celtics’ 121-100 preseason loss against the Heat on Friday, Boston forward Grant Williams was called for an illegal screen and he was not happy about it. He spun around and waved his arms in disbelief, but the officials did not wait for him to protest. They handed the ball to the Heat, and the game rolled on.
Seconds later Bam Adebayo, who was being guarded by Williams, raced up court and threw down a two-handed dunk before Williams could catch up. Celtics coach Ime Udoka said earlier in training camp that he does not want these Celtics to get caught up in complaining to officials. In this case, he instantly called timeout and took Williams out of the game.
“The main thing, I’m telling him to get back and stop worrying about the referee,” Udoka said. “Your guy is bringing it right behind you.”
Udoka said the fact that Williams picked up his fourth foul factored into his decision to send him to the bench, but he acknowledged that the whining was the primary reason. And Williams was not alone. Udoka said Miami’s second-quarter run was the result of the Celtics lack of focus defensively when they were preoccupied with the officiating.
“Just a learning moment,” he said. “You can’t get caught up in that. You have to play through it, just like they did. They played with pace. When we cried about calls, they were running out and got too many easy looks. So something like I said we talked about early in camp. It’s something I’m going to keep hammering away on until we get where we want to be.”
Jayson Tatum had 23 points and 9 rebounds to lead Boston and Romeo Langford added 18 points on 7 for 9 shooting. Boston led by as many as 12 points in the first half but was outscored 62-45 after the break. The Celtics end the preseason with a 2-2 record and will open the regular season against the Knicks on Wednesday.
“I think it was a successful preseason because it was new for all of us,” Langford said. “New coaching staff and scheme, and we played well, had a lot of learning experiences, different rotations, different guys who haven’t played. It was a lot we can take into these first practices heading into the first game.”
Observations from the game:
▪ Udoka had hoped this would be a final dress rehearsal in advance of Wednesday’s opener. But Robert Williams was a late scratch due to knee tendinitis, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford remain sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19, and Marcus Smart received a one-game suspension for missing the team flight to Orlando on Monday. So Tatum was joined in the starting lineup by Dennis Schröder, Grant Williams, Romeo Langford and Jabari Parker.
Still, Udoka leaned on his rotation players deep into the game. It was a bit surprising to see him put Tatum back in against Miami’s backups midway through the fourth. He took a hard foul soon after, and was taken out again soon after that.
▪ Udoka said he does not think that Williams’s knee issue is a concern. He said he was sore Friday so the team decided to be cautious in its final exhibition, but added that Williams will play against the Knicks.
“If it was a regular season game or playoff game he’d obviously be playing,” Udoka said. “But we wanted to be safe tonight and we’ll manage it over the next few days.”
▪ Langford continued his strong preseason. He built some confidence by draining a pair of challenging mid-range shots in the first quarter before coming up with a steal that led to a one-hand slam that gave Boston an early 10-point lead. Then he started the third quarter by draining a pair of 3-pointers and hit another one in the fourth. The scoring is nice, but Langford will be most valuable on defense. He had a nice block at the rim against the bigger and stronger Markieff Morris in the fourth quarter. He has improved, but he’s also finally healthy.
“He’s taken advantage of his time with guys being out,” Udoka said. “So we want him to stay aggressive. You see moments and flashes of some youth in there every now and then, but for the most part he’s doing what we asked offensively and defensively.”
▪ Udoka also called Langford “a great playmaker,” which was a strong statement about a player who has 26 total assists over his first two NBA seasons. It’s clearly a part of Langford’s game that the Celtics believe can be unlocked as his career progresses.
“I feel like I can get into the paint pretty well and find an open guy,” Langford said. “I’m getting guarded a lot by bigger defenders, so it was a little easier to get into the paint and make the defenses collapse. Felt that’s one part of my game I can do more of.”
▪ Schröder returned after missing two games and he looked healthy and refreshed during a dominant first half. He consistently exploited Adebayo on switches, including a pretty drive-and-fake that led to an easy lay-in. He also had a powerful block on a Kyle Lowry layup attempt, and after having one of his shots blocked he rushed downcourt and poked the ball away, leading to a Josh Richardson 3-pointer. He did receive a flagrant foul for tripping Heat star Jimmy Butler, however.
▪ The absences of Smart and Brown certainly didn’t help, but the Celtics’ perimeter defense in the opening half was rough. Miami’s shooters routinely found space in the corners for open looks, with Boston a bit slow to rotate.