The Celtics defeated the Cavaliers, 118-72, in a preseason game on Sunday afternoon. Kemba Walker made all three of his 3-pointers and scored 12 points for Boston. Rookie Max Strus, who agreed to a partially guaranteed two-year deal with the Celtics earlier in the day, had 14 points.
Here are some observations from the game:
■ Daniel Theis started for the second consecutive game, and it’s really starting to look like he’s going to be Boston’s regular center. With his positioning, ability to run the floor, and outside shooting potential, Theis simply checks so many boxes and fits particularly well with the starting lineup that is filled with slashing wings.
■ The Magic scored just 11 first-quarter points on Friday, and it looked for a bit like the Cavaliers would be held below that total Sunday. They were held scoreless for the opening four minutes and with less than three minutes remaining had still tallied just 6 points. They ultimately managed 17, but Celtics coach Brad Stevens has to be pleased with the early defense. Boston forced seven turnovers in the first six minutes alone.
“If you watch closely, that’s a tied-together group on that end of the court,” Stevens said. “Obviously we didn’t start [Marcus] Smart, who is our best perimeter defender, and is coming off the bench. So it’s really important that group that starts understands when to kick guys out, when to be up, when to be back, when to react to a threat, and they are really good at it together.”
■ Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton has six of his team’s 16 first-half turnovers, and one provided a classic example of how much of a nuisance Smart can be.
Early in the second quarter Sexton tried to drive on Smart, and his progress was quickly halted near the paint. With his back to the basket, Sexton tried unspooling a series of moves in hopes of getting a shot out of this messy predicament, but Smart did not budge, and Sexton was called for a travel. Sexton was exasperated, and Smart jogged back upcourt.
■ Jaylen Brown continues to thrive while attacking the basket this preseason. One second-quarter stretch stood out. He completed a pick-and-pop with Gordon Hayward, and, instead of putting up a jumper, Brown soared through the lane and dunked over a defender. Moments later, he grabbed a rebound and blitzed upcourt, where he got the ball back for a fast-break layup.
“I just wanted to come out and build good habits going into the season,” Brown said. “I think that’s kind of what we’ve seen as a team. We’ve built some good habits we want to carry over into the regular season.”
■ Speaking of sequences, the second-year big man Robert Williams had perhaps his best stretch as a Celtic during one stint in the second quarter. He came up with a steal and hurried upcourt where Brown fed him for an alley-oop, leading to a Cleveland timeout. Then he soared high for a rebound, and played solid one-on-one defense against Larry Nance Jr., forcing a turnover.
■ Stevens used just 10 players in the first half. For those scoring at home the group included Walker, Jayson Tatum, Brown, Hayward, Smart, Theis, Williams, Carsen Edwards, Semi Ojeleye, and Enes Kanter. But Stevens said not to read too much into the rotations just yet.
“I think more so just trying to try different things with different groups,” Stevens said. “We almost started in zone today.”
■ The Celtics on Sunday signed Strus, a former two-way player, to a two-year NBA contract with a partial guarantee this season. Although Strus had done little in Boston’s first two preseason games, multiple league sources insisted that he is in a real battle with wing Javonte Green for the final roster spot.
And Strus made an emphatic statement, drilling 4 of 5 3-pointers and finishing with a game-high 14 points along with 4 rebounds and 2 assists in just 16 minutes.
Strus and Green checked in together late in the third quarter. Soon after that, Strus drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key on a pass from Green, and then Green blocked a shot and soared in for a dunk on a pass from Strus.
But Green had three turnovers after that and Strus took over with his long-range shooting. It still seems likely that Green will be Boston’s choice, but if the Celtics decide they want to use the last spot for extra shooting, Strus will have a chance.
“Max can really play,” Stevens said. “He’s smart, he cuts hard, and he can really shoot. He’s a big, strong guy.”
■ The Strus move opened up a two-way contract slot, which the Celtics gave to 7-foot-5-inch center and fan-favorite Tacko Fall.
Fans spent much of the second half chanting his name until he checked in with 6:52 left. Less than 30 seconds later, he threw in a two-handed dunk, and the crowd erupted. Two minutes later he added a baseline spin move for another slam, and the crowd did not mind that, either.
“I’m less raw now than I used to be,” Fall said. “I’ve gotten a lot better, a lot stronger, I’ve gotten a lot more patient out there, and I just need to keep improving on those things.”
■ Romeo Langford suffered a knee sprain with 9:27 left in the fourth. He stayed on the ground momentarily before walking to the locker room with a member of the team’s training staff.
Langford said after the game that he does not think the injury is a concern.