1. For the first time this season, the Celtics played without Al Horford, as he is nursing a sore left knee. Marcus Morris drew the start in Horford’s place and Aron Baynes also started once again. Those two combined with Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to get Boston off to one of their best starts of the season. The Celtics scored 45 points in the opening frame, as they knocked down 16-of-25 shots, including 8-of-12 from behind the arc. The hot shooting was a welcomed sight, as was 12 assists on the 16 first quarter baskets.
2. While this space has chided Brad Stevens and the players for regularly saying they see progress even in losses, you can see what they are talking about. One example was this play about midway through the first quarter. The ball was knocked out of bounds in the backcourt with only five seconds on the shot-clock. Normally this would be a “Get it to Kyrie and hope he creates something” type of play. Stevens calls for Irving to catch on the move while a screen comes from Baynes. Gordon Hayward inbounds and instead of watching, he sprints to the arc, where he receives the pass from Irving and gets the bucket. It is good coaching, good execution and, most importantly, trust all in one clip.
3. There has been a lot of hand-wringing about Tatum’s shot selection early in the season. He’s taken a lot of off-balance long-twos, often after a lot of dribbling while everyone stands around and watches. In this game, Tatum was decisive and made quick moves on his way to 14 points in just under 23 minutes. This clip is a long-two, but it’s a good long-two. Tatum catches, goes right in to a screen from Baynes and pulls up at the free throw line. That’s a good shot for him and one everyone should be happy to see him take.
4. Unfortunately, Boston couldn’t carry the big first quarter over. The Celtics scored just 16 points on 4-of-18 shooting in the second quarter. On the first night of a back-to-back, Stevens let his reserves have a long leash and played them for eight minutes of the second frame. They got just 11 points in those eight minutes. Fortunately Boston had such a big lead that they were able to hit the half with a 16-point lead. But the long offensive droughts remain a worry.
5. If you looked at Semi Ojeleye’s stat-line, you’d think he had an awful game. Ojeleye shot just 3-of-11 overall and 1-of-5 on three-pointers, and he committed four turnovers. But he snagged five rebounds and played some really good defense. The Celtics were +11 in Ojeleye’s 23 minutes, which felt right watching the game. He was far more aggressive with the ball in his hands than he has ever been. In college, Ojeleye was a good all-around offensive player. In the NBA, he’s been a standstill shooter. It’s good to see him showing off an expanded game, because if he’s only going to be a “3&D” guy in the NBA, he’s got to get rid of the happy feet he showed on this shot. He’s wide open, but rushes things for some reason and his feet, and thus his balance, are a mess as he shoots:
6. Hayward and Daniel Theis have more in common than just amazing haircuts. They’ve developed good chemistry on the second unit. This first clip is Hayward hitting Theis for the dunk out of pick and roll:
And then Theis returned the favor later in the game with a little high-low Princeton backdoor action:
These are the kinds of plays Boston’s bigs can make as passers. That’s been an underutilized part of the offense to date.
7. This set to open the second half is a nice look from Stevens. In the first half, Boston used Morris a bunch in “pass, screen, roll/pop” plays where he would pass to the wing and immediately screen for the player he passed to. Atlanta likely talked about it at the half. The wrinkle comes from Stevens, as he’s got a bunch of action happening on the left side of the court. That draws the defense over there, while Taurean Prince takes one step too far that way, while also turning his head to look for the screen from Morris. Brown catches, sees Prince leaning and nothing but daylight to the rim and hammers it home. It’s a good example of taking advantage of an opponent overplaying an action they saw a lot earlier in the game.
8. The Celtics have had a lot of trouble containing opposing playmakers recently. Not in this one. Trae Young was under wraps from the tip. Irving was active and physical, as were the helpers. When the bench came in, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier continued to harass the rookie guard. Young was visibly frustrated late in the game and launched some desperation 30-footers. He’s the engine that makes the Hawks go and Boston was able to cut him off early.
9. It was a short, but effective run for Robert Williams III in his early minutes. With both Baynes and Theis in foul trouble (the latter fouled out after just 16 minutes), Williams got a chance to play a bit before garbage time. Williams’ athleticism jumps off the screen. As soon as he can be trusted on defense, he can be used as a weapon. He’s so young that everything is just reactions right now. As he matures, Williams’ anticipation will improve. Then? Look out below! He really has no business dunking this ball, but that’s exactly what happened. It’s been a while since Boston had an athletic big like Williams.
10. As was mentioned above, this was the first game of a back-to-back, with travel to Dallas to face the rested Mavericks waiting in the second game. Rozier was the high-man in minutes with just 25. And most of those were low-stress, as the game was in hand for the entirety of the second half. Engineering a blowout was necessary for confidence and to rebuild some trust in each other, from the coaches to the players. Short-term, it was a necessity to keep minutes down as the Celtics face a tough stretch of games on the road.