1. It would be disingenuous to bury the lede here. It was Kemba Walker Day in Charlotte. After 616 games over eight years, Walker returned to Charlotte in a Celtics uniform. To say it was an emotional return would be an understatement.
After that tribute, it took Walker a little while to get going. He had just 3 points in the first half (all free throws) and missed his first six shots. But, as he has all year, Walker put together a good second half. Well, really a good third quarter, as he wasn’t needed in the fourth. Walker scored 11 points in the third, as Boston took control of the game.
2. The Celtics defense is starting to take on a pretty familiar look. Through seven games, Boston is third in the NBA in defense rating. They’re forcing turnovers at a high rate, while also holding opponents to a poor shooting percentage, all while being a middle of the pack defensive rebounding team.
Charlotte shot just 38.4% and turned the ball over 20 times. They were able to stay in the game in the first half on the strength of five offensive rebounds. When Boston cleans up their own glass, which is something Enes Kanter will really help with, the defense should become even more formidable.
3. It was a day to celebrate Kemba Walker, but the night again belonged to Gordon Hayward. As he did against Cleveland, Hayward took control of the game right from the tip. He scored 14 of his 20 points in the opening period. Overall, Hayward put together a 20/10/6 line on 9-of-16 shooting. The scoring is there, but the passing is what is really opening things up for both Boston and Hayward. On this play, he comes off the double screen from Jayson Tatum and Daniel Theis, looks off the defense by looking at Tatum, while diming up Theis for the dunk:
4. Hayward has also been the beneficiary of some nice passing from his teammates as well. Here, Hayward times his cut perfectly and Marcus Smart sends in a pretty pass for the uncontested dunk:
5. With Walker and Hayward drawing a lot of attention, it’s allowed Tatum to do his thing without many people noticing. Tatum has scored 21 or more points in five of seven games and has hit double-figures in all seven games. After a few rough-shooting nights to open the year, he’s at 50% from the floor over the last four games. This shot is the kind of mid-ranger you don’t mind, because he’s working out of the post and draws the And-1 opportunity:
6. Welcome back Jaylen Brown! After missing three straight games due to an illness and subsequent infection, Brown looked a little rusty with his timing. That’s to be expected, but he seemed his normal energetic, bouncy self. When asked about being small, a Celtics staffer said: “They have to guard us too.” We’ve seen both Tatum and Hayward take advantage of being guarded by an opposing big. Here, Brown zips right by Bismack Biyombo for the easy layup. This is speed over size, which is key for Boston.
7. When he signed with Boston, a film review of his Utah days showed that Hayward was a lot quicker and more athletic than he might initially seem. It’s taken a couple of years for that to show itself with the Celtics, but we’re seeing it now. What is new is just how strong he’s gotten. A year on the sidelines was a year spent on his upper body and it shows on plays like this one. Hayward uses his combo of athleticism, pace and strength to go through Cody Zeller for the layup in transition:
8. Walker was having fun at this point in the game, as he delivers the look-away pass to Brown, who turned on the jets for the layup:
9. With the Hornets playing similar to Boston with only one traditional big on the floor at a time, Brad Stevens made a rotation adjustment and gave some run to Javonte Green during the times that usually go to Semi Ojeleye. Green delivered, as he scored his first NBA basket on the way to 12 points for the night. Green might be one of the best athletes in the NBA, as witnessed here as he sprints the floor and gets up for the dunk:
10. Six straight wins. Boston lost on opening night, but there were some encouraging signs. Since then, it’s been almost all good. The Celtics beat other top Eastern Conference teams in Milwaukee and Toronto and then took care of business against a few non-playoff teams.
Now, Boston heads to San Antonio. That’s been a house of horrors for the Celtics. They haven’t won there since 2011 and have lost 14 of their last 15 games against the Spurs overall. Another loss at San Antonio wouldn’t erase all the good from this streak, but a win might have to make everyone re-consider just exactly how high this team’s upside is.