By Kevin Henkin
When last we left off in June, the Celtics were busy humiliating the Los Angeles Lakers in the Game 6 clincher of the NBA Finals. Last night, after a long near four months of glory basking, the Celtics finally returned back to game action. True, they’re only back in the form of preseason scrimmages, which aren’t much more than glorified pickup games. Nevertheless, you won’t find us here at Full Court Press using the preseason as a means to shake off our rust or slack off with our coverage. Instead, we’ll be bringing you the same level of intensity that we provided throughout the playoffs last spring. In short, our attitude is: Even preseason games can be exciting if you try hard enough to pretend that the games are meaningful. That’s how we roll here at FCP. Meaningful serious fun. Onto the recap:
The Celtics picked up exactly where they left off last June, starting out of the gate with a 9-0 run. It was the usual cast of characters except for Kendrick Perkins, who sat on the bench in natty street clothes while awaiting to be cleared from his shoulder woes. In his place was off-season addition Patrick O’Bryant, who did his best to imitate Perkins by offering a mix of active rebounding and occasional cleanup baskets with unnecessary overaggressive fouls. The Celtics kept on the pressure, eventually building the lead to 16-4 against a befuddled Philadelphia 76ers team before Mo Cheeks called a time out to regroup. Of note, Ray Allen hit his first three shots from deep waters. He then missed his next two as the wheels came off the Boston offense, which let Philadelphia back into the game with a mix of poor ball management, lousy shot selection and a shooting touch that only a mason could love. At the end of the first quarter, Boston’s lead was diminished to 30-24.
In the second quarter, Tom Thibodeau, who subbed in for an absent Doc Rivers, sat the starters throughout. In their place, blatantly shunning the idea of a rotation, he employed a revolving door of flurried substitutions that at one point had me thinking, “Uh oh, Bill Simmons isn’t going to like this…”
Four minutes into the quarter, Boston’s offense stalled again with a unit of Brian Scalabrine, Patrick O’Bryant, Tony Allen, Eddie House and Glen Davis, which was good news for fans who enjoy low-scoring and poorly executed games.
Darius Miles also played some minutes in the quarter and looked pretty good, making a few nifty moves on offense early (and later on a converted alley oop dunk in transition). On the flip side, during the occasional breaks in the game, he looked more winded than David Ortiz after legging out a triple. He’s also carrying more weight on his frame but you couldn’t go so far as to call him fat. It’s just that in his former playing days he was always a rail-thin high flyer who made his living off his potent athleticism so the change in body weight is clearly noticeable. Last night, Miles played primarily at small forward, used in tandem with Leon Powe and Glen Davis in the front court. It will be interesting to see how his game adjusts to his increased bulk and to his wings that have been clipped by injury and, bearing those factors in mind, if he might be better suited in the long term at power forward.
The biggest thrills of the frame, however, came courtesy of rookie Bill Walker who provided a couple of thunderous Gerald Green-like circus dunks. In the aftermath of the slams, the Celtics’ bench momentarily transformed into a rowdy mosh pit befitting of a Ministry concert circa 1992. Thanks in part to Walker’s dunks, as well as the 76ers’ general apathy towards the sport of basketball, Boston carried a 54-44 lead into the half.
In the third quarter, the Celtics starters returned in full force and built the lead up to 14 before eventually relinquishing it entirely at a 67 all tie resulting from a combination of bad passing and extended fitful naps on defense. At the end of the quarter, Boston was holding onto a precarious 75-72 lead.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Celtics fielded a quintet of Eddie House, Leon Powe, Glen Davis, Darius Miles and Tony Allen, which predictably had the UMass crowd whipped into a frenzy. The two teams traded occasional baskets over the first eight minutes, during which Philadelphia mounted a very minor comeback to take a four point lead. Down the stretch, Gabe Pruitt took over at the point and Tony Allen led the charge as Boston temporarily retook the lead and extended it to 92-89. After that, however, despite a gritty effort (which included a bizarre 10 second stretch during which Brian Scalabrine gained the ball and lost the ball twice), the Celtics gave up 8 unanswered points to the 76ers and succumbed to a 97-92 defeat. It all felt a little too reminiscent of the days of the 18 game losing streak until you remembered that a healthy Paul Pierce was sitting alongside Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen yukking it up on the bench together as defending World Champions.
Patrick O’Bryant finished as “Player of the Game” with 10 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in 25 minutes. Preseason or not, the Celtics will take that kind of production from their new backup big man seven days a week and twice on Fridays.