Celtics burst out of the gates in preseason debut


JD Conte

TD Garden before the Celtics preseason matchup against the Hornets on Sunday

With the Red Sox season coming to a close and Bill Belichick searching local lacrosse teams for the team’s next quarterback, Bostonians may find themselves eyeing TD Garden for hopeful sports news. As the fall weather rolls in, the Patriots are at the bottom of the AFC East for the first time in a decade and the Red Sox have been out of relevance since before the Celtics sent their fans home from the Garden after a heartbreaking Game 6 NBA Finals loss back in June.

If you had enough faith to turn into the Patriots’ surprising performance on Sunday, you likely missed the Celtics’ preseason debut. The Celtics, newly without disgraced head coach Ime Adoka took the court against the Charlotte Hornets at TD Garden at 1 p.m. The Garden Jumbotron played an interview with interim head coach Joe Mazzulla before the game, reminding the crowd of the elephant in the room. 

The Celtics came out of the gates with what is to be presumed their starting five for the regular season: Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Derrek White and Marcus Smart. Present at the Garden, but not seen courtside, was new acquisition Blake Griffin, who was spotted by media entering the venue before the game. 

The Celtics kept it tight with Terry Rozier, who received a loud welcome upon his introduction from the crowd, and the Hornets through the first quarter. Tatum and company, led offensively by Jaylen Brown (24 points) exploded for 39 points in the second quarter, putting the Celtics up 68-46 at the half. 

The Celtics never let the Hornets get close, leading by as many as 46, including a 12-0 run. This offensive explosion came in spite of a loss to the Hornets in points in the paint and second-chance points. 

So the eastern conference defending champion beat up on a mid to bottom-tier team in preseason play. So what? 

This preseason Celtics team wasn’t playing like it was a preseason game. They played with playoff passion, the kind that should have been there in Game 6. Indeed, why Jaylen Brown was jumping for boards until late in the third quarter is beyond the writer’s comprehension. Jayson Tatum was even getting some late “MVP” chants from the fans at the Garden.

When Mazulla finally pulled his NBA Finals starters in the third quarter of a blowout preseason game, the new Celtics crew shined. JD Davidson showed offensive confidence and playmaking ability, something the Celtics will desperately need out of a number two guard behind Marcus Smart.

A well-earned crowd favorite was Mfiondu Kabengele, who was waived by Cleveland in the offseason and signed by the Celtics. Kabengele scored 10 points in 10 minutes of play, all in the later portions of the game. The center could be seen throwing himself on the line for rebounds and managed to get several crowd-roaring slam dunks: the kind of energy Boston fans love to see in a player new to the city. 

The Celtics will dance against the Raptors on Wednesday night at the Garden at 7:30 p.m.