LAS VEGAS -- Perhaps as a demonstration of their ever-growing chemistry, the Boston Celtics opened their five-game slate at the Las Vegas Summer League with a balanced, full-team effort, as five players scored in double figures en route to a steady 87-69 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Rookies Jared Sullinger and Kris Joseph chipped in 14 points apiece to lead the C's to what boiled down to a grind-it-out affair despite the lopsided score. Dionte Christmas (11), Jonathan Gibson (11) and Jamar Smith (10) rounded out Boston's top five scorers on Monday, but of the five, only Gibson (3-of-5 shooting) and Smith (4-of-9 from the field) were able to score in an efficient manner, as the team as a whole struggled to find a steady offensive rhythm.
Boston shot just 41.8 percent from the field for the game and needed the combined effort of its close-knit squad to dig itself out of an early hole, keep the gas pedal down, and eventually stave off a late Hawks run.
Joseph and Christmas helped the Celtics overcome a 6-of-17 shooting performance in the first quarter with six points apiece (Joseph connected on all four of his free throws), but when they were silenced in the second frame, second-year guard E'Twaun Moore and Smith rose up, combining for 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting. All nine of Moore's points for the game came in the quarter as the C's opened a sizable 49-31 lead.
Then it was Sullinger's turn, as he came through with Boston's first six points of the second half and helped to hold any signs of an Atlanta rally at bay. Sullinger earned consecutive trips to the free throw line, where he buried all four shots, and followed those up with a drive from the right corner and a short hook shot in the lane, keeping Boston ahead by 16 (55-39).
"It's always fun to play out here, but I think our team was too comfortable in the first half," Sullinger said. "Second half, we kind of turned it up."
"I thought [Sullinger] the first half he struggled a little bit with the length of the big guys," Summer League coach Tyronn Lue added. "He struggled with the length a little bit. Second half, our offense got a little stagnant, we took a couple of quick shots, which I'm fine with if it's your shot, and he got the bigs away from the basket a little bit. He was able to put it on the ground, spin, make his move, and get a couple of fouls, get himself going, so that was big for us, because we kind of got in an offensive lull and he kind of bailed us out."
Sullinger would go scoreless for the remainder of the quarter, but Joseph took up the torch alongside Gibson, as the pair combined for 10 points to wind down the third quarter. Joseph, who shot 1-of-5 in the first half, came back with a lightning quick jump shot on the right baseline off a feed from Moore, and followed it up with a 3-pointer from the right corner, also courtesy of Moore.
"[Joseph] was 1-for-5 in the first half, had his head down," Lue said.
"We don't care about missed shots, we don't care about turnovers. We want to play hard, play together, and just be aggressive. If you mess up, we don't care about that. We want you to play the right way, play hard. If you're doing too much, we'll let you know."
No one did too much on Monday, with everyone contributing to what amounted to a winning formula, capped off by Christmas, who helped bring things full circle. After weathering the initial Atlanta storm in the opening quarter, Christmas helped keep Boston ahead with a right wing jumper and a 3-pointer from a similar spot in the fourth period, putting the final stamp on a game won by a group of guys playing for one another.
"We have a great group of guys," Lue said. "Our main focus, we want to go 5-0. You want to pull for one another, play for one another and cheer for one another. If the guy in front of you is playing, cheer for him, and that's what they've been doing. They've been doing a great job of that."