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Boston goes toe-to-toe with a contender on the road: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Clippers

Minus Gordon Hayward, Boston gave the Clippers a fight in LA

NBA: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

1. This one felt like a playoff game. From the crowd being amped up, to the pace of the game, to how the teams were scheming on both offense and defense, it felt like a playoff matchup. The Celtics lost, but they punched their way off the ropes at a few different points and forced overtime. Losing to a Finals contender on the road, in overtime, is nothing to be ashamed of.

2. Marcus Smart had a really rough shooting night. He was just 7-of-20 overall and 1-of-11 from three. But, as per usual with Smart, his contributions go beyond his shooting and scoring. So, with recognition that Smart maybe should have cooled it with the shot attempts, his defense was terrific all game. He spent most of the night guarding Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams. None of those three are very easy covers, but Smart more than held his own. As many bigger players than Leonard have found out, you aren’t backing Smart down very easily:

And again:

And then look at this ball-denial that turns into a signature Smart play:

3. Smart was also good as a playmaker, as he handed out eight assists on the night. This one to Tatum was a passer making a great pass:

4. Once again, the Celtics shooting waxed and waned, came and went, was up and down, etc. Pick a phrase that says “good and bad” and the describes it. Boston started 0-for-7 from the floor overall and missed their first 16 three-point attempts. The defense was excellent and kept them in the game, but we knew one of these bad shooting nights would eventually catch the Celtics and it did.

5. Brad Wanamaker and Enes Kanter were again good off the Boston bench. Wanamaker scored 14 points and dished out five assists. Kanter scored eight points and grabbed six rebounds in just 12 minutes. Kanter’s defense was a pleasant surprise against the Clippers, as it can be best described as “not terrible”.

6. Brad Stevens went back to an old standby on offense: attacking mismatches. In particular, Boston had great success hunting Lou Williams. The Celtics spent a good amount of the second half getting Williams matched up on Jayson Tatum and that was a big part of Tatum scoring 17 points in the second half/overtime.

7. On defense, the Celtics are executing their switch everything, scramble defense at a very high level this season. Outside of Kemba Walker, Boston will happily switch everyone else and trust that they can defend whoever they end up with. And they’ll even trust Walker to hold his own against a lot of players too.

In order for this defense to work, everyone needs to be on the same page and you have to be able to execute the “scram” concept well. The scram means getting players out of mismatches away from the ball. The Celtics do this very well with Walker, as they’ll sometimes execute a three-way switch or a jump-switch (where a players 1 and 3 switch, while player 2 stays on his man). It takes trust and communication and Boston has that in spades on defense right now.

8. Daniel Theis was terrific. There is a lot made about how Boston has to trade for a big to be a true contender. There is some truth to that, because the current bigs are more good as a collection than as any one individual, but it’s not nearly the dire situation some make it out to be. Theis had a line of eight points, 14 rebounds (seven offensive) and six assists. He’s undersized, but he’s quick and battles. role, albeit in a different sort of way.

So far Theis has admirably filled the Al Horford roleT, albeit in a different sort of way. The German national isn’t the scorer Horford is, but he’s a better rebounder. The passing ability is closer than you think, thanks to years in the Euro League where everyone has to be able to move the ball. And the defense isn’t as versatile from Theis as it is from Horford, but he’s arguably better against true centers.

9. Watching Stevens and his Celtics teammates put their faith in Jayson Tatum to make plays like this is huge:

It’s a confidence builder of the highest degree. Sure, it was riding the hot-hand to some degree, but Tatum delivered in one of the game’s biggest moments when his team asked him to.

10. The officiating late in the game was confusing and in some cases straight up bad. The countless reviews also messed up the flow of a really great game.

But the Celtics refused to use anything that happened as an excuse for losing the game. They instead chose to focus on the positives from going toe-to-toe with a Finals contender in their own gym and nearly beating them. While today’s focus has been a lot on the officials, rarely do they win or lose a team a game. Had the Celtics made a few of those 16 straight three-pointers they missed, the officiating isn’t even a talking point today, because Boston wins in regulation. At any rate, it’s on to Denver to try to head back to Boston with a winning record from this road trip.

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