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The Celtics opened up their preseason Wednesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers at UMass Amherst. After a strong first half, the Celts were outrun by the athletic Sixers in the second half en route to a 98-92 loss. With the starters playing limited minutes, the crowd at Mullins Arena had a chance to see the newcomers on the Celtics roster, both veterans and rookies alike.
Tom Thibodeau took on coaching duties for the champs while head coach Doc Rivers was tending to some personal matters. Thibodeau must have emphasized passing, as that was the name of the game in the first half with the Celts scoring 18 baskets on 16 assists. They also didn’t miss a free throw in the first two quarters.
Veteran Darius Miles moved relatively well, though still appears to be at least weeks away from playing shape. He was 3-3 from the field, including finishing off a fast break on an ally-oop from Eddie House. The Celtics are hopeful that he can return to some semblance of the athletic freak he was coming out of high school eight years ago.
With 73-year-old Sam Cassell wasting ink on the roster, Miles will be forced to earn his spot. Though his signing comes at little or no risk to the Celtics, Miles has more than enough incentive to make the squad: If he competes in ten regular season games, the Portland Trailblazers owe him a cool $18 million. If Miles can’t bribe Doc, he’s going to have to impress him; let’s hope for the latter.
Newcomer Patrick O’Bryant and rookie Bill Walker wasted no time introducing themselves to Celtic fans. In the second quarter in particular, the fresh faces showed fresh legs despite a history of foot and knee problems respectively. Walker had a dunk in the quarter that you’d be sure would have been all over Sportscenter…until you saw his follow up act just seconds later. The entire sequence was easily the climax of the game for the C’s.
After (very) old friend Theo Ratliff missed a wide open dunk, Gabe Pruitt looked up court after a perfect outlet pass from O’Bryant. Pruitt then fed Walker with a half-court ally-oop on the money. Walker finished. Hard.
Just seconds later, Walker was blocked by Ratliff. The ball was grabbed by fellow-rookie J.R. Giddens, and he wasted no time getting the ball back down to Walker. The rookie, who lived in the shadow of Michael Beasley at Kansas State, elevated for a dunk that was contested by Ratliff. Again, Walker finished. Harder.
As if the past four seasons of being nothing more than an expiring contract hadn’t embarrassed Old Theo enough, the rookie Walker had just served him a facial sandwich. The C’s bench instantly turned into a mosh-pit. After the first half expired, Walker was greeted with congratulations by his teammates that could’ve been classified as simple assault had it taken place in any other setting.
O’Bryant had a solid game filling in for Kendrick Perkins (shoulder), ripping eight boards while dropping 10 points on 4-6 shooting. He showed that he can get up as well, throwing down a Rajon Rondo ally-oop that was behind him. O’Bryant cocked back and finished with one hand, and the UMass crowd once again eruped like it did in the Camby days.
Leon Powe continued to do what he does. He muscled his way to 12 points on 3-6 shooting from the field and 6-8 at the line. If Powe can continue to get to the line at the rate he did last year, he can really contribute by knocking down the freebies. His form was a promising sign for the humble hustler, as he hopes to play more of a consistent role not only on the defensive end, but crashing boards on the offensive end.
Preseason games in basketball are unlike other sports due the small number of players you have on a team. The starters get a few minutes and the fans get a little show, but as the bench players get more minutes to compete against each other, it really is a good measure of a players potential, deficiencies, and strong points.
Patrick O’Bryant looks primed to make an impact. J.R. Giddens showed a little of what he can do, though don’t be surprised if he and Gabe Pruitt take turns in the D-League.
As for Walker, his athletic ability appears to be in full swing, and he controls his own fate. If he is willing to work to become a legitimate defender, his minutes off the bench will be abundant. If not, he’ll be nothing more than the second coming of Gerald Green.
The Celts resume their preseason Friday night in Providence in the first of two preseason matchups against the Cleveland Lebrons. Expect more from the bench players in these first couple of games, with more of a starter presence to be expected as the Celts tune up for the regular season with exhibitions against the Knicks and Nets next weekend at the Garden.