When the Celtics left seven regular players back in Boston for their preseason finale against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, it appeared the game would lack significance.
After all, the Celtics would field a team filled with reserves, free agents, players headed for G-League Maine, and others headed overseas. But the Celtics found their first visit to the renamed Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse well worth it.
The backcourt of Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters combined for 54 points in the Celtics’ 118-95 win, with Edwards making the headlines with eight 3-pointers in a 5:06 span of the third quarter while Waters continually gashed Cleveland’s defense with jumpers and driving layups.
General manager Danny Ainge and coach Brad Stevens have repeatedly lauded this rookie class of Edwards, Grant Williams, Romeo Langford, and Waters, but it appears Edwards and Waters are more prepared to contribute this season than initially believed.
Waters is signed to a two-way contract but he has been impressive during the preseason, and Tuesday he got the best of his matchup with fellow rookie point guard Darius Garland, taken fifth overall by the Cavaliers. Waters, taken 51st, looked like the best point guard on the floor, and that includes 2018 first-round pick Collin Sexton, who scored 20 points for the Cavaliers but had only two assists.
Waters collected seven assists and two steals.
“He’s just good,” Stevens said. “I don’t what else to say. He’s got a shiftiness to his game that’s unique. His brain moves as fast as his feet. He really sees the game and sees what’s going on. So yeah, he’s played well. Ever since he did a draft workout, we were all just kind of blown away.
“You look at a guy that size [5 feet 11 inches, 175 pounds] and you’re trying to figure out how he can do it and he just does it all the time. He’s off to a good start.”
Despite taking an inadvertent shot to the nose by Cleveland forward Jarell Martin, Edwards returned to the game and dazzled with a 26-point third quarter. Edwards came to the NBA as a volume scorer at Purdue, but that was college.
But Edwards, in a short sample size, has shown the ability to play without fear and score in bunches. He’s not afraid to take a shot. He has drawn comparisons to Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson and, for the younger generation, Eddie House or Isaiah Thomas.
As much as Tuesday night was a practice game against a team expected to be one of the league’s worst, Edwards scored 26 points in eight minutes. That’s impressive at any level.Stevens has not assigned roles yet.
As of now, Brad Wanamaker, who has been steady and more confident this season, is the primary backup to Kemba Walker. Edwards is the size of a point guard but played both positions at Purdue and teamed with Waters in the backcourt Tuesday.
“Seriously, I want to continue to just work,” Edwards said. “Trying to make the right plays, earning a spot on this team. It’s pretty cool to have this happen. I just try to make the right plays and get a rhythm and when the rhythm is there . . . ”
Waters and Edwards are giving the Celtics’ brass some interesting scenarios to ponder. Waters began his Celtics career as a long-term project, the plan was to sharpen his game in Maine and then eventually become a point guard candidate in coming seasons.
Edwards wowed basketball fans with his NCAA Tournament performances — 139 points in four games, including a pair of 42-point efforts — but there was serious question as to whether that would translate to the NBA. That doubt probably caused Edwards to fall to the 33rd overall pick, but he is beginning to resemble another draft steal for Ainge.
The Celtics have long sought scoring punch off the bench; a fearless shooter who can compile points in bunches. There are specialized roles in the NBA for players like that, such as the Clippers’ Lou Williams and longtime NBA veteran Jamal Crawford.
Edwards doesn’t lack confidence but also possesses the humility to understand that this is only the preseason and the journey has only begun. But it’s becoming apparent that he won’t be just sitting on the bench and watching during his rookie season.
Stevens could play him at both guard positions, meaning he could pair with Kemba Walker or Wanamaker as well as spelling them in certain situations. His ability to play the shooting guard position will open other possibilities for Stevens.
As for Waters, he can offer Stevens an option as a third point guard if Stevens decided to play Marcus Smart as a big guard or even forward in smaller lineups. He can only be with the Celtics a maximum of 45 days because of his two-way contract. But the brass will monitor Waters’s progress closely in Maine and eventually may be faced with the decision of converting his deal to a full NBA contract.
It’s just preseason, but one night could have helped change the thinking of the organization about how prepared Waters and Edwards are for substantial roles.