1. The Celtics got off to a nice enough start. Solid ball movement on the game’s opening play led to Kyrie Irving knocking down a wide open three-pointer as Boston took a 3-0 lead. It would be nearly seven minutes before Aron Baynes tipped in a missed layup to get the team’s fifth point. Brad Stevens never stresses about his offense, as long as they are moving the ball and getting good looks. This nearly seven-minute scoreless stretch featured the Celtics missing twelve straight shots, of which seven were classified as “wide open, which means no defender was within six feet of the shooter. Another three misses were layups. Eventually it evens out, as we saw, but missing open jumpers and layups is a disturbing trend early in the season.
2. On the broadcast, Brian Scalabrine noted that when a team struggles to find offense, they start to press. That’s exactly what happened with the Celtics. Every guy wanted to be the one to shoot them out of it. Scal brought up another good point. With each miss, shoulders slumped and heads started to shake. And in that split-second of self-pity, the Suns shook loose for baskets. Offense impacts and defense and vice versa. Always.
3. Everything was a step slow in the first three quarters. Defenders were late on shooters or behind cutters. Passes came an instant too late. The ideas were all spot on, but the effort and execution was lacking.
4. Speaking of effort: things started to turn in the third quarter and Stevens and his staff sent a message by benching Jayson Tatum and starting Marcus Smart.
#Celtics change up the starting lineup a bit in the 2nd half: Irving, Smart, Brown, Hayward and Horford. Micah Shrewsberry told me, we’re just looking for 5 guys who’re gonna play hard... effort is non-negotiable.— Abby Chin (@tvabby) November 9, 2018
This was a message sent to Boston’s young star. You can miss shots and make bad plays, but if you don’t play with effort, you sit. Tatum seemed to get the message as his effort picked up defensively and on the glass throughout the rest of the game. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that he’s just 20 years-old. Guys that young have ups and down and Tatum is no different. This was a teachable moment and he seemed to learn a lesson.
5. An unsung hero of this improbable victory was Semi Ojeleye. The box score doesn’t show much, but his impact was huge. He came on late in the third quarter with the Celtics down by 17 points. At that point it was “find something or call it a night” time. Ojeleye immediately got an old-fashioned three-point play. By the time his night finished, Boston was only +2 in his minutes, but he helped bridge the gap and keep things stable when the game was in the balance.
6. Another of the kids stepped up his game in a big way, as Jaylen Brown was excellent after halftime. He was 0-for-5 from the floor in the first half and largely invisible, just like most of his teammates. In the second half and overtime Brown scored 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting. He, along with Kyrie Irving, carried the Celtics offense late in the game.
7. Speaking of Kyrie…he’s ridiculous. He scored 39 points, with 26 of them coming in the second half and overtime. A couple of years ago, Boston knew they had Isaiah Thomas to come up big whenever they needed him to. Irving is that guy now. He’s the guy the Celtics look to whenever they need a big play made. When you look at the highlights down the stretch, Irving’s involved in almost every play.
8. The anatomy of a game-tying or game-winning shot is often interesting. In the case of the Marcus Morris game-tying triple with 0.3 seconds left, there was good and bad on both sides of the floor.
The play design from Stevens was sound. He wanted to get Irving the ball on the move, so it would be harder for the Suns to double-team or foul him. By having Morris receive the inbounds pass, he kept him involved as a secondary option, which ended up mattering. The pre-action was fun too, as Brown and Terry Rozier cross-screened for each other, but that was just window dressing. Nothing is actually happening there. Watch the beginning of the clip: Irving isn’t even in the frame. He gets a running start and the Suns are sure he’s taking the shot. They leave Morris to double and by the time Trevor Ariza realizes what’s happening and tries to contest, it’s far too late.
What about the bad? That’s all on Phoenix’s side. First, Igor Kokoskov told his team to foul. Since they were up three, they would concede the two free throws. They had three golden opportunities to do so:
a. When Morris catches with his back to the basket.
b. When Irving first catches the ball.
c. When Irving brings the ball back down to pass to Morris.
Foul on any of those and the outcome of the game might have been different.
The next bad part of this play came from DeAndre Ayton. The Suns are in a “no threes” defense. Ayton covered Tatum, who inbounded the ball. Then, for whatever reason, he dropped way off to the paint. Ariza, the only real vet on the floor for Phoenix, sees this and tries to recover to Morris, but it was too late. That should have been Ayton’s rotation. Boston only had time for one or maybe two passes, so you have to stay home as a defender and then rotate accordingly. One player out of position made this a much easier look for Morris than it should have been.
9. That last play of regulation was a microcosm of the game as a whole. Boston’s execution and effort was lacking for most of the game, but they brought it when they needed it. Just as they did, the Suns execution waned. Against a good team, the Celtics likely don’t come away with this type of win. Then again, they’ve been wining in these types of comebacks for about four years now. Maybe they just like to make things difficult and exciting. It wasn’t a “good” win, but they all count the same in the standings in the end.