1. Lately it has been Kyrie Irving who gets the Celtics off to a good start offensively. With Irving out, someone had to step up for Boston and that someone was Marcus Smart. Smart has long been known for his excellent defense, and his playmaking has come a long way too. That’s left many muttering some version of “If only he could shoot it a little better”.
This season Smart has not only shot it a little better, but he’s been downright good. Prior to this season, Smart’s career-high in shooting behind the arc was 33.5 percent. This year he’s bumped that up to very solid 36.5 percent.
Against the Nets, Smart came out firing. He hit four of his six first quarter shots, including 3-of-5 from behind the arc. Overall, Smart finished with 21 points, seven assists and five steals in one of his better games of the season.
2. The Celtics had some nice ball and player movement against the Nets, as they finished with 29 assists on 45 baskets. On this play, Smart sets it up like it’s a pick and roll with Aron Baynes that flows into a fake DHO with Gordon Hayward. Brooklyn jumps the DHO, so Hayward back-cuts to the rim, and then he finds Baynes as the help comes. Without Irving, the Celtics have to get a little more creative to find offense and this play was a great example of that.
3. This play starts off poorly for Smart, as D’Angelo Russell picks him clean. But Smart doesn’t give up. He gets back and gets one of Boston’s season-high 16 blocks. It’s a nice example of the intangible effort that Smart brings to the Celtics on a nightly basis.
4. This is a very nit-picky thing, because Terry Rozier played another good game in place of Kyrie Irving, but Rozier got caught stat chasing late in the second quarter. Shabazz Napier misses a three-pointer and the long rebound is headed out of bounds. Rather than just let it go, Rozier tries to collect the ball, and the rebound that goes with it. He steps out of bounds for the turnover. Brad Stevens was visibly frustrated after the play. In the big picture, it ended up not mattering and no one will remember it in a day or so, but this is type of selfish, sloppy play that drives Stevens crazy.
5. Hayward’s shooting struggles continued in this one. He was just 1-of-6 overall and missed all four of his three-point attempts. His lone basket was a transition dunk. This followed a 0-for-4 effort against the Warriors. Hayward is hitting just 41.6 percent from the floor and 31 percent from behind the arc. While the rest of his game seems to be rounding in to form, including his rebounding and passing, his shot remains missing. It could be a timing thing. It could be the fact that he’s playing off the ball a lot. Whatever it is, it’s not good.
Hayward needs time to get back to himself, and that’s what this season is for. Is he holding Boston back right now? Yes. Do the Celtics need to play through it to get Hayward back? Yes. Just don’t expect anyone, including Hayward himself, to be happy about it.
6. Mentioned Hayward as a passer above, and he has been great at facilitating offense for Boston. This play doesn’t look like much, but it’s an on-time pass to a streaking Jaylen Brown for an easy dunk on a two-dribble fastbreak:
7. Let’s talk Al Horford for a minute…Wow. What a night. Horford took it upon himself to dominate inside. He scored 14 points, grabbed 11 rebounds (including four more offensive boards), dished out five assists and blocked six shots. And he arguably should have been credited with a couple more blocks.
Horford even got his first technical foul of the year after barking at the official when he was hit in the head on a dunk attempt. He’s anything but “Average Al”, but it is nice to see “Angry Al” show up once and a while too.
8. The Celtics have had some struggles against zone defenses. Several players commented on it post-game. Part of it is recognizing the zone and part of it is then beating it. The Nets played zone for a large portion of the game, probably over 80 percent. It took Boston a while, but they eventually figured it out. They used a combination of shooting and attacking the paint to bust the zone.
In the NBA, you can’t play a true 2-3 zone, because the center can’t just camp out in the paint. He has to get in and out. Because of that, the Celtics started leaving a guy in the dunker spot, and then attacking the middle of the zone off the bounce. A good example is Smart finding Marcus Morris here:
The other thing you do against a zone defense is to attack it quickly before everyone is set. On this play, Smart and Rozier hook up for an easy bucket before Brooklyn is back:
9. It was another strong game from Brown off the bench. He scored 21 points and was again solid on defense. Brown likely doesn’t want to be in a reserve role, but he’s adapted to it and is now excelling off the bench. He’s consistently brought good energy and his attacking style is perfect for going at tired starters or overmatched backups.
10. Marcus Morris has been a dead-eye shooter all season long. Sometimes Boston needs him to be a little more than that though. And against Brooklyn he delivered one of his better all-around games, as he got eight rebounds, tallied three assists and blocked a couple of shots. Sometimes Morris gets a little shot-happy, but he’s general made the right reads this season. This pass to Brown is a great example. Morris doesn’t settle for a contested pull-up or drive himself into traffic. He stays under control and finds Brown for the wide-open corner three: