Positive signs (Keith Smith): Well, that is more like it! Welcome back Al Horford and Jae Crowder! Tonight gave us glimpses of how good the Celtics can be. The defense ranged from spectacular to awful. There were communication breakdowns, but that is to be expected as these guys haven't had much time with each other. On offense, things were much the same, but the differences were a little more glaring.
The first unit played really well together to start the game. The ball rarely hit the floor and was being whipped around with great player movement. Once Brad Stevens had to go to the bench, things changed. A drop off from the first team to the second team is natural, but the style of play completely changes for Boston. Terry Rozier in particular is a concern. He simply dribbles the ball too much and doesn't make quick enough decisions. That causes the entire offense to stagnate. Over time the hope is that Rozier will figure it out, but if not, Boston may need to look for a better backup point guard option.
But that feels a bit nit-picky after such a feel good night. For one night at least, the Celtics showed signs of being the team we all hoped they could be. And that is just fine for now.
The 2nd unit journey begins (Alex Kungu): With Crowder and Horford back into the lineup, the Celtics not only added two new players to their starting unit, but they brought back two more players to a struggling bench. While Kelly Olynyk eventually got benched after another horrible game, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and Jonas Jerebko all made a positive impact on the game. Jerebko finally got back to not hesitating on his three attempts, going a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc, while Rozier continues to gain confidence and raise aggressiveness. The second year guard gave valuable minutes while Isaiah Thomas rested in the 3rd quarter, 5 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 assist aren’t the most prolific numbers, but he ran the offense with poise, and kept the Celtics afloat during a critical juncture of the game.
However, nothing compares to the effort that Marcus Smart gave. Coming into the game, Smart was already hobbled with an ankle contusion, and couldn’t get any of his own offense for most of the game. But in true Marcus Smart passion, he battled on the defensive end fearlessly, and when the game was in the balance, made the play of the night when he ran into a sea of Pistons at full speed to try and tip the ball in for the win. He missed, but Al Horford immediately corralled it and made the go-ahead bucket, but none of it would have been possible without Smart clearing out most of the lane with his valiant attempt. Overall, the bench will continue to be an adventure with so many young players being asked to bring stability. But in guys like Smart, Brown, Rozier, and Jerebko, the Celtics have a plethora of athletes to plug and play in combination with their starters. It’ll be interesting to see how it all comes together.
Welcome back, Al & Jae (Tim MacLean): Al Horford and Jae Crowder looked no worse for the wear in their return to the Celtics' lineup after missing the previous nine and eight games, respectively. Surprisingly there was very little rust that showed, save for Crowder shooting 3/9 from the field and 1/4 from beyond the arc. But whether that's attributed to being out of rhythm or just simply a poor shooting night, the best news coming out of this game was Crowder's ability to play 27 minutes when, really, he was supposed to be on a 24-minute restriction, according to Brad Stevens. The Celtics needed all hands on deck down the stretch of this game and Crowder's presence alone made a difference. Had he been out, that's probably Jaylen Brown or Jonas Jerebko on the floor in his place and maybe this game ends differently.
As for Horford, he managed to play a whopping 34 minutes and definitely didn't look like a guy who hadn't played legitimate NBA basketball in three weeks or so. The big man notched his first double-double of the season with 18 points and 11 rebounds and complemented that with five assists, two steals and three blocks—the last of which happened to be a game-sealing rejection of Aron Baynes as the clock expired. Beyond that, though, the ball was zipping around the floor whenever Horford was in the game. He ran about 500 dribble-handoffs with each of the Celtics' guards and was excellent in the pick-and-roll/pop.
Perhaps the most telling number is his game-high +16 plus/minus. Horford's impact could be seen in every aspect of the game and he's a huge reason the Celtics were able to come away with this win.
The art of setting a screen (Bill Sy): It doesn’t show up as a counting stat in the box score, but screen setting is such a big part of the game. With the NBA shifting to more perimeter play, being able to 1) set an effective pick and 2) be an option as a roll man or a pop shooter is very important. You could see it tonight with Al Horford back in the lineup.
Maybe some of them are illegal. I don’t know. I’m not a screenologist, but I do appreciate art and Horford is an artist when it comes to setting screens. Horford uses all 6’10, 250 lbs. of his body to free up Thomas on those straight lines to the basket and creates enough space for Bradley to shoot his mid range jumper. In addition to his work as a lead blocker, Horford has become a reliable stretch big with his three-point shot and a good down hill runner when he rolls to the rim.
After all the convoluted ATO’s in Monday’s loss in New Orleans, The Celtics went to the same simple dribble hand off play between Thomas and Horford three times to finish the game and it resulted in a Thomas lay up, Thomas getting to the line, and Thomas finding Crowder for an open 3 (that lead to Smart’s offensive rebound and Horford’s eventual game-winning put back). We’ll see that bread and butter all year.
Are Jaylen Brown’s limited minutes a sign of things to come? (Lachlan Marr): We didn’t see much of the Celtics rookie in this game but what we did see was fairly encouraging. Brown came in for a couple of short stints and managed to make an impact on the box score putting up five points in just seven and a half minutes on the floor. He was tenacious on offense even though he remains a step slow at times on defense and is obviously still figuring out his place in the rotations.
With Jae Crowder back and Jonas Jerebko seemingly firing on all cylinders, Stevens seemed reluctant to put Brown in for big minutes in such a close contest. In the end this proved to be the right call as the Celtics got the win but it will be interesting to see if the rook gets much run in the coming weeks now that the Celtics are back at full strength.
With all the major pieces back in play we might see the rotations stabilise somewhat and get a good idea of where and how much Brown can contribute to the team this season. With the positive play in limited minutes displayed by Brown so far it’s likely he’ll craft himself a steady spot in the regular rotation and ultimately where he goes from there will depend on him continuing to perform.