1. The Celtics defense got after the Suns right from the jump. As expected, Devin Booker was the focal point for the defense, but not how you might have expected. Boston opened with Jayson Tatum guarding Booker, not Marcus Smart. In part, this was because Brad Stevens decided to trap Booker whenever possible to force the ball out of his hands. This allowed Smart to roam and switch off the ball. The strategy worked, as Booker only attempted 13 field goal attempts and was held below his average with “only” 20 points.
2. Boston’s offense was scuffling early. This type of situation is where Enes Kanter’s ability to score on the block can really help. When shots aren’t falling, teams want to go to some sort of easy offense. Like he does here against and overmatched Frank Kaminsky, Kanter provides that:
3. Another thing you do when shots aren’t falling is run the floor to create scoring chances. Here you see Jaylen Brown take advantage of a defense that is slow to get back and Smart finds him on the alley-oop from midcourt:
4. Carsen Edwards is first and foremost a scorer. His natural inclination is to find his shot. That’s fine. Teams need guys like that off the bench. But this attempt is a really bad one from Edwards. He never passes the ball and then takes just about the longest two-point shot possible with 14 seconds left on the shot clock. This is one that’s gotta go:
5. This play shows off two things Kemba Walker is really good at. First, look at the sneaky cut off the ball. He’s jogging and then immediately breaks to the paint before the defense can react. Second, this is a big time finish for a little guy:
6. Let’s talk about Grant Williams…He was a DNP-CD against the Kings on Sunday. He got his minutes back against the Suns and made a huge impact. A lot of Williams’ minutes this year (somewhere between 15% and 30% depending on play-by-play data) have been as a small-ball center. Against Phoenix, he primarily played the four. As a four, his ability to roam a bit more on defense allows him to make plays like this one:
And like this one too:
Offensively, Williams still can’t get a three-pointer to drop (0-for-16 on the season), but he’s a heady player who can get himself in the right spot for scoring chances like this:
7. Jayson Tatum was the best offensive player for Boston with 26 points. He shot 8-of-16 from the floor and got the free throw line nine times. He also finished at the rim better than usual. They ranged from acrobatic finishes in traffic like this:
To emphatic slams off a fake DHO like this:
As Tatum starts making more shots at the rim, he’ll be a consistent 20 points per game guy.
8. Jaylen Brown was quietly solid again. He had 16 points, nine rebounds and three assists. He also spent most of the game guarding Dario Saric, who should have a size advantage on Brown, but shot just 3-of-13 for the game. On offense, this shot has become one of Brown’s pet moves and it looks remarkably similar to the paint jumper that Gordon Hayward loves to use:
9. Grant Williams wasn’t the only role player to come up big for Boston. Brad Wanamaker was again terrific off the bench. He scored 10 points and handed out six assists. After Marcus Smart left the game with a sprained right ankle, Wanamaker helped close the game, as he made several baskets to quell runs from Phoenix. Postgame, Brad Stevens said about Wanamaker: “He’s a real good veteran guy. He sets a great example.”
10. Daniel Theis also continues to excel in his role. The Celtics are never going to make him a primary offensive centerpiece or anything like that. They need him to defend, rebound and score when asked. Against the Suns, it was the first two that Boston needed and Theis responded with a Dennis Rodman-like line of 0 points, 11 rebounds, 1 block and was +11 for the game.