1. Jayson Tatum played one of the best all-around games of his career. He scored 30 points, grabbed six rebounds, played good defense with two steals and two blocks, and set a career-high with seven assists. Tatum was a good shooter/scorer from day one in the NBA. His defense has also always been good. The passing is what has really improved since he entered the NBA. Against the Knicks, he made three different types of reads that showcased that improvement.
First, Tatum recognizes that New York is in a zone and that Mitchell Robinson is laying back. He takes the ball up top just enough to really open up the zone-buster for Kemba Walker:
On this one Tatum is patient as he works out of the post against Dennis Smith Jr. He doesn’t rush a fall-away or a layup from a weird angle. He reads Taj Gibson coming to help and drops it off to Daniel Theis for the easy bucket:
This last one set his career-high and was one of the best. Tatum had been hot all game. He wants to take one dribble and pull up for the three-pointer. But he reads the defender closing and Jaylen Brown wisely relocates for the wide-open corner and Tatum makes the right play:
2. The Celtics bench doesn’t always put up gaudy numbers, but generally contributes in ways the box score doesn’t capture. Against the Knicks, they did both of those things. Brad Wanamaker continued his excellent play off the bench with 11 points. Enes Kanter recorded a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. And Grant Williams (more on him later!) and Semi Ojeleye filled the “made plays without stats” roles. The NBA season is long, so depth matters. It’s a comfort to know guys can contribute when their number is called.
3. This was probably Kanter’s best game as a Celtic. He was really good offensively and generally active on defense. If he wants to continue to play though, he has to lose lazy defensive plays like this. Ostensibly, Kanter comes over to help, but he doesn’t actually do anything helpful:
4. Splitting the backup minutes behind Theis has been Kanter and Robert Williams. The trio has generally given the Celtics what they need and it allows Brad Stevens to mix and match depending on game flow. In this one, Timelord made a couple of nice plays, but one really boneheaded one that got him banished to the bench for the rest of the afternoon.
This dunk is one that only a handful of bigs in the NBA can get up for. Bonus: watch Wayne Ellington make a wise business decision and try to get out of the way as Williams rises:
Then, about a minute later, Williams has this incredibly silly turnover and he didn’t play again:
Baby steps with the Timelord. Baby steps!
5. With the game tied at halftime, one would have liked to see Boston come out of the locker room with some bounce in their steps. Instead it was a sloppy start to the half, as they turned it over three times in the first three minutes. That helped the Knicks build a nine-point lead and put the Celtics in comeback mode.
6. Before the game, I suggested that this would be a good spot to give Marcus Smart a rest day. He’s dealing with a bunch of different nagging injuries, and with Boston off until Wednesday he could have gotten a nice little vacation. But Smart played and again went down. This time around he took a direct hit to his abdomen and had to leave for the rest of the day. Following the game, Smart told Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald that it might be time for a rest: “I think so. I think that might be it. That might be my final straw. We’ll see how it goes.”
Given the Celtics goals are bigger than the regular season, getting Smart healthy would be the prudent course of action. He’s clearly one of Boston’s most important players, if not the most important. And Smart himself finally seems to recognize that it’s time to put his feet up for a few days.
7. In Smart’s place, Grant Williams stepped up. Let’s look at him scoring the ball first. Here, Williams hangs out on the baseline versus drifting to the corner and gives Julius Randle a little head-fake to get the easy layup:
On the very next possession, Williams gets the much smaller Smith on him and gets in the paint for the simple turnaround:
Williams has struggled offensively, but it’s good to see him get back to basics with plays like these two.
8. It’s not hyperbole to suggest Boston hasn’t had an offensive rebounder like Enes Kanter in decades. He uses his strength, strong base and tenacity to win the ball over and over again. Kanter grabbed six offensive rebounds and was a big part of helping the Celtics to 17 second-chance points. In a close game, that can help make the difference between a win and a loss. Offensive rebounding hasn’t been a weapon in years for Boston, so it’s a different, but welcomed look.
9. Jayson Tatum had the big all-around game, but Jaylen Brown was no slouch himself, as he scored 28 points. Brown scored 11 of those 28 in the fourth quarter, including six straight as Boston took control and put the game away. Here, Brown uses his quick hands to get the steal, then gives the defender the little shoulder move to get the layup to give the Celtics a lead they wouldn’t relinquish:
Then Brown gave Smith the full “He’s too little!” treatment as he drove and scored for the easy layup:
10. With Marcus Smart out, Grant Williams also stepped up to make those “winning plays” that Smart always makes. This one won’t make the box score, but Williams set a great screen to free up Tatum for this transition triple:
This one will show up in the box score, and was the exact kind of play Smart would make to put the game away:
Marcus Smart must be proud of his Padawan.