Boston finally cleared the last hurdle after a brutal schedule stretch before the trip to London, culminating in tonight’s close 87-85 win against the Brooklyn Nets. Although it wasn’t pretty by any means, Boston took care of the ball (only 4 turnovers) and rallied in the second half to overcome the absence of Al Horford who injured his knee last night in Boston against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s day-to-day moving forward.
Horford’s absence was apparent in more ways than one. The Celtics struggled defensively, they missed his passing, and they missed his rebounding. The first quarter demonstrated this the most. After a slow start in the first two minutes on both ends, fans were treated to an early “Mad Brad” timeout by coach Brad Stevens. Boston responded with a stronger showing after the timeout, but still struggled throughout the period.
The Celtics called Aron Baynes’ number often at the start of the game, running a lot of high-post action in place of Horford. Just as we all expected, the game quickly turned into an Aron Baynes-Tyler Zeller showdown; Zeller had 6 points and 2 rebounds, and Baynes had 6 points and 3 rebounds at the conclusion of the first quarter. The former Celtic Zeller finished the game with 7 points.
Marcus Smart (11 points on 29% shooting) wasn’t quite able to reproduce his stellar offensive showing against the Timberwolves. He had a few strong takes at the rim in the first half, and his presence gave Boston the defensive boost that the team was missing with Al Horford sitting the game out. However, Smart’s success rate at the rim cooled in the second half.
Kyrie Irving had a very quiet first quarter, but he came alive after being inserted back into the game early in the second. Irving truly started to play with a fire after halftime, helping the Celtics find the lead in the third quarter with 9 points in that frame. He finished with a game-high points 21 points to go with 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
An odd moment occurred in the third quarter when Aron Baynes, who finished the game with 10 points and 6 rebounds, set an off-ball screen to free up Kyrie Irving. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (8 points and 7 rebounds) collided with Baynes’ shoulder, got up, looked around woozily, had to be held back by a teammate, and Baynes was called for the offensive foul for slightly moving his shoulder into Hollis-Jefferson. This started a chain reaction of fouls for Baynes who entered the third quarter with 2 fouls and left the third quarter at the 7-minute mark with 5 fouls. Thankfully, someone else stepped up to protect the rim for Boston.
Jayson Tatum (14 points and 6 rebounds) posted a career-high six blocks to go with 3 steals. His defense was focused tonight, and he saved a few possessions for Boston with his Inspector Gadget arms. Tatum’s the first Boston rookie to post at least six blocks in a game since Vitor Faverani in his rookie debut during the 2013-14 season. Tatum’s contributions weren’t limited to the defensive end, however. Boston called Tatum’s number a few times in the third, and he also created some opportunities for himself, including this highlight:
Oh, and this one too:
Folks, he’s good.
In the fourth, Boston got a little too-iso-heavy, allowing Brooklyn back into the game. Spencer Dinwiddie (20 points) and Jahlil Okafor (12 points and 5 rebounds) helped Brooklyn fight back. It was a tight, back-and-forth affair in the last frame, evolving into the ultimate small ball showcase with Semi Ojeleye and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson both manning the center positions for their respective teams. The stalemate was broken by a few Marcus Smart drives, but the game truly ended when Jayson Tatum decided enough was enough.
Tatum drove into the lane for a loud one-handed dunk, and after a stop by Ojeleye on the other end, Tatum swished home the dagger 3-pointer in front of Boston’s bench to launch the Celtics into their European vacation. Joe Harris made it interesting at the end, but the defense and a close miss by Hollis-Jefferson at the buzzer sent the Nets packing.
The Celtics have won a league-leading 6 games in a row while also having the most wins in the NBA with 33.
Boston now has four days off to travel and practice in London before a Thursday afternoon overseas matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers.