1. One of the criticisms most often lobbed Brad Stevens way is that he prefers to let his team figure it out and play through runs by the opposing team. He’s generally pretty loathe to call a time-out to stop anything the other team is doing. Stevens uses his time-outs to correct things his team isn’t doing versus using them to slow a hot opponent.
Last night this manifested itself when he did nothing to slow down Jamal Murray until very late in game, when he finally matched up Marcus Smart on him. By that point, Murray was so far out of the box that it had already been broken down and put in the recycling bin. Murray was so hot that even Smart wasn’t going to be able to slow him, yet Boston still didn’t really adjust. No double-teams or traps to get the ball out of his hands. They played the whole game with basically the same strategy.
Stevens remains an excellent coach, but even the best have room for improvement. Sticking to what works is fine, but last night showed you have to adjust eventually or you get burned.
2. Beyond their inability to slow down Murray (Yes, slow down. There was no stopping him.), the Celtics old bugaboo of allowing offensive rebounds came back around. Boston allowed Denver to get 15 extra chances, a completely unacceptable number in a game where the Nuggets over 45 percent. Six of the offensive boards came in the third quarter alone, when Denver took control of the game.
3. Boston’s offense to close the game was horrendous. Two different things led to this, both of which have become a recurring theme. The team is either too quick to shoot or they overpass to a harmful degree. Late in the game, the Celtics featured a confounding mix of trips where they made one pass and a contested shot went up. Or they passed up wide-open looks to make a pass to a player with a far more difficult shot. This trend has popped up from time to time this season and has got to end.
4. The altitude in Denver is no joke. It’s helped the Nuggets to one of the NBA’s best homecourt advantages there is in the NBA. Several Celtics were sucking win by the end of the game. But it also popped up earlier in the game too. Stevens has usually stuck to a tidy nine-man rotation this season. In this one he got to 10 by the end of the first quarter, when Semi Ojeleye checked in. That put a group of five reserves on the floor together, something that Boston has usually only done in garbage time. The results weren’t great. This unit bridged the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the second quarter. In that about three minute span, the Nuggets ripped off a 10-2 run to get back in the game.
5. How about some positives? This game featured two of the best passing big men in the game in Al Horford and Nikola Jokic. Jokic did his thing, as he had a game-high eight assists. Right behind him was Horford with six, including this beauty as he led the fastbreak in a way few other bigs can:
6. Jaylen Brown seemed a little more back to normal, as he scored 15 points and hit half of his field goal attempts. But what really stood out was how Boston used him on defense. Usually Gordon Hayward or Jayson Tatum draws the opposing power forward. In this game, Stevens went to Brown on Paul Millsap. Millsap is too strong for almost anyone who guards him, but he does struggle with quick defenders, especially as he ages. Brown did a solid job, as he helped hold Millsap to just 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting.
7. Despite some thoughts to the contrary that it could be Tatum, Kyrie Irving remains Boston’s best offensive player. He hit a ton of almost impossible shots with a hand in his face. And he made these two plays, which is just Kyrie being Kyrie.
8. Smart makes Smart plays. Not intelligent ones, although he makes plenty of those too, but plays that only Marcus Smart makes. Like this steal and presence of mind to immediately find Rozier for an open three.
9. There’s a lot of hand-wringing happening about Kobe Bryant’s influence on Jayson Tatum. Most of this involves Tatum settling for contested long-twos after multiple dribbles. You have to believe that eventually Stevens and his teammates will get those back out of Tatum’s game and get him back to the guy we all came to love last season. One sign of progress? Tatum getting on the block for buckets when he’s struggling with his jumper, as he did here:
10. It was a brief appearance from The Time Lord, but if he makes plays like this, those appearances won’t stay brief ones:
Bonus: Check out Stevens doing his best McKayla Maroney impression as Guerschon Yabusele lets out a primal scream following Williams’ dunk