LAS VEGAS – An impressive run at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas has finally come to an end for the Boston Celtics.
Boston entered Saturday’s showdown with the Dallas Mavericks with a perfect 4-0 record despite playing multiple games without some of its top players. Saturday night, however, without the services of four starters in Jaylen Brown (right thigh bruise), Jayson Tatum (right patellar tendinitis), Abdel Nader (left calf strain) and Ante Zizic (left hamstring strain), the C’s lacked firepower as they fell to Dallas, 91-74.
“I didn’t think we started the game physical enough and didn’t have a lot of energy out of the gates,” acting head coach Walter McCarty said after the loss. “They got out to a good start and in the third quarter our guys battled back a bit, but our guys just didn’t have enough.”
The game began to swing heavily into Dallas’ favor late in the second quarter, when it pulled ahead by as many as 16 points.
Boston trailed by only three points, at 32-29, after Kadeem Allen dropped in a putback layup with 4:53 left in the first half. The Mavs then responded with a 14-3 run to close the half and took a 46-32 lead into the locker rooms.
Things only became worse for the Celtics as the second half unfolded. Boston committed seven turnovers during the third quarter alone, all while Dallas shot 55.6 percent from the floor, and the Mavs pulled ahead by as many as 28 points.
With Taum, Nader and Zizic all watching from the sideline, and with Brown watching from home, the C’s lacked the necessary offensive punch to stage a comeback.
Still, there were plenty of positives to take away from a successful week-plus stay in Vegas. Boston finished with a 4-1 record and received stellar efforts from all of its top young prospects.
Tatum drew rave reviews from executives across the league as he averaged 17.7 points and 8.0 rebounds during three games in Las Vegas. This was after he racked up averaged of 18.7 points and 9.7 rebounds over three games in the Utah Jazz Summer League.
Tatum missed Boston’s final two games but walks away from his Summer League experience with lessons learned and confidence gained.
“There was a lot to learn,” he said. “I think Summer League was to see how I would match up and how my game would translate.
“I feel like I did pretty well, so I feel like that’s something that I can continue to work on and look back and say there’s some things I could have done better, and go from there.”
Ante Zizic and Semi Ojeleye also proved that they could become valuable assets to the Celtics during the 2017-18 season.
Zizic logged two double-doubles in Las Vegas and tallied double-digit rebounds during each of his final three games. He made tremendous strides from his first game in Utah to his last game in Vegas.
“Just Ante getting a better feel for the NBA game and getting a better feel on how to roll when we needed him to roll and just getting to our defense, being able to call the ice early and getting into position,” McCarty said of the 20-year-old big man. “He’ll have a lot of good things he’ll be able to take with him into training camp so he won’t be too far behind.”
Ojeleye, meanwhile, was lauded by Brad Stevens earlier in the week in Vegas after showcasing his ability to defend multiple positions and hit 3-pointers. Stevens made it sound like Ojeleye is very much in Boston’s plans to be on the roster and contribute next season.
Add all of that together, along with the known talents of Brown, and the Celtics have a nice mix of young talent with which to infuse the team next season. All of those players became better basketball players over the last two weeks of play.
“It was great to see them get better and better throughout the week, get accustomed to the player we were running, what we were trying to accomplish and just really knowing all of our lingo and all of our terms,” McCarty said.
Nader, who missed the final four games in Vegas with a strained calf, liked what he saw from the group as individuals and as a team as well.
“I think we made tremendous strides,” Nader commented. “That’s just a credit to the coaching staff and the group of guys they put together. We had a great group of guys. Everybody was on the same page wanting to figure things out and how to get better together.”
This crew of Summer Celtics did exactly that. They may not have won the title, but they showcased flashes of high-level play that the team and its fan base should be excited about.