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Old fashion center may be back in Boston - Noah Vonleh may be a keeper

 Turnovers (4 last night vs. Charlotte) and a few defensive lapses aside, if Noah Vonleh can supply more games like this one, he deserves a roster spot in Boston.

Born in Salem, Massachusetts, Vonleh was taken with the 9th-overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, but has yet to supply the promise he displayed at Indiana as a collegian. Brad Stevens is hoping that changes in Beantown.

Noah supplied a double-double in 31 minutes as the starter at center versus the Charlotte Hornets, to the tune of 14 points (6-of-8 from the field) and 13 boards. His footwork is decent inside, and he seemed to have little trouble scoring down low. At 6'10" and 257 pounds, it is unlikely he will get bullied close to the hoop. He is an excellent rebounder.

In short, the New England native appears to be a reasonable addition to the Celtics roster in the temporary absence of Rob Williams. And with some work on his defense, we could see him stick for the long term.


Grant Williams looks like a new player: 7 takeaways from Celtics vs. Hornets

Plus: Blake Griffin makes his Celtics debut and more.

Celtics Hornets
Celtics' Grant Williams shoots against Hornets' Mason Plumlee. AP Photo/Chuck Burton

The Celtics rallied back from a double-digit first-half deficit to claim a 112-103 victory over the Hornets in their third preseason game on Friday despite missing most of their rotation.

Here’s what happened.

1. Where in the world did this come from, Grant Williams?


Williams finished with nine points in 28 minutes as part of the Celtics’ starting unit, but the field goals were loud.

At one point in the second half, Williams found himself isolated against Mason Plumlee. Williams hit the Hornets center with a perfectly timed hesitation crossover, then drove to the basket and flung his body into Plumlee to draw a foul while scoring the layup.


In the clip above, he attacked P.J. Washington off the bounce — crossing between his legs three times before he pulled the ball back, faked Washington into the air, ducked past him with his pivot foot planted and swished a floater with his right hand.

Williams has always felt like a player who would wring out every drop of his potential over the course of his career given his work ethic and enthusiasm. If he can attack closeouts and beat bigs off the dribble like this, there might be more potential than we expected.

2. Blake Griffin played in a Celtics uniform for the first time on Friday. He finished with seven points, but shot just 1-for-6 from the floor. His lone field goal was a 3-pointer, but he did pull down nine rebounds in his 16 minutes.

“It felt all right, a little rust. I hadn’t played 5-on-5 yet so it’s always a little weird coming in a little late,” Griffin told Abby Chin of NBC Sports Boston after the game. “But these guys are great, the coaching staff is great and I was glad we picked it up in the second half and got a win.”


Not for the first time, Griffin seemed to take a semi-veiled shot at the Nets when Chin asked him about his new teammates.

“I think the intensity level and maturity level of this group is off the charts,” he said. “Every day when we get to work, it’s intense. It’s not that we’re going forever, but these guys are locked in and nobody has to tell us to be locked in. It’s refreshing.”

“Refreshing” sure sounds pretty pointed from a guy who had to deal with the Kyrie Irving roller coaster last season.

3. With the other Celtics starters out except for Jaylen Brown (who once again looked ready for the regular season), Derrick White put together his best performance of the preseason. White scored 18 points on 6-for-10 shooting and made two of his five 3-pointers with his retooled form, but his most impressive offense came in transition when he pushed the pace and got straight to the rim.

White operates well in the paint and can score over and around opposing bigs with a variety of neat little tricks and an abundance of fakes and patience. If the Celtics continue to start small while they wait for Robert Williams to return, allowing White to push the pace might add a previously under-explored wrinkle to their offense.


4. Noah Vonleh can do one thing at a really high level: Rebound. On this Celtics team, that’s a pretty big deal. He pulled down 13 on Friday. Again, Williams’ absence leaves the Celtics in a tough spot on the glass, but Vonleh might be a nice stopgap in that regard. That feels like it might be enough to earn him a final roster spot.

5. Kemba Walker — who is technically still on the Pistons’ roster despite reports that the team planned to negotiate a buyout — was in the building to watch two of his former teams battle. Abby Chin caught up with him to get his thoughts on his former teammates, which (predictably, if you know Kemba Walker) were overwhelmingly positive.

During the pandemic, Grant Williams lived with Walker in Charlotte, and Walker is unsurprised by Williams’ breakout performance over the last two years.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Grant since he was in college, and getting the opportunity to play with him, how hard he works,” Walker said. “He’s going to get better all the time just because he loves the gym so much. So yeah, I saw it coming. It’s no surprise for me.”

Walker also had thoughts on Joe Mazzulla, who was assigned to be Walker’s primary assistant during their time together. Walker still holds the interim head coach in high regard.

“He’s hard-nosed,” Walker said. “He tells it like it is. He has great character. He holds everyone accountable equally. He’s just not scared, you know? …


“They got a great coach. But even more important, they have a special person. He’s a special guy to me.”

Finally, Walker remains unsurprised by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown as they rise into the upper echelons of the league.

“They’re special,” he said. “I’ve said it from day one, and I won’t change it. Two special talents, and most importantly, two literally special guys on the court. Their parents deserve a lot of credit.”

6. It’s still not clear how Payton Pritchard can earn real minutes on this roster, but he certainly hasn’t hurt his chances with his preseason play. Pritchard finished with 15 points and seven assists, and he continued to show a deep bag of dribble moves and tough shots that got deeper over the summer.

7. Justin Jackson always had a steep uphill battle to make the Celtics’ roster, and the first two games of the preseason weren’t kind to his prospects. On Friday, he started poorly by missing several threes and a couple of point-blank layups, but he improved steadily as the game went on and caught fire in the second half en route to 16 points on 6-for-14 shooting.

He also made a spectacular defensive play in transition as the Celtics pulled away late in the third.

Jackson remains deeply unlikely to make the final cut, but for players like him, the audition for the Celtics is also an audition for other teams. Here’s hoping someone was paying attention to the second half.

The Celtics close the preseason with a contest against the Raptors next Friday at 7 p.m.


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