1. After a string of quiet games scoring-wise, Jayson Tatum came out with an aggressive approach and had a big night. He scored 11 of his 15 first half points in the first quarter. He finished with 20 points, but that was because he barely saw the floor in the second half, finishing with only 25 minutes played.
When he wasn’t scoring over the last few games, Tatum was making plays as a passer, rebounder and defender. We know he can score, as evidenced by this outburst against Indiana, but what is really exciting is watching him develop his all-around game this early in his career.
2. This layup might have been Tatum’s best play of the night on offense. He spins immediately off the catch from Al Horford and then splits by Domantas Sabonis to get to the rim for the easy finish. It was a no-hesitation play by Tatum, the kind that the very best scorers make on a regular basis.
3. Let’s take time to welcome Thaddeus Young to the “Bigs who learned that posting Marcus Smart isn’t a mismatch” club. Smart is the key to Boston’s switch everything defense, because he really can guard anyone. Young tries to go by him, doesn’t work. Tries to go through him, doesn’t work. Tries to go over him, doesn’t work. If Smart doesn’t make the All-Defense First Team this year, he’s probably never going to.
4. This was probably Boston’s best first half of the season, and it led to the most complete game of the season (more on that later!). The Celtics scored 68 points in the first half and did it with decisive plays and by relying on sharing the ball. The ball movement has become the team’s hallmark during this impressive offensive surge. And when everyone is involved on offense, they tend to pick up their play on defense. Indiana was shorthanded and on a back-to-back, but they didn’t stand a chance, even at full strength, with Boston playing like this.
5. Horford had seven of his eight assists in the first half, before barely playing after the break. This space has raved about his passing, but here’s a slightly different twist. For Horford’s passing to work, his teammates have to make good cuts. On this play, Smart makes the right read and back-cuts as Horford works in the post. The result is an easy layup, because of a good pass and good cut:
6. The Celtics scored 56 points in the paint and hit 21-of-24 from the free throw line. Their dominance inside can be somewhat traced to the Pacers being without Myles Turner, who is one of the better rim protectors in the NBA. But it’s far more than that.
Early in the season, Boston was continually settling for three-pointers and a maddening amount of long-twos. It was something that everyone (from players to coaches to media to fans) commented on. For a while, you had to wonder if that was just who the team had become. But they’ve figured it out. Young guys like Tatum and Jaylen Brown are back to attacking the rim with regularity. And they’re doing it while under control. Horford is doing his thing in the paint. And Kyrie Irving is Kyrie Irving: one of the best and craftiest finishers in the NBA.
This approach has made all the difference. It’s no coincidence that the offense has become one of the league’s best since the change in style.
7. Remember how we said when the ball moves on offense, the players also tend to be more engaged on defense? Look at this series of rotations. The Pacers can’t do anything when they face a defense that is scrambling around like this. First Boston blows up the middle pick and roll, which is a staple of Indiana’s offense. Then they take everything else away after that. This is a clinic that should be shown on tape everywhere:
Look at how perfect the rotations were while defending this Sabonis/Oladipo P&R pic.twitter.com/BsbPhxjlEG— Dan Greenberg (@StoolGreenie) January 10, 2019
8. Seven Celtics hit double-digits in points, ranging from 12-22 points. In addition, all 13 Boston players scored in the game. Not to beat a dead horse about the ball movement, but this type of balanced effort in the scoring column has been a regularity as of late. And it’s because Boston is playing beautiful basketball. Winning is what matters, but winning while playing an aesthetically pleasing style is even better.
9. Time for the Timelord! Robert Williams has made the end of blowouts must-watch TV. He does something fun every single time he plays, and often multiple things. We could show you either of his dunks, but the most fun thing he did in this one was destroying this shot from Aaron Holiday. Williams was fired up from getting a technical foul for hanging on the rim and took it out on Holiday and the basketball on the next play:
10. We promised more on this later, so here goes: this was Boston’s most complete effort of the season. The balanced scoring, the defense, the ball movement, all 13 players making positive contributions. It all led to the Celtics winning their fourth straight game. And it was the third time in that streak that Boston never trailed. You can quibble about the schedule and opponents, but the reality is that the Celtics are rounding into the team we expected them to be at the start of the year.