1. This was Gordon Hayward’s signature game with the Celtics. He scored 30 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out eight assists. And he did it all in under 30 minutes off the Boston bench. While the entire night was great for Hayward, the most encouraging sign was seeing him get to the free throw line 10 times, while making all 10. Hayward also had a couple of plays that showed his versatility and that he’s no longer thinking about his leg.
First was this pretty assist to Al Horford. Hayward spent part of the summer working on his post-game, so that he could punish smaller players on switches. Here he goes right to the post against Tyus Jones. Minnesota sends the double and he finds Horford for the easy bucket. Simple, but extremely efficient play:
This next clip might seem simple enough. Hayward grabs a rebound. But watch how he gets it. He comes in from the corner, into traffic in the lane and goes up and gets it without a second thought. This is the kind of play that tells you Hayward isn’t thinking about his leg anymore or worried about landing on someone. He’s just playing basketball, which frees him up to be the guy everyone wants him to be.
2. Early in the game and then again for parts of the second half, the Celtics “switch everything” defense was really costing them. The Timberwolves were running simple 1/5 pick and roll actions, which got Jeff Teague and Derrick Rose matched up with Horford. Each player scored with relative ease at times on Horford. This led Boston to pre-switch on some trips and for Marcus Smart to fight through screens versus switching. And when they did switch, Horford laid back and then used his length to close on jumpers. While Horford struggling to guard the ballhandler isn’t great, it was a good sign to see Boston change things up when the usual strategy wasn’t working.
3. One more negative on a night filled with positives: the bench was again sloppy when played together as a unit. Despite Hayward’s big night, it wasn’t a great performance for the reserves overall. There were some signs of turning it around, but too often this year, the backups have let the opponent go on runs. Much like with defending pick and rolls, Brad Stevens made a subtle change. He staggered the starters a little more and went back to the starters earlier than usual. With four days off coming up, he was able to push his guys a little more than usual and it paid off.
4. Horford and Daniel Theis seem to be developing some chemistry in two-big lineups. This play features a 3/4 pick and roll between Hayward and Horford. It gets the Wolves defense scrambled and because Horford is one of the best passing bigs in the NBA, he makes the second pass when the help comes to get Theis an easy dunk:
5. This entire sequence is fairly absurd. First Smart breaks up the pick and pop by deflecting the pass to Karl-Anthony Towns. He falls to his backside, but Marcus Morris tips him the ball anyway. Then Smart, from his posterior, triggers the outlet pass that starts a fastbreak that ends in a Tatum alley-oop dunk. This is the kind of play only Smart makes and why Boston is more than happy to pay him $12 million dollars a year.
6. Another Smart play here. This shows up as Horford grabbing a rebound, but look at Smart. He switches onto Towns and as Teague takes the midrange jumper (good show of how Horford laid back, then challenged), Smart gets the box-out on Towns, freeing Horford to grab the board:
7. It wasn’t a huge night for Marcus Morris, but he did make some big shots. Minnesota made a couple of runs at Boston in the second half, but each time Morris stepped up and made a bucket. He scored seven straight points early in the fourth quarter to keep the Wolves at bay. Once again: the Celtics would be lost without Morris this season.
8. OK…we lied. One more negative: Boston committed some really bad fouls in the fourth quarter. One was Morris against Robert Covington on a fastbreak. Morris has to either let him go or wrap him up. Instead he hesitated and tripped into Covington for an And-1. Then, a few plays later, Kyrie Irving fouled Covington 90-feet from the basket when the Wolves were in the bonus. The Celtics made enough plays that it didn’t matter, but those are bad plays in a close game.
9. Boston’s offensive balance was great in this one. Five players scored between 15 and 30 points, while no one took more than 16 shots. They tallied 30 assists on 40 baskets and got to the free throw line 21 times, making all of them. This game was one of the first times all year that you got the sense of just how good this offense can be.
10. But it wasn’t all offense. The Celtics snagged nine steals and forced 16 total turnovers. One more signature Marcus Smart play came as Boston closed out the game. Smart and Horford switch pick and roll on Teague on Towns. Generally this would be a massive mismatch with the 7-foot Towns on the 6’4’’ Smart. At some point teams should realize this isn’t the case, but this wasn’t that point: