1. One night after opening the game guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Celtics asked Marcus Smart to handle Julius Randle. Smart was the primary defender against Randle and helped hold the Knicks big man to just 3-of-7 shooting and harassed him into six turnovers.
2. It was Jayson Tatum’s night. While his teammates worked through some early shooting struggles, Tatum kept the team afloat. This step-back triple was a weapon in Tatum’s rookie season, but something he abandoned for a lot of his sophomore year. Hopefully it’s back for good this year.
3. Tatum hit the game-winner (more on that later!) and his scoring kept Boston in the game, but his passing is getting really exciting. The other night he drove the baseline and found Jaylen Brown for big three-pointer late in the game. Against the Knicks, he made two other passes he didn’t make in his first two season. First, look at him split the defense to find Daniel Theis:
Then, check out Tatum passing out of the post as he finds the cutting Theis:
4. Even when Enes Kanter gets back in the lineup, it’s clear the Celtics are going to play small a lot. That puts an extra onus on everyone to rebound. Through five games, Tatum and Gordon Hayward have really picked up their games on the glass. Both players are at a career-best 7.6 rebounds per game.
On the flip-side, being small leaves the team vulnerable to big offensive rebounding nights by the opponent. The Knicks grabbed 16 of their own misses, including a huge one right at the end of the game to lead to Marcus Morris’ game-tying three-pointer. That’s going to be something to watch all season.
5. Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards are both a part of the rotation as rookies. So far, they’ve both really struggled to shoot the ball. They’re a combined 13-of-44 overall and just 2-of-21 from behind the arc. Fortunately, both are doing other things to keep themselves on the floor.
On this play, Williams uses his size advantage on Wayne Ellington in the post. He confidently gets to his spot and knocks down the short jumper right over the top of the smaller Ellington:
Edwards has been competitive defensively and his passing is starting to come along. Here he runs the break and finds Theis in transition for the And-1:
6. While there are concerns about the Celtics when they go small, it’s important to go back to a note from a Celtics staffer over the summer: “They have to guard us too.”
Either Tatum, Hayward or Jaylen Brown is going to draw a big man for at least some of the game. It’s important that they take advantage of that, especially off the bounce. Hayward has been very aggressive about driving bigs this year, as he does against Bobby Portis in this clip. He gets by Portis and finishes confidently over R.J. Barrett at the rim:
7. I don’t know what to really call this pull-up, floater thing from Smart, but it’s become one of his go-to moves. Even the play-by-play calls it a “driving floating jump shot”. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet:
8. The note for this takeaways reads: “Kemba = FUN!” and that’s pretty accurate. It’s not that Kyrie Irving wasn’t great at times for Boston, but Kemba Walker harkens back to Isaiah Thomas as far as being really fun to watch when he has it going. It’s a mix of jumpers and driving into the trees for finishes at the bucket. It’s all just a good time! And then you have this play by Walker where he got way up over two much bigger players for a key rebound:
9. This Celtics squad seems pretty connected early on. Great sense of timing from Tatum on when and where to cut and Hayward dimes him up for the bucket:
10. That Tatum game-winner! (insert emojis with hearts for eyes) This play was a throw-back to the IT days. Stevens puts Walker deep in the backcourt. That takes Ntilikina out of the play, while also forcing the Knicks to be aware of Walker catching on the run. But that’s not where Boston is going.
Walker was never getting this ball. You can tell by how the other four players are spaced. Hayward screens to get Barrett switched onto to Tatum, then Hayward spaces to the arc, while Williams makes a rim run. That keeps the Knicks defenders honest. Mitchell Robinson defends Smart on the inbound and he can’t leave him to double Tatum because of Smart’s improved shooting. That leaves it up to Tatum to do his thing on the rookie.
One last thing on this shot: it immediately brought back memories of the last time Tatum got a similar look at a game-winner. He missed that night in Orlando and made this one, but that’s not the only difference: