By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Nobody had much fun watching the 2018-19 Boston Celtics. The team was an unlikable mess from start to finish, and the season ended in embarrassing fashion with four straight infuriating postseason losses.
The weeks that followed weren’t much of a joy, either. Kyrie Irving departed for Brooklyn and Al Horford shockingly opted out and signed with Philadelphia. There’s buzz after Boston inked Kemba Walker to a max contract, an extremely likeable point guard who can also light up the scoreboard, but the Celtics are far from the perennial title contender we thought they would be before the season started.
Basically, Celtics fans needed a summer vacation from their team. Instead, they’ve been given an exciting four nights (and counting) of fun to fill the void.
We’re talking, of course, about the Summer League Celtics, a team that has a perfect 4-0 record (one of three undefeated teams) and is the No. 1 seed heading into tournament play in Las Vegas. The squad isn’t just beating teams, but beating teams big, with their average margin of victory 17 points. Their “closest” game thus far was a 13-point victory over the summer Cavaliers in their second game of the schedule.
Most important, it’s actually fun to watch them. Yes, fun. That’s a much different F-word than the one associated with the summer C’s parent club.
It’s a likable bunch of youngsters, some looking to make a name for themselves before entering a life in the NBA, and others looking to keep their dream going. They play with an energy and a surprising amount of cohesion for a crew that has been together for just over a week.
The team is being led by three of Boston’s four picks from last month’s draft, with Romeo Langford (selected 14th overall) missing the fun due to a thumb injury. Undersized forward Grant Williams — taken 22nd overall — is doing everything right on the floor, and that really isn’t much hyperbole. Plus-minus doesn’t always paint a complete picture, but Williams is a ridiculous plus-82 overall during his time on the floor over the first four games. For a kid that said his goal is to impact winning, he’s certainly done that in Vegas. Williams has displayed some incredible defensive positioning and has done well on the offensive end too, averaging 13.5 points off 50 percent shooting.
Boston’s offensive punch has come from second-round pick Carsen Edwards, who is not afraid to take any shot from anywhere on the floor. Sometimes he looks like that guy in your rec league that just chucks up whatever he wants anytime he gets the ball, but Edwards actually hits those ridiculous looks, nailing 52 percent of his attempts. He’s got a nice burst to the basket and a lovely three-point touch, hitting 48 percent from downtown. He has a pair of 20-point performances, averaging 18 points per contest.
But it’s a man named Tacko who is getting most of the attention. Excuse me; a giant named Tacko. Boston’s 7-foot-6 big man had taken the Summer League by storm both on the floor and off. Fans (some dressed as tacos) chant for him to come off the bench, and when he does, ovations erupt. The Vegas faithful boo when Fall comes off the floor. They line up around the stadium for his autograph.
Anyone who doesn’t have to jump to dunk a basketball, or barely leaves his feet to out-rebound everyone, is going to grab your attention. But Fall is doing what he can to prove he deserves an NBA roster spot, whether it’s in Boston or elsewhere. (If Danny Ainge lets Fall go somewhere else, he may actually be hit with some criticism by Celtics fans.) He’s putting up modest numbers — 8.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game — in his brief time on the floor, averaging only 14 minutes a tilt, but you can see the promise every time he’s on the floor. He had his best night in Boston’s win over Memphis on Thursday, putting in 12 points, hitting six of his eight shots from the floor, to go with eight rebounds and four blocks. Two of those blocks came on back-to-back shots, causing the Thomas and Mack Center to erupt. Then again, all seven Tacko blocks have caused euphoric eruptions this summer.
The talk may be Tacko, but we can’t forget about the man known as Timelord. Robert Williams III is going to have an important role on this year’s real Celtics team with Al Horford now in Philadelphia, and he’s shown signs that he’s ready for the challenge. After scoring 19 points and snagging 11 rebounds in his first two summer games, the second-year center went off for 16 points and 16 rebounds, a pretty incredible stat line for someone who played just 20 minutes.
The Celtics will now start the elimination portion of the Summer League on Saturday night with another matchup against the now 3-1 Memphis Grizzlies. The way they’ve played over their first four games, it’s looking like we’ll get three more looks at this fun group, with the title game on Monday evening.
It’s never safe to draw assumptions based on Summer League action. Most of the players they’re doing damage against won’t be in the NBA next season. Edwards probably won’t be hitting those ridiculous shots against NBA defenses, the 6-foot-7 Williams will struggle against bigger players, and Tacko’s production will definitely fall off if he’s given the chance to play with other giants.
But these summer Celtics have been a lot of fun to watch, and it’s been a nice breath of fresh air for Boston fans.