1. The Mavericks present a difficult challenge for an opposing defense, as witnessed by their league-leading offensive rating. Luka Doncic is a 6’7’’ primary ballhandler. Kristaps Porzingis is a 7’3’’ inside-outside threat. That makes matching up a difficult task for even the best defenses.
Boston opened the game with Marcus Smart (starting in place of Gordon Hayward) on Doncic and Jaylen Brown on Kristaps Porzingis. The results were shockingly good. Smart defended both Doncic and Porzingis at various points and combined to hold them to four points on 1-of-8 shooting. Brown was the primary defender on Porzingis and held him to zero points on 0-of-3 from the field.
Smalls defending bigs was always going to be key for the Celtics. Smart and Brown have used their Team USA experience, where they were asked to defend forwards and centers throughout the summer, to deliver great results.
2. In the offseason, Kemba Walker had two primary pursuers and had to choose between Dallas and Boston. Walker pretty quickly chose the Celtics, and he was the difference in this game. It was a slow start for Walker, but he again got hot in the second half on his way to 29 points, including eight three-pointers. Walker made a few plays even when he wasn’t scoring the ball, like this assist to Robert Williams:
Then when he hit jumpers, he wasn’t very nice to the defenders, like poor Dwight Powell here:
Or here where he gives Maxi Kleber similar treatment:
Walker has also been unafraid to get his nose dirty as well, like this block/strip on Powell:
3. This clip was maybe the best one from Walker in this game, and is a perfect example of the difference between Walker and Kyrie Irving. Irving is a wizard with the ball in his hands. Maybe no is better in the entire NBA. But without the ball, Irving becomes a statue. Walker is good with the ball, but his ability to work off-ball is opening up a lot of offense for the Celtics:
4. As the game was underway, Boston shared that Gordon Hayward had a successful surgery on his left hand and his return to play is expected in about six weeks. That means Hayward should return right around Christmas. The good news is that because it is a hand injury, Hayward should still be able to do a lot of his workouts and keep his conditioning up. Nonetheless, it’s still a major blow to the Celtics rotation, as Hayward was playing at an All-Star level.
5. While Hayward is out, it’s time for a few guys to step up. Primary among them are Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Brown took on the challenge vs Dallas, as he scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and carried the early scoring load while Walker got it going. But it wasn’t just his scoring. Brown’s increased confidence in his much-improved handle allows him to keep his head up and find teammates with passes that he couldn’t make in his first few years. Look at this full-court bounce pass to Tatum:
And then he dimes up Theis for the dunk here, all because Brown’s not worried about the defender poking the ball away:
6. Jayson Tatum had one of those nightmare games. He was 1-for-18 from the field. The misses ranged from unlucky (multiple shots that rimmed out) to awful (hitting the side of the backboard with a jumper), but Tatum stayed aggressive vs going into a shell. He also didn’t let his defense slip or his work on the glass (eight rebounds). Tatum’s also an improved passer. Given their relative importance to the franchise’s future, Celtics fans love seeing Tatum and Brown link up like this:
7. Javonte Green got some additional run with Hayward out and delivered some nice plays. He scored nine points in 13 minutes and played some solid defense. Green’s a menace in transition, but when he uses his quickness and leaping ability to attack a big like Porzingis right off the catch, that’s something to really build on:
8. It wasn’t all puppies and rainbows for the Celtics. The defense got sloppy whenever Smart wasn’t in the game. Robert Williams delivered some highlights, but got lost in keeping track of his man several times. Doncic is a ridiculous talent, but no one except for Smart was willing to get up in his jersey and challenge him. And the Celtics kept helping off the wrong guys in the wrong places, which led to several corner three-pointer attempts for Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith.
And, sadly, the rebounding remains an issue. Dallas grabbed 25% of their own misses (13 out of 52), which helped keep them in the game. This is a place where Enes Kanter, once he has his conditioning back, could really help.
9. Brad Wanamaker was playing as part of the rotation as the fourth guard already, but he’ll see an uptick in playing time with Hayward out. Brad Stevens trusts Wanamaker’s steady hand at the point and his ability to make plays like this. He tries the lob, but sticks with the play and draws an And-1:
10. Did you notice how that above clip started? Marcus Smart making a Marcus Smart, or as Weird Celtics Twitter calls it a “Smarf” play:
He also made another signature “Smarf” play where he comes up with the offense rebound and finds Timelord for the layup:
And then with Walker out nursing a sore neck to close the game, Smart’s unwavering confidence in his shot showed up to clinch the game:
Coffee is for closers. Kemba shares his coffee with Marcus.