What me rebound? (Keith Smith): While continuing to search for a winning group with Al Horford and Jae Crowder on the mend, Brad Stevens turned to Kelly Olynyk and Marcus Smart in the starting unit. For one night at least, the move had the desired effect, as the Celtics blew out the Knicks. Given the team's challenges with rebounding, even with bigger players, it seemed like a curious move. If you look a little deeper though, it starts to make more sense.
Sometimes the best thing a coach can do is punt on a weakness, while playing up strengths. Sure, the Celtics got killed on the boards again, allowing 21 offensive rebounds. But the Knicks only had 13 second chance points (unofficial). This is because, unlike in previous games where Boston got similarly abused on the glass, the smaller unit was able to close out and recover to shooters. This made those second looks more difficult. And they succeeded in getting up into the Knicks' jerseys all night long and frustrating Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and others. They switched all screens, including ones involving Kristaps Porzingis. By pressuring the ball handler though, New York was unable to take advantage of mismatches due to the inability to find clear passing angles.
Most important of all? Smart and Olynyk brought a swagger to the starting lineup. For the first time all year, Boston looked like the scrappy bunch we have come to know and love from the last two years. They got their hands on balls, dove on the floor and ran the floor and attacked the rim relentlessly. Sometimes by creating a mismatch for yourself in one phase of the game, you can create advantages in others. Stevens took this tactic tonight and it worked. And the best part? Help is on the way soon. 4-4 might not be the start most expected, but all things considered it isn't bad.
Rebounding on rebounding (Tim MacLean): The rebounding effort was better tonight. New York still had the upper hand in that area but there was one instance where Avery Bradley and Tyler Zeller ended up knocking the ball out of bounds because they both attacked a potential rebound. I always say rebounding is 50% positioning and 50% desire. The Celtics wanted the loose ball more than they have to this point in the season and it showed.
Steals were up, defense was more active, which led to a couple length-of-the-court passes that resulted in layups or free throws. Tonight was a step in the right direction.
Rebounding leads to fast break points (Bobby Manning): The Celtics got back to their bread and butter tonight: the transition game. Their effort had a level of flow to it all night long. Sure the Knicks went into nuclear meltdown mode by the end of the game, but the C's had to make something out of all the turnovers they were able to force and they showed again they're as deadly as any team when you give them the ball back.
Marcus Smart taking on the Turner role? (Alex Kunguu): Smart didn’t shoot the ball well (to the surprise of no one), but it’s undeniable how much intensity he brings to the game. His development as a ball-handler looks a lot more advanced than anticipated. Smart finished the game 12 points, 6 rebounds, 10 assists, and 3 steals. He looked in total control darting passes all over the floor to his teammates, and looked very comfortable running an offense regardless of pressure. A lot of people thought it would be Terry Rozier who took Evan Turner’s role, but based on Smart’s impact since he retuned, there’s no chance it’ll be anyone but him.
A note on Marcus Smart’s 3’s (Jeff Clark): Another note on Marcus Smart, he took 3 three pointers at the end of the shot clock (including one deep desperation heave). That isn't to excuse his poor 3 point shooting percentage, but it is worth noting. I would argue also, that his 2 early 3 pointers spurred on the team to their early hot start. Three point shooting remains a concern with him, but he's not shying away from the shot and confidence is a good start.
The agitator (Bill Sy): Before Carmelo Anthony got ejected from the game—Tony Brothers kicked him out of the classroom for “bad language”—he’d been lighting up the Celtics to the tune of 12 points in 12 minutes. He’d been schooling the smaller Marcus Smart on 5-of-8 shooting and showing the youngster why he’s a superstar.
But here’s the thing. Smart got into him. Six of Anthony’s eight field goal attempts were contested and even though he made 4 of them, my hunch is that Smart got in his head. On Wednesday, he messed with John Wall and Wall got ejected from a blow out win after a flagrant 2 after tackling Smart in the back court. It has to be frustrating to play against Smart. He’s young and brash, but it’s not like you’re going head-to-head against somebody that you’re going to trade shots with. No, Smart’s going to get under your skin. You might be playing chess, but Smart’s out there forcing his way around a RISK board until the entire map is his. I love watching him switch onto Porzingis. He doesn’t try to magically make himself taller and contest his shots. Smart gets smaller, lowers his center of gravity, and attacks Porzingis’ knees. He neutralizes Porzingis’ size by using it against him.
Smart has had a reputation as a flopper and last season, was one of the worst shooters in the game, but things have changed. He’s not trying to sell calls as much and (fingers crossed) he’s shooting a respectable 34.4% from behind the arc. He’s 9-for-20 on open catch-and-shoots. The small sample police will ding me, but the improved shot mechanics look to be working. That has to frustrate opponents. Not only is Smart annoying me on defense, but he’s banging 3’s now and dishing the ball like a pure point guard. Smart lead the Celtics last night with 10 assists.
The Thomas Crown Affair (Bobby Manning): Thomas' shooting sticks out to me more by the game. He's taking massive volumes of shots (17.3 FGA!!), especially from the perimeter (6.3), and he's hitting them at high rates (47%, 30%). Two years ago his offense revolved around getting to the line, he got the benefit of the doubt often for being smaller than everyone on contact. Now there's no denying he's one of the best scorers in basketball because he's putting the ball in the bucket all over the floor. The ceiling with him doesn't seem to have a height at this point. His numbers are already above where they were in his career 2015-16 season. If he can continue to be this efficient at such high levels of usage offensively his story is going to reach new levels of historic relevancy.
This pass (Bill Sy):
Big picture time (Jeff Clark): The Celtics were 4-4 after 8 games last year. Currently they are 4-4. Injuries and early season adjustments are making things difficult for this team. There's no excuse for the last two losses which were awful. But on the macro level things might not be as bad as they have seemed lately. And when we get Horford and Crowder back, ...watch out.