1. When the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks met the first time this season, Marcus Smart was the primary defender against Kristaps Porzingis and did a wonderful job despite giving up nearly a foot to the Dallas big man. With Smart out due to an eye infection, Jaylen Brown got the call this time around. Porzingis scored 23 points, but Brown and others made him work for them, as he was 8-of-19 from the field. With Luka Doncic out for the Mavs, Porzingis was their main guy on offense and the Celtics managed to hold him relatively in check.
2. The rest of the Boston defense? As Brad Stevens said postgame, it was awful. That may sound weird considering the Celtics held the Mavericks (the NBA’s top-rated offense) under their season-average with just 103 points on 39% shooting. But what Stevens was frustrated with was Boston’s lack of communication and strange help decisions that led to a ton of open shots for Dallas. In this clip, Grant Williams (who actually played better on offense than defense for the first time) gives bad help. He’s trying to take away the rolling Maxi Kleber, but Jalen Brunson has already decided he’s kicking to Dorian Finney-Smith. By the time Williams realizes he’s out of position, it’s far too late:
Then Williams and Enes Kanter (who also played a good game despite this clip) blow communication on a switch that leads to Seth Curry getting an open layup:
And lastly, Jaylen Brown took full ownership for the defensive lapses after the game. Brown said “It starts with me on that end, especially with (Marcus) Smart out”. Plays like this one were just sloppy and far too frequent. Brown strays a step or two too far away from Tim Hardaway Jr. to give help on a driving Brunson, when none was needed. Hardaway doesn’t need much daylight and makes Brown and Boston pay:
There were also at least 10 examples of sloppy/slow/late/lazy/pick your adjective closeouts throughout the game. This really showed up late in the game when Dallas was in catch-up mode and bombing away from behind the arc. It’s all correctable, and can be at least partially attributed to playing some funky lineups due to injury, but it has to be corrected or next time it will cost Boston a win.
3. Offensively, without Gordon Hayward, the Celtics three primary guys stepped up in a big, big way. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker combined to score 82 of Boston’s 109 points. And they did it in a fairly efficient manner as well. Brown got most of his going to hoop on straight drives, or settling for his now nearly-unstoppable pull-up:
Brown was also 8-for-8 from the free throw line and is up to a career-best 75.9% at the stripe.
4. Jayson Tatum did his scoring with his usual mix of jumpers, drives and off the bounce plays. However, in the first half, Tatum was again taking that weird floater shot that looks more like a fling to the rim than a real attempt. It’s good for Tatum to diversify his offense. That’ll help him score on different kinds of defenders. But that floater needs a lot more practice though before it needs to come out in games.
5. In the second half, Tatum didn’t settle for that mess and took good jumpers. This one had everyone in Dallas dancing, as he drilled the late-clock triple:
6. It’s also easy to forget sometimes just how long and athletic Tatum is. Here he holds down the paint like he’s prime Dikembe Mutombo. This swat led to a clear-path foul for Jaylen Brown and helped Boston keep it close heading into halftime.
7. With Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart and Robert Williams all out, Boston had to call on their depth. Enes Kanter struggled to finish around the rim, but still played a strong game with six points and 13 rebounds off the bench. Javonte Green also gave Boston some good minutes, as he was very competitive defensively, especially on challenging shots as a help defender. Single-game plus/minus can be a wonky stat, but sometimes it helps tell a story. Both Kanter and Green were +21 for the game, and that matches the eye-test of their minutes being good ones for the Celtics.
8. Grant Williams also stepped up so big that he gets his own separate takeaway. So far in his rookie season, Williams’ impact has mainly been felt on the defense end. He has that Smart-like nose for the ball and just makes winning plays. In this game however, his offense was better than his defense. He had a couple of nice switches and held his own, but he was a big part of some of the communication errors on defense. So, it was nice to see Williams make plays offensively on a night when his defense wasn’t always there.
First, he hit his second three-pointer of the year. The ball always looks good off his hands, so he just needs to keep taking good, in-rhythm ones like this and they’ll fall:
Then, with his confidence up, Williams called for the ball in the post on the next trip and calmly hit a shot over the smaller defender:
And what Williams has been best at all year on offense is his screening. He’s got that innate sense of when and where. Here he comes up to open up Tatum for a big three-pointer in transition:
9. Brad Stevens’ reputation as an ATO Assassin is well-earned. Plays like this one regularly get Boston good looks. This loud finish from Tatum for the And-1 went even better than expected though:
10. Kemba Walker had another big night. For the third straight game, Walker scored double-figures in the opening quarter, as he dropped 16 of his game-high 32 points. To start the year, Walker had a bunch of slow starts, but that seems to have leveled out. What has maintained is Walker’s great play to close games.
Against Dallas, Walker scored 13 points over the final 6:44 of the game. As he did all game, he hit from behind the arc, at the rim and at the line. Overall, Walker got to the charity stripe 11 times, making nine freebies. His play both on and off-ball is at such a high level, and has opened up the Celtics offense in a big way.
In the span of 25 games, Walker has established himself as Boston’s leader and their closer. As you should know by now, coffee is for closers. Kemba gets coffee.