1. Brad Stevens has long said that one of the ways he knows his team is playing well is their assist rate. Against the Nets, the Celtics had the ball popping. Boston tallied 37 assists on 47 baskets. That’s nearly 79 percent of all the buckets coming off a pass.
With the amount of talent on the roster, it’s just not possible for everyone to get 10-15 field goal attempts. But putting the ball in the hands of players to make plays as passers is a way to keep everyone engaged. It’s taken some doing, but Stevens and his team seem to have figured out some lineups and roles that work, and the numbers are bearing it out.
2. Helping the assist numbers climb is the developing playmaking games of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They each had four assists, including this beauty from Tatum to Al Horford in the first quarter:
Beautiful dish inside to Horford by Tatum! pic.twitter.com/tkXGNYmFAL— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 8, 2019
3. Boston spent most of the game getting whatever looks they wanted against a porous Nets defense. Of note, the Celtics kept getting wide-open jumpers and floaters from the nail. For those unfamiliar, “the nail” is the spot right in the middle of the paint, just below the free throw line. It’s called the nail, because in most old gyms, there is a nail there. Boston got shots from that spot all game, which is good because several of the Celtics like Tatum, Brown, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward excel at knocking down that shot.
4. Daniel Theis continued his strong play, including making plays as a passer, as he had a couple more assists. In particular, Theis has developed really good back-and-forth chemistry with Hayward. On this play he finds Hayward on the duck-in for the easy layup. And take a look at Terry Rozier setting the screen to free Hayward, which is something Rozier has become quite adept at:
5. Turnovers were a major story, as the Boston forced Brooklyn to cough it up 25 times. The Celtics turned those 25 giveaways into 30 points. The Nets were shorthanded and had to play some odd lineups, but Boston was in their full switch everything, ball-hawking mode. Eight different Celtics had at least one steal and all 13 players had at least one deflection, which shows active hands.
6. Brown played a really strong game, despite scoring just four points. His defense at times was as good as it has been all season. On one play in the third quarter, he locked up D’Angelo Russell and helped forced a shot-clock violation. He also grabbed five rebounds and dished out four assists. Like we mentioned with Tatum a couple of weeks ago, you can see a leap coming when a young player figures out how to make an impact on the game without scoring.
7. One negative from an otherwise dominating victory: Boston had a really poor close to the first half. This has become somewhat of a troubling trend. Time and again, the Celtics have squandered big double-digit leads late in the first half. Against lesser opponents, Boston has enough talent to reverse this easily. Against good teams, it’s cost the Celtics a handful of times.
8. To help get back on track in the second half, Stevens went to an old favorite: hunting the mismatch. Shabazz Napier doesn’t have the size or skill to guard most of the players Boston put on the floor. The Celtics got him isolated on Marcus Morris, Tatum and even Horford several times in the third quarter and something good came from each of those trips.
9. One litmus test for how well some understands basketball is to find those who can look beyond just points and rebounds for Al Horford and appreciate his screening and defense. And of course his excellent passing. Horford made back-to-back plays as a passer as the Celtics sealed game. The first was him catching on a full sprint in transition and immediately finding Morris for a three-pointer. Not an easy pass for anyone, never mind a center.
The second was this gorgeous dime to Irving on a backdoor cut. Horford ability to do this opens up everything for Boston, because if you play off for the pass, he’ll happily take the three-point shot.
10. By the end of the game, the Celtics were having some fun. Here’s three plays where Boston shows off their athleticism. This first one is Rozier doing his impression of Danny Ainge beating Notre Dame in 1981:
Then, some hustle pays off as Brown makes the pretty tip-pass to Rozier for the dunk:
Beautiful tip-pass by Brown and Rozier rocks the rim! pic.twitter.com/Z2VWI8Ul6Q— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 8, 2019
Finally, Theis puts the capper on the night by finding Robert Williams for the alley-oop: