The Celtics began their hunt for No. 18 last night in Manchester, NH, with their first preseason game against the Philadelphia 76ers.
While it was only a preseason game, the Celtics weren't taking it lightly. The game featured the debut of Shaquille O'Neal and rookie Semih Erden, the return of Delonte West, and battle for the final roster spot.
As expected, Shaquille O'Neal got the start at center due to a sidelined Jermaine O'Neal and a rehabbing Kendrick Perkins. As a unit, the starting five looked very motivated on the defensive end. They held the 76ers to 17 percent shooting in the first quarter (some help from the bench too), and forced six turnovers in the first nine minutes. Defensive rebounding was solid, as the Sixers only had six offensive rebounds all night.
On the other side of the ball, the Celtics used the same motion offense they've employed over the past few years. Ray Allen had no problem coming off screens, although it was apparent that he can no longer drive by his defender.
The addition of Shaq added an extra offensive weapon in the post, something that the Celtics have not had in a while. Rajon Rondo was able to spread the ball around very effectively, and finished with seven assists in only 21 minutes. There were a few turnovers due to fancy passes and sloppy play (five turnovers in the first nine minutes). The Celtics were a top 10 team in the league in turnovers last year, so hopefully they can improve this season.
Expect more fireworks from these guys
Last year, the Celtics had a big problem off the bench with energy and offensive production. It was simply too inconsistent. This year, the Celtics won't have their full bench until Kendrick Perkins returns from injury.
According to Perkins, he doesn't plan on becoming a bench player, which means Shaq and Jermaine O'Neal will be apart of the "Boston Bench Mob."
Last night, Doc's bench featured Nate Robinson, Delonte West, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis, and Semih Erden. These five guys played with a ton of energy last night. Delonte and Nate struggled to make their own shots, but they made it equally difficult for the 76ers offense to score as well. Marquis Daniels is going to have to be the Tony Allen replacement this season, something he does not seem ready to do.
The biggest surprise was rookie Semih Erden. His pick-and-roll defense was exceptional, and he was to contribute 13 points in 24 minutes. He picked up five fouls during that time as well, which shows that he still has a lot to learn.
The Celtics currently have 17 players on their roster. The battle for the final roster spot is between Von Wafer, Mario West, and Stephane Lasme. As expected, these guys only played during garbage time, but Doc was still watching.
Lasme was the bright star of the group with his play, which resulted in 12 points and four rebounds in seven minutes.
Mario West did not score during his seven minutes, but he was able to play tough defense on the 76ers' top pick Evan Turner.
Von Wafer certainly did not help himself during his 12 minutes of play. He also did not score and also had two turnovers to go along with three fouls. Best of all, he had the only technical during the game. The Celtics led the league in tech's last year, and even though Doc joked that they're going to do it again this year, he probably wasn't too happy about this tech last night.
The Celtics held the 76ers to 26.9 percent shooting and forced 21 turnovers. The Celtics have enough offensive weapons, but their key to victory will be their defense.
Rajon Rondo was named best on-ball defender, best at defending the passing lanes and third-best perimeter defender by NBA GMs. He led the league in total steals and steals per game last season, and the Celtics will expect nothing less this season.
Nate Robinson and Delonte West also provided good perimeter defense as Doc stressed on-ball pressure.
Kevin Garnett admitted that he was never 100 percent last season, but is feeling great so far. If his defense is similar to his old form (NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 2007-2008), then the Celtics interior defense will be solid. Penetrators will have plenty to worry about with KG on one side and Shaq on the other.