A little bit of tension was released last night.
Aron Baynes, for instance, knocked around a frustrated Dwight Howard a little bit.
“It’s fun,” the Celtics center said after last night’s 94-82 win over Charlotte in the exhibition opener. “Everyone’s in preseason getting used to it again. We’ve been hitting our teammates for so long that it’s fun to get out there and hit someone else’s teammates.”
And then there was the Garden, a new experience for all but four players on the Celts roster.
“You know what it felt like, it was just so wide out there,” Kyrie Irving said with a unique take on the evening. “I don’t know if you even understand what I’m saying. Like when we start off the game, like my eyes were just wide. And the basket was a little bit smaller and things were just a lot bigger than what they are. And that’s just literally not playing basketball on an NBA floor for a few months. So I was taking in all that newness before I could even get so nervous and anxious.”
It began with a normal national anthem — nothing planned — as the Hornets locked arms down the other end, and by the end revealed a little of everything to their first 2017-18 crowd.
Irving put his dribble skills — best in the NBA — on display with nine points, three assists and two steals in 19 minutes, and though Gordon Hayward’s shot (2-for-6) barely fell, the new Celtics forward paired with Al Horford to facilitate an offense focused on opening early-season space.
Baynes, perhaps the surprise of the evening with 10 points (5-for-8) and five rebounds, muscled up against Howard better than any Celtics big man in recent memory. Marcus Smart (3-for-7) indulged himself from beyond the arc, attempting only one shot (a miss) under 23 feet, and rookie Jayson Tatum, perhaps with a case of the first night nerves (4-for-11), finally hit stride in the second half.
Daniel Theis, the big German forward signed out of the Euroleague, was something of a second-half revelation at the rim with 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting, seven rebounds and a block.
Stevens, acknowledging that his starting lineup will be more dependent on matchups this season, brought Smart off the bench behind a starting five of Irving, Hayward, Horford, Baynes and Jaylen Brown. Baynes’ selection obviously was made with Howard in mind.
But it’s all fine with Smart, whose toughness and mentorship will sure to pay dividends for the young Celts.
“He was debating about…