1. Boston was incredibly bad in the first half. It was starting to look like the last few games with the way the Celtics shot the ball. They missed all 11 three-pointers they took and shot just 14-of-44 overall. If it wasn’t for Jayson Tatum’s 13 first half points, Boston would have been down a lot more than 50-34 at halftime. Knowing their 20-year old can carry the load when necessary is both comforting and exciting.
2. The second half? Whoa boy was that a different story. The Celtics scored 67 points after the break. The overall shooting was good, at 19-of-42, but Boston was a sizzling 11-of-21 from behind the arc. Most importantly? It looked like Celtics basketball. Lots of ball movement, with the occasionally attack of a mismatch mixed in. And Al Horford hit three triples in a row at one point, including two as the trail man on the secondary break.
3. Speaking of mismatches, Tatum has been destroying bigs when they switch out on to him. Boston has been running a good amount of 4/5 pick and roll with Tatum and Horford. On Opening Night, Philadelphia repeatedly switched it and Tatum cooked Joel Embiid. Tonight, Tatum got Steven Adams a few times, including this beauty:
4. On the flip side, Adams got plenty of payback, as Boston really missed Aron Baynes. With three physical centers in a row, the Celtics have struggled to control Nikola Vucevic and now Adams. With Andre Drummond next, Boston will need a better effort from Horford and his backups. Horford is a terrific individual defender, but stronger centers can bully him, as Adams did here:
5. We’ve covered a few times that Jaylen Brown seems to be struggling as the fifth option in the starting unit. Tonight Brad Stevens made sure to run some sets designed to get Brown some shots in spots where he’s comfortable. Plays like the one below should be a staple of the offense to get their talented wing engaged in the game.
6. With Daniel Theis largely ineffective in his first half stint, Stevens turned to extremely small-ball in the second half, as Boston ran long stretches with Semi Ojeleye as the five. That defense provided a spark and helped key the third quarter comeback. When Oklahoma City turned to Nerlens Noel and Patrick Patterson at center, Stevens was able to steal minutes by staying small.
7. While Ojeleye provided a spark, he was also part of a bad defensive breakdown that led to an easy dunk for Noel. The below play is an example of what happens when all five defenders aren’t functioning on a string.
8. The above play isn’t what Celtics fans are used to from the NBA’s best defense. This one, of Terry Rozier locking up Dennis Schroder is:
9. The last few points are all about the Celtics closing the game…First, let’s talk about being in the bonus again! This time around, Boston was shooting free throws for the last 5:11 of the game. While they got 10 total FTs out of the bonus, only two came from forcing the action. Those came on a Tatum cut, where he got position on Westbrook. The rest came from OKC committing bad fouls and an intentional foul late in the game. This remains an area the Celtics have got to take better advantage of.
10. Let’s close on a positive note about a really nice comeback win. Stevens has a bunch of options to close games with. He’s got at least eight legitimate players to pick from. Tonight, he went with Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, Tatum and Horford. Why? Those five earned it and paid back Stevens’ faith by closing the game on a 16-1 run to seal the victory.
Irving found his offense in the second half. Tatum was the best offensive player on the floor for the night as a whole. And Horford was excellent after halftime. Smart and Morris? Two different, but important reasons. Smart was out there for defense. He held Russell Westbrook to 0-for-6 shooting and forced two turnovers during the decisive run. Morris was on the floor for his offense. He scored 21 points on the night, including 11 of his 19 second half points in the fourth quarter.
Stevens is having to tinker and adjust, but he has lots of options. Eventually the closing five will sort itself out. Or maybe Stevens really can play it game to game, depending on what he needs and who has the hot hand.