1. Jaylen Brown played the role of Santa Claus for the Boston Celtics, as he delivered a very Merry Christmas. Brown scored 30 points, including 16 in the third quarter alone (more on that outburst later!). He also grabbed six rebounds and dished out four assists. Maybe most impressive was his efficiency, as Brown knocked down 10-of-13 shots, including 5-of-7 from behind the arc. Some of the best early plays were Brown going to his pet shot in the paint:
Then when the Raptors went zone, Brown showed no hesitation and drilled this triple:
And this pass to Enes Kanter shows just how far Brown has come as a playmaker out of pick-and-roll:
2. As Brown said after the game, it meant a lot to the Celtics to win in Toronto. Scotiabank Arena had been a house of horrors for Boston. Entering yesterday, the Celtics were just 1-11 in games in Toronto under Brad Stevens. After falling behind 10-0, you couldn’t blame anyone for thinking “Here we go again”. But it’s a sign of this team’s resiliency, as Boston came back with a 9-0 run of their own to spark a 26-point turnaround that made the game a blowout victory.
3. Gordon Hayward was back and his presence raises the Celtics ceiling by a good amount. The offense just functions so much smoother with Hayward on the floor. He made three plays that really stood out. First, he knocked down this pull-up that is almost automatic for him:
Then Hayward grabbed this rebound and found Kemba Walker on the runout all in one motion. Walker dropped it off to Brown for the dunk, so Hayward doesn’t get any sort of box score stat, but Hayward made the play happen:
And then Hayward went and got himself an assist as he found Brown in the corner to put the game away for good:
Overall, Hayward finished with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, five rebounds and six assists. It was good to see him back and producing.
4. All of a sudden, the Celtics are one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the NBA. This is a fairly shocking development, as Boston hasn’t been a good offensive rebounding team in years. This is part of the Enes Kanter factor, as he pulls down almost three offensive boards per game, but five other Celtics are averaging at least one offensive rebound themselves. Against Toronto, Boston corralled 13 of their own misses on a night where they shot 50% from the field. That’s stealing extra offense, as the Celtics had 24 second-chance points for the game.
5. Speaking of Enes Kanter, let’s start with him getting to play in Canada in the first place. The United States and Canadian governments worked together to make sure Kanter would be safe to enter Canada and return to the United State without any issues. Kanter is currently labeled as an “enemy of the state” in his native Turkey, because of his criticism of the Turkish government. As such, he’s been reluctant to travel out of the United States for fear of being arrested. This is bigger than basketball, but it was great to see people come together to make sure Kanter was able to play on Christmas.
And did he ever play. He put up a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds. It was Kanter’s fourth straight game with at least 11 rebounds. And to top it off, he had this pretty pass out of the post to Grant Williams for an easy layup:
Bonus: have a laugh as Williams up-fakes absolutely no one before making the layup!
6. Something that has caught the eye over the last week or so: how Boston is providing help on bigs at the rim. The Celtics don’t double a lot, but they are aggressive in sending help on bigs near the basket. When executed correctly, Boston is helping off the weakside corner. They did this several times against Toronto, as they were able to break up plays for Serge Ibaka inside. This is one way the Celtics combat a lack of interior defense, depending on what lineups are in the game.
7. Let’s get back to Jaylen Brown, because he was awesome in the third quarter. Brown made all five of his shots in the period on his way to 16 of his 30 points. On this play, Brown crosses up a good defender in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to knock down the mid-range jumper:
And then about a minute later, Brown finished his flurry with a fadeaway to end the third:
Brown is shooting a career-best 51.4% from the field and just a tick off his career-high from behind the arc at 39.1%. In addition, he’s making 75.2% of his free throws, which means he’s no longer leaving points at the line. And all of his counting stats are at career-best levels as well. Anyone still worried about Brown’s contract extension? No? Didn’t think so.
8. Most games Brad Stevens has settled on playing a 9-man rotation. Who that rotation includes is highly dependent on who is available to play. With Gordon Hayward back, Semi Ojeleye was out of the rotation. Right now, rookie Romeo Langford is getting and giving Boston some good minutes. Enes Kanter and Brad Wanamaker have been rotation mainstays, and Grant Williams has been there almost every game too. When Marcus Smart gets back, it’ll be interesting to see if Stevens expands to playing 10 guys, or if Langford falls out of the rotation.
9. With big performances from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum lately, it’s easy to overlook just how good Kemba Walker is every night. Walker doesn’t really deliver any singular highlights during games, as he’s more of the “killing you softly” type. While he’s good at scoring at every level, Walker’s best shot is probably his pull-up three-pointer off of screens. He’s quickly developed great chemistry with Daniel Theis in the screen game. Theis knows where and when Walker wants the screen and regularly opens him up for the jumper, like happens here:
10. It wasn’t Jayson Tatum’s night shooting-wise. He was just 1-10 at halftime and was struggling to get in any sort of rhythm. He made 4-of-8 shots in the second half, but with Brown and Walker doing their thing, Tatum settled into doing other things. His defense was terrific, as it has been all season. And Tatum grabbed nine boards and handed out six assists. That he was a +21 in a game where he shot just 5-of-18 tells the story of just how Tatum has grown to impact the game when his shot isn’t falling.
Oh, and he might have taken out some of the shooting frustration on this play which put a capper on Christmas for the Celtics:
Only Chris Boucher’s left hand coming up through the net robbed us of a signature Christmas Day highlight. Still fun though!
Bonus: All of us here at CelticsBlog hope you had a Merry Christmas and are having very Happy Holidays!