1. An argument can be made that the Celtics started their best possible defensive lineup against the Mavericks. Playing shorthanded with Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris out, Boston opened with Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford. That lineup gave Dallas fits to start the game, as they forced six of the Mavs 14 turnovers in the first quarter.
That group is quick, long and very switchable. Last night was one of the few times this season that the Celtics resembled last year’s “switch everything” defense that carried the team. This doesn’t mean to suggest that Boston is better without Irving or Morris, because they aren’t. But this is a lineup Brad Stevens can turn to when the team needs stops.
2. With Irving out, the Celtics relied on Al Horford as a playmaker and he delivered one of his better all-around efforts with a 10/8/8 line. On this play, you can see Stevens’ comfort with Horford acting a distributor, as Horford finds Brown for the acrobatic finish:
3. Speaking of all-around games, it was a good night for that for Boston. Gordon Hayward came off the bench and joined Horford on triple-double watch, as he put together a 16/11/8 night. Had the game not been a blowout at the end, Hayward might have put together his first career triple-double.
4. If you go back to the early-season games from October and November compared to now, there is a noticeable difference in Hayward’s game. Sure, he still has struggles, but even those not coming back from serious injury have some struggles. But when you see Hayward getting in the mix for loose balls, you can tell he’s just back to playing basketball. And plays like this one, where he catches and immediately attacks off the bounce, tell us Hayward isn’t thinking as much anymore. He’s just playing ball.
5. On the above clip, you might have noticed Hayward got the pass from Brad Wanamaker, who logged some first quarter minutes against Dallas. And Wanamaker delivered in some of his first meaningful minutes of the season. He scored eight points and handed out four assists in 22 minutes off the bench. The best part of his night was Wanamaker stepping up to hit two three-pointers in the final 37 seconds of the first quarter to give Boston a double-digit lead.
6. Back to Hayward for a second, but as a segue to compliment Semi Ojeleye for some nice minutes off the bench! Ojeleye has done a nice job when called upon this year and a lot of his success has come from running the floor versus just sitting around the arc. On this play, he runs the floor hard and Hayward makes a nice pass to get him the layup:
Ojeleye finishes strong through contact pic.twitter.com/eaP5d3fwjq— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 5, 2019
7. Continuing the theme of good play off the pine, Daniel Theis delivered one of his better efforts of the season. He came in and played all the meaningful backup minutes behind Horford and did a nice Horford impression. In 23 minutes, Theis finished with eight points, 13 rebounds, two blocks and an impressive three assists. Considering he’s had some struggles over the last couple of weeks, it was nice to see Theis log a second straight productive performance.
8. This space beats up on Rozier a lot for playing a somewhat selfish brand of basketball at times. Against Dallas, he was very much a facilitator. Rozier hit just two shots, but picked up seven assists. And when he did shoot, they were all in rhythm and little was forced. This clip shows Rozier’s patience. It’s not shown, but he started out running two pick and rolls in the first 12 seconds of the clock that went nowhere. He didn’t force a shot or pass. He pulled it out, made a pass, made a second pass and then got it back for an open three-pointer. That’s a nice sign of understanding his role.
9. Don’t look now, but is Jaylen Brown back? After a string of strong games as a reserve, Brown got the start for Morris and played one of his best all-around games. He scored 21 points and delivered some really good defense. Brown finally seems over whatever his early season issues were. He’s been in attack-mode over the last few weeks, but it’s an under control version. For the Celtics to be the team they want to be, they need Brown playing well and he’s getting there.
10. We often joke about and marvel at the mystique of the “Hospital Celtics”, who seem to play better as players go down. This wire-to-wire win (second straight!) over Dallas was a shining example of the depth Danny Ainge has built. 10 players played during the competitive portion of the game and all 10 made a positive contribution. Some did it through scoring, others through passing, and others through defense and some with terrific all-around play in all phases of the game.
Sometimes the depth causes issues, because there just aren’t enough minutes to keep everyone involved. But on nights like tonight, it’s a blessing. If the Celtics can get to a point where they’re playing well enough, Stevens could start to spot players some rest days. It’s a way to keep the whole roster engaged. So far, the play and record haven’t really afforded Boston that luxury, but that could change as the season enters its second half.