LAS VEGAS – The Boston Celtics aren’t just winning in Las Vegas. They’re setting records, even without the services of three of their top players.
Boston set a new 2017 NBA Summer League record Thursday evening by limiting the Golden State Warriors to only five points during the first quarter. The Celtics continued their dominance throughout the game as they routed the Warriors 93-69.
“We’ve been harping on them, preaching to them to play really good defense and stay solid and play like a team,” acting head coach Walter McCarty said after the win. “I thought we did a really good job most of the game of being solid and making it tough for them to score.”
Boston limited Golden State to only 28.0 percent shooting from the field, while the Celtics themselves connected on 52.6 percent of their shots.
The C’s controlled the contest to advance to 4-0 despite playing without three of their best players. It was announced shortly ahead of tip-off that Jaylen Brown (bruised right quad), Jayson Tatum (right patellar tendinitis) and Abdel Nader (strained left calf), three of the team’s starters, would not play.
The assumption was that Boston would struggle at the offensive end without three of its leading shot-creators and scorers. However, the opposite was the case.
Jabari Bird stepped into the starting lineup and excelled as the go-to scoring option, and Ante Zizic dominated the paint in his standard role as the team’s starting center.
Bird was nearly perfect during his 19 minutes of action. He made eight of his 10 shots from the field en route to 17 points. The rookie guard, whom the Celtics chose with the 56th overall pick in last month’s NBA Draft, scored in a variety of ways, including a smooth floater off of an impressive hesitation move that resembled C’s All-Star Isaiah Thomas.
“Whenever the opportunity comes, be ready, because you never know when it can come,” Bird said after the game of his impressive performance in a spot start. “The first few games I didn’t play much, now I’m playing a lot, and I’m taking advantage of the opportunity.”
McCarty, who has had a close eye on Bird from the sidelines, agrees.
“Jabari is a really good basketball player, and we’re finding that out,” McCarty said. “He can do a lot of things. He can score in the post, put the ball on the floor, come off pick-and-rolls, he can make plays for others, he gets out in transition. So he’s a really special player, and we’re just seeing the beginning of the greatness that he’s trying to reach.”
Zizic is not the same type of playmaker as Bird, but he has shown some greatness of his own, especially Thursday evening. He was outstanding for the third consecutive game as he owned the glass to the tune of a game-high 10 rebounds in less than 18 minutes of action. He also scored 12 points, which featured an 18-foot jumper and an 8-for-10 performance from the free-throw line, and blocked a shot.
Zizic has now totaled 11, 13 and 10 rebounds, respectively, in his last three games.
“He reads the ball. He gets low. He gets his arms up ready to rebound. And just his court awareness,” McCarty said as he explained why Zizic has excelled on the glass. “He’s just doing a really good job and he doesn’t care how many points he gets or minutes he plays. He just plays hard every possession.”
The Celtics were so dominant with the combination of Bird and Zizic on the floor that the duo did not even play during the final quarter and a half of the game as the C’s ran away with the victory.
The rest that Bird, Zizic and the rest of the starting group earned toward the end of the game opened up the door for Boston’s reserves to see time on the floor. Rosco Allen and Landen Lucas capitalized on the opportunity.
Allen wound up leading the game in scoring with 18 points, nine of which were scored during the fourth quarter. Lucas, meanwhile, totaled eight points on 4-for-4 shooting. The duo combined to shoot 11-for-12 from the field.
The blowout win pushes Boston into the win-or-go-home stage of the tournament with an undefeated record of 4-0 in Las Vegas. The C’s will have Friday off and return to the court Saturday. Their opponent and game time are to be determined.