5 takeaways as Aaron Nesmith scores 23 in Celtics loss to Magic

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Boston.com 13 October, 2021 - 10:30pm

The Celtics started without any of the veteran members of their rotation — mostly for rest, although both Al Horford and Jaylen Brown remain out after testing positive for COVID-19. The Celtics’ second unit held the Magic second unit at bay for two quarters before opening up a six-point lead after three.

The opposing third units battled through an entertaining fourth quarter, and the Celtics appeared to be in a good position to win after Theo Pinson drew a foul and made both free throws to build a one-point lead. But Jeff Dowtin’s turnaround jumper just before the buzzer gave the Magic a 103-102 victory.

Aaron Nesmith — 23 points, 8-for-16 shooting, 4-for-8 from 3, four assists

Nesmith submitted an impressive, multi-layered offensive performance and made another strong case for his inclusion in the Celtics’ rotation.

1. Before his rookie season, Nesmith was known as a spot-up shooter first and foremost — a fluid athlete who could come off screens and square himself quickly.

Nesmith is certainly shooting quickly, and he showed elements of his spot-up ability on Wednesday.

But Nesmith has the potential to be a scorer in several different ways — many of which weren’t immediately evident coming out of college. On Wednesday, he used a quick first step to beat Mo Bamba and slipped a layup off the glass and in. He hit a mid-range turnaround reminiscent of the shots Gordon Hayward used to pour in. He buried a pair of 3-pointers late in the third quarter off a single dribble which shed his defender.

“He was extremely aggressive [at Summer League] and carried that into open gym and training camp, and he gets an opportunity with those guys sitting out tonight and plays very well,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “Very good complementary piece. We talk of our young guys taking that leap and progression, and I think him, Romeo, Grant and Payton have all done that. Proud of the work he puts in. See it every day, and he took advantage of it tonight. Plays very confident and free, which is what we want him to do with those guys sitting out.”

Payton Pritchard justifiably stole headlines at Summer League as one of the best players on the floor, but Nesmith’s solid performance in Las Vegas has continued into the preseason.

2. Pritchard’s performance carried over too. The second-year guard didn’t play in the second half after taking a shot to the nose — and his nose is likely broken, per Ime Udoka — but his offense continues to impress.

Importantly, Pritchard showed flashes as a pull-up shooter inside the arc. The Celtics will likely ask him to space the floor this season, opening the paint for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but as Pritchard develops, his handle should allow him to get where he wants to go. If he can score at all three levels, his ceiling is pretty interesting.

3. Garrison Matthews seems to have become the consensus favorite to win the Celtics’ final roster spot, but Jabari Parker made a case for himself in the first half with a flurry of buckets. He finished with 10 points on 4-for-9 shooting.

Whether a good preseason performance is enough for Parker to overcome Matthews’ easily translatable skill set as a shooter remains to be seen, but Udoka praised Parker’s reliability after the game.

“Jabari is obviously a veteran who has been around for a long time,” Udoka said. “I say this a lot with guys like Al, Josh, Dennis, whoever it may be: We know what we have with Jabari. He’s a spark plug that comes off the bench, plays multiple positions, and defends multiple positions. A guy that we feel on a night like tonight with guys sitting out can provide instant offense and he did that.”

4. Grant Williams is noticeably skinnier and the improvements to his game show. Williams was always a high-IQ player, and he finished with four assists as well as three steals. The steals in particular were a result of his timing and defensive reads.

Still, the biggest test is offense — particularly 3-point shooting. The Celtics need a slimmed-down Williams to space the floor like a wing/forward. If he can do it, he’ll be hard to keep out of the rotation.

5. An important question: What if the Celtics’ young guys — particularly Nesmith, Langford, and Pritchard — are just good? If Danny Ainge hit on those selections, he gave the Celtics a crucial parting gift in his final two drafts as President of Basketball Operations.

The Celtics close their preseason on Friday at 6:30 p.m., taking on the Miami Heat.

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RJ HAMPTON HIGHLIGHTS VS. BOSTON | 20 PTS & 8 REB!

Orlando Magic 14 October, 2021 - 05:40am

R.J. Hampton puts up 20 PTS & 8 REB on the Boston Celtics

Orlando Magic Daily 14 October, 2021 - 05:40am

Payton Pritchard (nose) won’t return to preseason game against Orlando

Celtics Blog 13 October, 2021 - 07:19pm

Boston’s guard rotation will be missing a key piece for the second half.

The Celtics announced Payton Pritchard has a nose injury and is OUT for the rest of tonight's game.

It’s unclear how severe this injury is, but the hope is that this is just a precautionary measure. After all, Pritchard already showed plenty in this game, being the primary offensive driving force for the team. He finishes this game with 10 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists on 57% shooting, including a deep logo 3-pointer.

The Celtics lead the Magic 56-54 at the half. Ryan Arcidiacono will start the second half.

Opportunity knocks for young Celtics in Orlando

Celtics Blog 13 October, 2021 - 07:00am

With six rotation veterans out of the lineup, Boston’s third preseason game is yet another proving ground.

On the surface, this may seem like a more legit test for the Summer Celtics in Vegas or a Maine Red Claws alumni game, but with only two preseason games and exactly a week before the start of the regular season in Madison Square Garden, there are still roles and playing time still up in the air.

With six rotation players out of the mix, here’s a possible starting lineup and depth chart for tonight:

Nothing crazy. It’s basically the five players from the last three draft classes with three veterans backing up the front court. But again, this shouldn’t be considered some glorified Summer League game for the players and coaches. There’s weight here.

For Payton Pritchard, he’ll have a chance to test his chops again as starting point guard. Against the Magic ten days ago, Pritchard played mostly next to Schroder as an off guard. “Another thing we’ve talked about that’s worked well in practice, and we want to see if it can translate to the games, would be Dennis and Payton playing together at times,” Udoka said after Monday’s practice. “Two playmakers and obviously Payton’s shooting ability. We want to see at times if we can get away with that smaller lineup, especially at the guard spot. So we’re looking at all those things in the preseason and we’ll look at some of those lineups in these last two games.”

Udoka has stressed how effective his shooting is at that “four-point” range, but on Saturday night with Schroder out with a knee contusion, Pritchard ran the point with the second unit and tallied five assists in seventeen minutes. He’ll get that chance again tonight. If Smart and Schroder are both healthy, he’ll most likely defer point guard duties to them, but if he can prove effective in the pick-and-roll in Orlando and get in the teeth of the defense, it might warrant “playmaking” responsibilities in the future.

However, they’re still fringe rotation players. Schroder, Richardson, Pritchard, Nesmith, and even Enes Kanter seem like locks to get minutes in October, November, and December. To make an even stronger case, Williams and Langford will have to prove that there are multiple dimensions to their game. After slimming down in the offseason, Williams is quicker on his feet and has frankly looked more like a small forward than a power forward. That will come in handy against an Orlando team flush with wings and not a lot of bruiser types. Langford’s task might be even taller though. Pritchard is the only true ball handler of the bunch which means that Langford is going to have to create a bunch off the dribble. Before heading to the front office, Stevens projected Langford as an Evan Turner-type with his size and deliberate style of play. Let’s see if he can play well on the ball as he has off the ball so far.

With Friday night’s game in Miami as the final testing ground before wins and losses start counting for real, it’s obviously not ideal to lose valuable game time for a team that still has many questions unanswered. What combinations work? Who can provide more juice off the bench rather than as a starter? Will the Celtics force their team style onto their opponents or will they be counterpunchers? For a handful of players, they’re still in the clinical trial stage and Wednesday night is another chance to gather more data points.

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