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The Read & React: depth perception

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With Kyrie Irving nursing a facial fracture, back up guards Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart showed the Raptors just how deep this Celtics team is.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Keith Smith: Gordon Hayward said it all:

When you defend, as the Celtics do in spades, you are never really out of a game—even when you have to close with Al Horford and four guys who were in elementary school when he came in the NBA.

And don't overlook the Baynes/Theis combo. The Celtics haven't had a really physical center since Kendrick Perkins left town. Now they have two. Baynes is more skilled than Perkins. Theis is more athletic. But both are tough and want to find contact. That goes a long way, especially in the playoffs where the more physical team often wins.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Sy: With Kyrie Irving sitting out and recovering from a facial fracture, Marcus Smart got a spot start at point guard against Toronto. It couldn’t come against a more perfect team for Marcus to match up with. The Raptors are not particularly fast, but they’re big and they play a very deliberate style. They’ve tried to play more wide open since last season, but when it matters, they’re a grinding team that leans on their guards to create shots.

Smart was what we expect out of him on the defensive end: tough and hard-nosed. By my estimation, Kyle Lowry is Smart’s biggest rival. Whenever they get together, it’s a rough-and-tumble affair. Lowry had a productive line with 19 & 7, but Smart held him in check, and Lowry finished the game a -4 and battling foul trouble in the second half. Smart was a team-leading +11 with 14 points and 9 assists.

Here’s a quote from Smart after the Celtics won their 12th game in a row:

It’s funny, but that kinda perfectly encapsulates Smart’s approach to the game. His work on his shooting form this summer hasn’t exactly translated in the box score (29.1 FG% and 3FG%), but his development as a point guard has become a welcome bright spot in his contract year. It has allowed Kyrie Irving to play off the ball and given Brad Stevens a reliable ball handler in Smart’s sixth starter role.

When we talk about all-around scorers, we look at whether or not a player can make shots at all three levels: behind the arc, in the mid-range, and at the rim. The same applies for point guards and playmakers and whether or not they can make a variety of passes. Can a PG operate in the pick-and-roll? Can a PG dribble in traffic and deliver the ball in tight spaces? Can a PG hit open shooters on the weak side swing? Yesterday afternoon, Smart showed just how capable he is as a lead guard, particularly in the half court. That could pay dividends in the playoffs when the games tend to slow down.

Smart added those pocket bounce passes last season, and that skill has carried over to this year. It’s such an important piece especially when you have Al Horford on your roster. If you can hit him with a dime, he’s got an easy shot or can make the hockey pass to the open shooter.

These lob passes are nice too if the bounce isn’t there and the big can seal his man:

But it’s these passes that most impressed me yesterday. Despite not being a shooter right now, Smart still has the ability to get defenses to suck into him and make the next pass after his defender and a help defender collapse:

He reminds me so much of Andre Miller when he comes off a pick and gets his defender on his back. He probes to find another defender to commit to the ball and quickly zips it to the open guy. We know about Smart’s cobra strike on defense, but he’s quickly becoming a threat with the pass, too.

Jeff Clark: Next man up, right? Everyone contributed but in particular it was fun to see Terry Rozier excel. Two plays stick out to me.

One where he got switched onto Valanciunas, sidestepped, and drained a 3 pointer and got fouled.

The other where he sliced through the defense in transition and made one of those acrobatic layups that he frequently gets a bit wild with. He played his game and played it well.

Jeff Nooney: In his last two games against the Celtics, DeMar DeRozan averaged 42 points while achieving the vaunted 50-40-90 shooting splits. That trend has thankfully come to an end. His 24 points weren’t a bad tally, but the Celtics held him to just 36% from the field on 22 shots. It was a team effort, as DeRozan saw plenty of different defenders on him: Morris, Tatum, Rozier, and Smart were all matched on him at different points throughout the night.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

But it came down to Al Horford and Jaylen Brown down the stretch. Horford switched onto him multiple times in last three minutes. But his strong perimeter defense held DeRozan to just 1/3 shooting. It’s yet another example of what Horford’s versatility on defense brings to the team.

Ultimately it was Jaylen Brown who needed to make a play at the end though. He was matched on DeRozan for the final shot, and he defended the ISO attempt just about perfectly. Brown prevented the drive to the hoop, didn’t over-commit on DeRozan’s spin, and contested the shot without fouling. DeRozan created a decent look, but Brown’s combination of length and athleticism made it difficult. That (and maybe a little luck) was enough to cause a miss and seal the win.

Romy Nehme: Asked about Daniel Theis after the game, Brad praised his big man's activity level:

"You can cover up a lot of sins when you play with a high motor."

Let’s generalize that statement, because it seems that the Celtics continue to win games by covering up some glaring sins that they’ll have a chance of improving on *once* their roster stabilizes.

You can cover up a lot of sins when you limit turnovers.

You can cover up a lot of sins when you rebound your misses.

You can cover up a lot of sins when you get your hands on balls and contest shots.

Theis does a lot of those things. More than that, the beauty of the Celtics’ big man rotation, and the reason I hesitate whenever I hear about the prospect of the Suns buying out Monroe, or that of Noel falling out of favor with Carlisle, is that all our big guys are also plusses offensively. Theis can make the occasional 3, he can drive on close outs or off the catch, he moves the ball to the next man with ease, he’s always buzzing around the rim and in position for a tip in, and makes himself a target when his man sags off him.

I continue to marvel at each and every one of the Celtics’ pieces.

It’s so rare that a roster is so perfectly distributed when it comes to “size of role” and “type of role”. We’ve complained about having too many redundant options in the past and not enough separation between players, which can lead to disgruntlement when some players inevitably drop in the rotation. But these guys can coexist so harmoniously in part because no one player feels like he deserves something he’s not getting, and everyone is filling their role exactly as they should be. (I bet it also has something to do with what Stevens looks for and rewards.)

Trust the System. Who’s making the t-shirt?

Simon Pollock: Anybody else get a little nostalgic and teary-eyed watching Jaylen Brown open up the Celtics' scoring with these two plays?

I felt myself searching for ol' No. 0, the 6'2" shooting guard out of Texas now making defensive stops for the Detroit Pistons.

Now Avery Bradley's off helping turn Detroit into an Eastern Conference contender and I've already written about what the new No. 0 in Boston can do. But watching No. 7 take on opening-bucket duties on a curl route or dribble handoff got me misty.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Washington Wizards Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, Brown's more than a step slower than Bradley running this play and he needed the dribble or two to get the bucket a bit closer to the rim, but turning this into a reliable scoring method again felt comfortable and reliable. Not just for fans, either.

The Celtics still have a lot more to figure out. Brown himself has plenty of room to grow. But his growth should happen as one of the central focuses of the team. He's earning his stripes with the extra attention and without Hayward, and it's going to make him into an even more reliable source of offense.