Celtics, Zion remain sizzling to start preseason
Preseason numbers often mean almost nothing. Rotations are unusual, starters rarely play much, and few if any teams are putting a premium on winning games.
As such, it’s tough to glean much from exhibition stats.
But what the Boston Celtics and New Orleans rookie Zion Williamson — the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — have been doing so far in the preseason certainly stands out.
The Celtics are 3-0 after beating Cleveland on Sunday — and have put together a huge run in all three of those games. The latest was a 50-17 spurt against the Cavaliers, a game that was close for most of the first quarter before Boston built what eventually became a 54-point lead.
Boston’s other big runs of note in this preseason were a 41-17 stretch last Sunday against Charlotte, and opening the game with a 29-4 burst at Orlando on Friday. On top of the 50-17 run against the Cavs, they added a 26-8 run in the fourth quarter as well.
No matter who the Celtics have on the court, defense has been the constant. Boston is holding opponents to 36.5% shooting through the first three exhibitions, 25.7% from 3-point range.
“That’s a tied-together group on that end of the court,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.
And while 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall has quickly become a fan favorite in Boston — yes, Stevens is aware of the chants where fans are clamoring for him to play more — the numbers are worth noting as well.
“Everyone is flying under the radar,” Stevens said Sunday. “Except Tacko.”
When it comes to New Orleans, Williamson isn’t flying under anything.
Flying over things is more like it.
The Pelicans are 4-0 in the preseason after winning in San Antonio on Sunday, with Williamson finishing with 22 points and 10 rebounds. He’s shot 29 for 36 from the floor in his last three games, and is averaging 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds on 71% shooting — all in about 27 minutes per game.
CELTICS 118, CAVALIERS 72
Max Strus scored 14 points and Boston finished with six players in double figures.
Kemba Walker returned from a one-game absence with knee soreness and scored 12 points in 15 ½ minutes, going 3 for 3 from 3-point range. The Celtics held the Cavaliers to 33% shooting, 18% on 3-point tries, and forced 29 turnovers.
Sindarius Thornwell scored 12 for Cleveland, which played without Kevin Love (rest) and Tristan Thompson (right groin soreness). Cavs starters Collin Sexton, Matthew Dellavedova and Cedi Osman combined to shoot 3 for 24 and score eight points in 67 minutes.
PELICANS 123, SPURS 114
Williamson’s 22 points led seven New Orleans players in double figures on the way to beating San Antonio.
Jrue Holiday scored 16 for the Pelicans, who overcame a 17-point deficit.
Bryn Forbes scored 18 and DeMar DeRozan added 16 for the Spurs, who held out LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay. The Pelicans gave J.J. Redick the day off for rest.
CLIPPERS 118, MELBOURNE UNITED 100
Kawhi Leonard and Rodney McGruder sat out for the Los Angeles Clippers, who got 22 points from Montrezl Harrell and 16 points from Lou Williams.
The Clippers trailed by as many as 11 in the early going and were down to the Australian club 51-47 at the half, then won the third quarter 43-20 — shooting 16 for 20 in the period — to take control.
Melo Trimble led Melbourne United with 22 points.
BUCKS 115, WIZARDS 108
Khris Middleton had 22 points and nine rebounds while Sterling Brown and Ersan Ilyasova scored 18 points apiece for Milwaukee.
Reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo (illness) did not play for the Bucks (4-0).
Bradley Beal led Washington (2-2) with 20 points, Thomas Bryant scored 17 and Rui Hachimura, the No. 9 overall pick in June’s draft, added 10 points, 12 rebounds and three steals.
BULLS 105, RAPTORS 91
Zach LaVine hit four 3-pointers and finished with 26 points and Lauri Markkanen had 15 points and 13 rebounds for Chicago.
Coby White, drafted No. 7 overall in this summer’s draft, added 18 points for the Bulls (1-3).
OG Anunoby led Toronto (1-2) with 15 points. Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka, Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet (all rest) and Kyle Lowry (thumb) did not play for the Raptors.
76ERS 126, MAGIC 94
Joel Embiid had 15 points and nine rebounds and Tobias Harris scored 14 points for Philadelphia.
Josh Richardson, acquired as part of the trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Miami in July, had 13 points, five assists and five steals for the 76ers (3-0). Free-agent acquisition Al Horford added 11 points and rookie Matisse Thybulle scored 10.
Markelle Fultz, Mo Bamba and Al-Farouq Amina had 12 points apiece for Orlando (3-2).
TIMBERWOLVES 131, MACCABI HAIFA 101
Treveon Graham had 12 points while Jarrett Culver and Shabazz Napier scored 11 apiece for Minnesota.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins added nine points each in 11 and 12 minutes, respectively, for the Timberwolves (1-2).
James Young, a first-round pick by the Boston Celtics in 2014, led Maccabi Haifa with 20 points.