Bill Sy: As Scalabrine and Gorman noted during the game last night, the Celtics ran a lot of isolation in part because of the Nets’ switching defense. Like Boston, Brooklyn switches a lot on pick and rolls in order to negate the opposing teams’ motion on offense. They’ve got strong wing defenders Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, DeMarre Carroll, and Allen Crabbe and it was obvious that their length and athleticism was giving the Celtics a problem, particularly on the second night of a back to back on the road.
The Celtics aren’t too shabby in ISO. Per Synergy, Boston puts defenders on an island 8.2% of the time at a 0.90 points per possession clip. That’s good for 11th in the league. Kyrie Irving is at the 70.3rd percentile in ISO scorers with 3.5 possessions per game and 0.99 ppp. Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier trail behind at 0.98 and 0.92 ppp respectively.
In the closing moments against the Nets, the Celtics went to Marcus Smart three possessions in a row in the half court, twice in isolation against Joe Harris and as a back door cutter with Kyrie Irving with the ball. Smart muscled his way to four points and nearly six save for a blown dunk. It wasn’t pretty and the game was eventually saved by Jayson Tatum’s heroics.
Having Al Horford would have negated some of the offensive issues. He’s the team’s best pick setter and a good playmaker in the high post finding cutters and hitting unsuspecting defenders with a blind screen. However, it’s games like this (and hopefully eventually against teams like the Golden State Warriors) where opposing teams’ defenses switch like the Celtics where Boston really misses Gordon Hayward. When healthy, the Celtics are going to pose serious match-up problems when they can run out a lineup of Irving, Jaylen Brown, Tatum, Hayward, and Horford. Defenses will still switch but at some point, there’s going to be a mismatch to exploit.
Keith Smith: The notorious “Rookie Wall” is supposed to hit rookies in January, when they’ve played more games in the NBA then they ever played in a college or high school season. Instead, it looks like the Celtics youngsters are just getting started.
Let’s start with Jayson Tatum. He was off with his shot early, but impacted the game in other ways. He blocked a career-high six shots, snagged three steals and pulled down six rebounds. Late in the game, Tatum’s offense showed up. First he drove and dunked to give the Celtics a one point lead. Then on the next trip he buried a triple to give Boston a four point lead. His poise under pressure is remarkable for a 19 year old.
Daniel Theis, while not a traditional rookie, made several plays as well. With Al Horford out and Aron Baynes in foul trouble, Theis delivered eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocks for the Celtics. He also broke out a few new moves off the dribble, showing skills he hadn’t shown before. His role has vacillated, depending on the opponent, but he’s at worst a more active, defense-minded version of Tyler Zeller.
The last rookie to show up big was Semi Ojeleye. He sat for the vast majority of the game, with Brad Stevens only calling on him for the last seven minutes of action. But those seven minutes were huge. He straightened up Jahlil Okafor when Okafor tried to back him down in the post. He switched on Spencer Dinwiddie several times and made Dinwiddie take tough shots. And he contested several shots at the rim. The stat sheet will show Ojeleye contributed just one rebound, but if you watched the game, you know he gave the Celtics so much more.
Boston liked their rookie crop going into the year, but didn’t expect to rely on them quite this much. But the season will go the way the season goes and the Celtics have to play the hand they were dealt. But by making smart draft picks and signings, they assured that the odds were in their favor, no matter the hand dealt.
Matt Chin: Did everyone have fun at the Jayson Tatum block party? The newcomer’s six swats doubled his previous career-high, and his instincts on the defensive end continue to expand. The Celtics are 5th in blocks per-36 minutes, but they could be even scarier if Tatum can continue to grow his weak side rim protection. His 6’11” wingspan was on full display tonight, and he keeps finding new ways to look more like a seasoned veteran than 19-year-old neophyte.
Brad Stevens decision to insert Semi Ojeleye in the fourth quarter was masterful. Ojeleye hadn’t played through three quarters, but Stevens leaned on his defense during crunch time. He had two excellent lockdown possessions where he shuffled his feet went vertical on a couple of Spencer Dinwiddie driving layup attempts. He provided the energy that Boston needed after Jahlil Okafor and Co. went on a mini-run early in the fourth quarter.
This was a fall-back-to-earth game for the streaky duo of Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Twenty-four hours after carrying the second unit offense against Minnesota last night, the tandem shot 5-for-21 in Brooklyn. Boston’s bench scoring continues to be roller coaster, but admittedly, inserting Marcus Morris into the starting lineup didn’t help. For now, it’s still too early to conclude that the bench group can be trusted offensively in a playoff series. It’s a storyline that must be followed as the buyout and trade season approaches.