1. Gordon Hayward got the night off due to some general soreness in his left ankle. Brad Stevens turned back to last season’s wildly successful starting group with Aron Baynes taking Hayward’s place. It allowed the Celtics to better match with another burly opposing center in Enes Kanter. Stevens is going to continue to match Baynes to good offensive centers as much as possible.
2. With Baynes in the game, the Celtics have done a nice job on the glass. After he went out late in the first half with an apparent hamstring injury, the Knicks started to get on the offensive boards. Kanter alone had five offensive rebounds after Baynes left the game and Noah Vonleh added three more. It’s an area of concern for three years running for Boston.
3. A disturbing early trend: Al Horford goes to the bench and the offense falls apart. When Horford is in the game, he unlocks things with his passing and screening. He pulls the opposing big from the paint, which opens it up for cuts and driving lanes. In the first three games, when he’s gone out, the Celtics have gone to sloppy isolation basketball. Boston has tremendous individual talents, but when they are really special is when they do it as a team.
4. An example of the good Celtics is this set:
Kyrie gets it off a set play where the floor is spread wide and he gets an open layup because of it. These sorts of things are there all game long, when Boston plays together and doesn’t have one player dribble for 10 seconds of a possession.
5. Terry Rozier’s confidence is off the charts right now. He has every reason to play with force after starting down the stretch and for the entirety of Boston’s playoff run. Seeing him actually do it is encouraging. If Rozier keeps up this level of play, he’ll be in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year, and a monster contract as a free agent this summer.
6. On the flip-side, Jaylen Brown seems lost. After a breakout second season, Brown seems to be the guy who is suffering as a result of all the mouths to feed in Boston. Oddly enough, he’s getting about the same amount of shots he got last year, but he doesn’t have the ball as much. Normally his confidence is overflowing, right now it seems to be wavering. Brown has too much talent for this to last too long, but someone was bound to be thrown off by the depth of the roster. So far, it seems like it is Brown.
7. Back to the rebounding…Jayson Tatum has really stepped it up on the glass. In this game he had a career-high 14 rebounds. This is after grabbing 18 total boards in the first two games. As a rookie, Tatum pulled down five rebounds a night. If he can really double that, it will go a long way towards easing Boston’s concerns about taking care of their own glass.
8. Disturbing early trend #2: For a second straight game, the Celtics failed to take advantage of lengthy stay in the penalty. Last time out, they were shooting free throws for the last five minutes plus of the fourth quarter and failed to force the issue. Tonight, they had seven minutes plus of freebies in the third quarter. Instead of getting in the paint and forcing fouls, Boston kept launching jumpers. The only free throws they got during that seven minute stretch were off dumb fouls by the Knicks away from the hoop. The Celtics have got to be better of making the most of this advantage when it presents itself.
9. A lot of the focus this summer was on the recoveries of Irving and Hayward. Not as much as made of Daniel Theis’ return from offseason knee surgery. When he went down last year, Theis had become a key part of the rotation as the primary backup for Baynes. He got 14 minutes of run against the Knicks, but looked really rusty. He doesn’t have the explosion or lateral quickness that made him special on defense last year. His comeback doesn’t grab headlines like his more-heralded teammates, but it’s pretty important for Boston’s big man depth.
10. Where would the Celtics be without Jayson Tatum? He bailed Boston out twice late in the fourth quarter. First was this play, where he came up with a loose ball and turned it into a dunk:
Then he missed a dunk, but got his own rebound and dropped a filthy fall-away to almost ice the game:
Tatum has made the winning plays for the Celtics several times in the season’s first week. With the team still finding their footing, Boston needs him to continue this run of big-time play. (Yes…we’re agreeing to ignore that he fouled Trey Burke shooting a 40-foot three-pointer on the Knicks last possession.)
BONUS: This was an ugly win for Boston. A “win” if you will. It all counts the same in the standings, but shorthanded or not, second night of a back-to-back or not, this is a game the Celtics should win going away. The Knicks closed the game with two players on non-guaranteed contracts and a Two-Way player on the floor. If Boston is the incredibly deep, versatile team they were presumed to be, this game should have been a blowout.