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The Read & React: no Big 3, no problem

Down eighteen points and with Kyrie Irving out after an early elbow to the face, the Celtics gutted out their 11th straight win in gutty fashion.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Sy: There are little gem moments in every game that you look for to inform you what kind of team and players you've got. Tonight, a few stick out to me: that fracas between Marcus Smart and Dwight Howard and Guerschon Yabusele’s inability to intentionally foul at the right time. With Smart, I really don't think Dwight threw him to the floor. It was Smart trying to sell a call against a guy that was killing the Celtics in the paint. But when Howard started clapping back, Marcus used the conflict to motivate himself (I think). Like Tyler Durden beating himself up in Fight Club, I love how Smart lives in the aggression. It's KG-like. You love it when players find their niche, but how many guys' niche is trench warfare?

The second moment was Yabusele failing to foul Howard before the two-minute mark and then doubling down and fouling Howard under two minutes, giving the Hornets two free free throws. Brad Stevens was initially visibly upset on the sideline and pulled the rookie for his rookie mistake pretty quickly. Stevens would later take the blame in his post-game comments. But as Yabusele headed to the bench, Stevens turned the mistake into a teaching moment. It didn't look like he was harping about the fouling. That's a simple fix. Instead, it looked like Stevens was discussing some pick-and-roll coverage with the Dancing Bear. Stevens' dedication to growth mindset with each and every player on the roster is why the Celtics have won eleven in a row.

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Keith Smith: It’s a pretty thin line between hero and goat. Just ask Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier and Guerschon Yabusele. All three made boneheaded plays at key points in the game. More importantly, all three made some great plays to help the Celtics to their 11th straight win.

But most important of all was Jayson Tatum growing up right before our eyes. He's obviously hurting with some sort of foot/ankle/leg issue, but he gutted it out. And down the stretch, he showed why Danny Ainge insists the Celtics would have drafted him first overall. Tatum made several big hoops and a handful of great stops on the other end. He shows remarkable poise and potential for a rookie—even more impressive when you remember he's just 19 years old.

With their Big 3 sidelined, the Celtics turned to the NBA's best defense to keep the streak going. It was a roller coaster ride of redemption. And it was all the more fun for it.

Greg Cassoli: It was a tale of two halves for the Dancing Bear. Guerschon Yabusele played just long enough to contribute a massive brain fart in the first half, failing to implement the Celtics' intentional foul strategy (as detailed above). But the second half was a different story.

Yabusele didn't produce many of the counting stats that are typically associated with productivity, but his energy in the fourth quarter changed the game. He sprinted up and down the court, busted his behind on defense, and went after rebounds with tenacity. He, along with Shane Larkin, managed to whip the rest of the roster, and the Boston fan base, into a fervor, and it carried the Celtics to a victory. That's more than you can hope for from an end-of-the-bench rookie.

Bill Sy: The Celtics flipped the script in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Hornets 26-11 after getting outscored in the first quarter by the same margin. They clamped down on Charlotte with their league-leading defense and improved their DefRtg to 94.8. That’s four points better than the second-ranked Thunder. Here’s Charlotte’s shot chart in the 4th quarter, when they only scored 11 points total:

That includes three drives by Kemba Walker and his patented step-back jumper (more on that in a second) for the Hornets’ only made field goals. So much of Charlotte’s scoring troubles was born out of Boston’s ICEing scheme against pick-and-rolls. See that pizza slice of eight missed mid-range jumpers and contested 3s? That’s exactly where Brad Stevens wants opposing teams to take their shots.

As a point of reference, here’s what happens when the defense can’t contain a guard—particularly a right-handed ball handler going to his right—and he gets loose in the paint.

And here are a few examples from the 4th where the Celtics forced ball handlers away from the basket, including Marcus Morris on Charlotte’s final possession and Walker’s potential game winner:

I don’t have the analytics on it, but I’m sure the Celtics do. If they can get right-handed players to the left side of the floor and either a) get them to shoot a low percentage shot or b) take a contested shot at the rim with their off hand, they’ll live with the results. Here’s Morris on his defense to close out win #11:

Um...what Marcus said.

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