1. For the entire offseason, everyone who analyzed the Celtics came away talking about how much depth they have. It was so much depth that it even led to worries about how Brad Stevens would keep everyone happy with enough playing time. But the funny thing about depth is that once you get past eight to nine, maybe 10, players, it doesn’t really matter. No one is balancing the 11-17th guys on the roster’s playing time. It just isn’t possible.
But on nights like this one, when the team is down five players due to injuries, the depth of Boston’s roster really showed up. The regulars who were healthy enough to go were great. The guys who rarely sniff non-garbage time minutes were excellent as well.
While having a legitimate 13 to 14 NBA players makes it tough on Stevens sometimes, it’s really nice when he needs to dig deep.
2. As for how the game itself played out: the ball and player movement was excellent early on. Without the singular talent of Kyrie Irving to create looks for himself and his teammates, Boston relied on old-fashioned cuts and screens to make it happen. Then, once Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris had it going, they let them take over. To reference point one above: it was a nice example of the depth of not only the roster, but also the high-end talent Danny Ainge has assembled.
3. Terry Rozier played one of his better games of the season, as he started in place of Irving. He was under control and did a nice job running the show. This pass to Daniel Theis showed some traditional point guard skills that Rozier sometimes flashes, but is inconsistent in delivering. He’s patient, draws the extra defenders after Theis slips the screen and delivers an on-time pass for the easy dunk:
4. As mentioned above, Jayson Tatum had it going offensively. He hit 10-of-16 shots overall, including 7-of-9 in the first half, when Boston took control. This shot in particular was one of his best of the night. He’s mostly open for the free throw line jumper, but Anthony Davis is there to contest. Because of Davis’ length, this would be a harder shot than it looks like. Instead of settling for that look, or forcing a drive into the crowded lane, Tatum rocks back into a step-back jumper. It’s a sign of how far he’s come from the junk he was settling for earlier this season.
5. How about Robert Williams III? The rookie was back from taking some time off for the birth of his daughter, and not a moment too soon. With Al Horford, Aron Baynes and Guerschon Yabusele all sidelined, Williams was going to play a lot, no matter how well he did. But he delivered with seven points, 11 rebounds and three blocks. And of those three blocks, he got Davis twice. More importantly, he blocked two Davis’ shots that no one else gets to. First, Williams is solid in the post, forces Davis to the lefty jump-hook and sends it back where it came from:
Then, in the second half, Davis gets Williams on the left block. That’s usually game over for the defender. Williams again forces him to the paint than blocks a turnaround fall-away jumper from Davis:
Neither of those are shots Davis gets blocked very often. And certainly not from the primary defender. Both were a sign of Williams’ incredible athleticism and timing.
6. It was really good to see Semi Ojeleye so aggressive with his increased playing time. He took 10 shots, six of them from behind the arc. But he also drove the ball several times and got himself to the free throw line once. In the NBA, Ojeleye has been a standstill jump shooter. In college, he regularly drove the ball to the rim. More drives like this one would help to diversify Ojeleye’s game:
7. It was an up and down night for Jaylen Brown, but more up than down. He was hyper-aggressive going to the basket. Several plays he put his head down and made it happen. This approach resulted in his fair-share of misses at the rim, but he used his quick second-jump to get the ball back on a handful of those plays. It was good to see him continue the attacking play he’s shown since he returned from a back injury a week or so ago.
On the flip-side, he looked very much like a lost young player at the end of the first half. On the next-to-last possession, Brown lost track of the shot-clock and threw a pass to Morris when there was no chance of a shot getting up. On the Celtics last possession of the half, he was clearly lost as to what set Stevens called. This threw everything off and Boston closed the half without getting a shot up on two straight possessions.
It happens. It’s a sign that Brown is still just 21-years old and still has lots of room to grow. But the aggressive play that shows his often otherworldly athleticism is worth being patient for.
8. While Tatum’s jumper was working, there were two plays that showed how far he’s come as a driver, and further room for growth. In the first clip, Tatum breaks down the defense off the dribble, cocks his arm back and hammers through a dunk. It’s the kind of play that gets everyone from the players to fans excited. You need these kinds of plays some nights:
Then you have this frustrating play. He pulls off a gorgeous Eurostep in transition and has an easy layup. Instead of finishing the play, he inexplicably kicks it to Rozier for a three:
It was far from the end of the world, but a small example of something the Celtics young star can clean up to further add to his already terrific offensive package.
9. Where would the Celtics be without Marcus Morris? Certainly not 16-10 and in the midst of a six-game win streak. Morris scored 31 points and carried the offense for stretches of the game. With Boston up by six points to start the second half, Morris drilled triples on the Celtics first three offensive possessions to push the lead to 13. New Orleans never seriously threatened again. Morris has been Boston’s most consistent offensive player and the Celtics would be lost without his production.
10. There are a lot of theories as to why Boston seemingly plays better each time they are down a bunch of good players. Some think it is the freedom lesser players feel. Others think it’s that no one has to look over their shoulder. Still others feel it allows Stevens to be at his best with schemes and short rotations.
In reality, there isn’t one answer to this. No one really knows why the Celtics play so well when All-Stars are out. But this Twitter user summed it up about as good anyone:
it’s what we do— ㅤㅤㅤ☘️ (@zayWRLD) December 11, 2018