NEW YORK — With hopes of earning one of the final roster spots, Svi Mykhailiuk strengthened his case in his Boston debut against the Knicks on Monday.
On the second night of a back-to-back to start the preseason schedule, head coach Joe Mazzulla sat all five members of Sunday’s starting lineup in New York, along with Jrue Holiday, who was first off the bench in Sunday’s win against the 76ers. This opened up meaningful playing time for Mykhailiuk, who is using his five years of NBA experience as an edge to help secure a spot on this year’s Celtics team and was one of the first players off Mazzulla’s bench midway through the first quarter at Madison Square Garden.
After receiving a DNP-CD in Boston, Mykhailiuk’s 15 points on 5-of-9 attempts, including 3-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arc, led the second unit. He also finished with three rebounds and one assist in 25 minutes.
“It was just great to get out there and compete… As for me, I’ve been in the league. This is my sixth year. So, I feel like everyone runs mostly the same stuff, just different names, so it’s not that hard,” Mykhailiuk said about acclimating to Mazzulla’s system. “I just come in here to learn it, get it (early), and try to learn all the plays. All the guys, how they play, and just adjust to that.”
Mykhailiuk signed a one-year, partially guaranteed deal with the Celtics in late August. He started the 2022-23 campaign with the Knicks before he was traded to the Charlotte Hornets, where he averaged 10.6 points while shooting at a 40.1% clip from 3 to go with his 2.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 19 games.
Svi showed flashes of his playmaking ability against the Knicks. He finished with one assist but made the right passes early and often that kept the offense flowing and New York’s defense on its heels during particular stretches of the Celtics’ 114-107 loss. Mykhailiuk also finished strong at the rim.
“There’s just situational stuff regardless that you can learn from,” Mazzulla said after Monday’s loss. “So, I love the effort, and I love our mindset, I love our physicality. There’s a lot of really good situational possessions that we could learn from.”
Joining his seventh team in his sixth year in the NBA, Mykhailiuk was reportedly considering a deal to play overseas for Greece’s Panathinaikos Athens before Boston’s one-year offer came across the table. With three games left in the preseason, Svi should be granted a chance to showcase his skillset alongside the Celtics’ regulars when Boston travels to Philadelphia for a preseason rematch against the Sixers on Wednesday.
Mykhailiuk has evoked enough intrigue for Mazzulla to tinker with upcoming in-game lineups incorporating the 26-year-old journeyman, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers with the 47th overall pick in the second round of the 2018 Draft, to gauge his fit with everyday rotational players. That’s when we’ll get a clearer picture of how he fares with Boston’s core players.
“It comes down to; can you build trust, and the first way to build trust is by playing hard, by paying attention, and knowing what you’re doing,” Mazzulla said. “Everybody top to bottom has done that, thus far. They’ve played hard, they’ve paid attention. The mistakes we’ve made are not because we’re not working hard; and they’re just mistakes that we learn from. So, I think that’s the first evaluation. Can we trust you, put you in a situation to execute a possession with physicality and IQ?”
Svi, a career 36% 3-point shooter, eclipsed 40% (42.4%) from deep last season — which piqued the Celtics’ intrigue after losing Grant Williams in free agency. But gaining the head coach’s confidence is the next step for Mykhailiuk to make the team, and he still has plenty of opportunities to do so.
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