Celtics, Zion remain sizzling to start pre-season

AP – Pre-season 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 number one 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 last Sunday night — 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 pre-season were a 41-17 stretch last Sunday against Charlotte, and opening the game with a 29-4 burst at Orlando last 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, defence has been the constant. Boston is holding opponents to 36.5 per cent shooting through the first three exhibitions, 25.7 per cent from three-point range.

“That’s a tied-together group on that end of the court,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

And while seven-foot-six centre Tacko Fall has quickly become a fan favourite in Boston — yes, Stevens is aware of the chants where fans are clamouring for him to play more — the numbers are worth noting as well.

“Everyone is flying under the radar,” Stevens said. “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 pre-season after winning in San Antonio last 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 per cent shooting — all in about 27 minutes per game.

Boston Celtics’ Kemba Walker (L) shoots against Cleveland Cavaliers’ Jarell Martin. PHOTO: AP

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 minutes, going three for three from three-point range. The Celtics held the Cavaliers to 33 per cent shooting, 18 per cent on three-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 three 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 ninth overall pick in June’s draft, added 10 points, 12 rebounds and three steals.