Toronto experienced their first ever Christmas Day home game yesterday. While it was the Raptors who got to open their presents early with a 10-0 run, it was the Celtics who had an extra reason to celebrate in a 118-102 win against the defending champs.
Admittedly, the Raptors were lacking in size in their front court with Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam, and Dewan Hernandez all out. Boston used this to their advantage, with five players grabbing five or more rebounds in the game. The biggest beneficiary of Toronto’s decimated roster was Enes Kanter who had himself a game.
Kanter, who had been granted safe travel to Canada, ended the contest with a double-double, notching 12 points and 11 boards in just 18 minutes. When he was on the floor, he provided the Celtics with an attacking option the Raptors were struggling to figure out, so the Celtics went to him for easy buckets on multiple occasions.
A nice feed from Jaylen Brown finds Kanter on the strong side low block. Kanter is being guarded by Chris Boucher who is just 6’7 and 198 pounds. Kanter, on the other hand, is a burly 6’11 and 249 pounds. Kanter backs down his smaller defender in Boucher and scores an easy hook shot.
On this play, Boucher slips when trying to close out on Kanter. But in all truth, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Semi Ojeleye hits Kanter with a nice pass and Kanter is able to pivot then pump fake before putting the ball in the basket. Although his recent struggles at the rim have been frustrating, they are the exception not the rule. Kanter is adept at getting bucks down low.
Enes Kanter's struggles to finish around the basket have continued. He's at a career-worst 57.9% at the basket entering today and just missed a couple more at the rim.— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) December 25, 2019
As usual, he was also active on the boards, with 3 of his 11 rebounds coming on the offensive glass.
Here’s that size advantage again. Kanter just forces his way in front of Boucher to get into rebound position here. Tatum (who had a rough shooting night) airballs the shot, but that’s just an opportunuty for Kanter to grab the rebound and gets the put back for an easy two.
Kanter missed an easy dunk on this play, but managed to grab his own rebound. He puts the ball back up and on to the other side of the backboard for a horrendous miss. Again, these types of misses are the exception and not the rule for Kanter who is usually a respectable finisher down low.
Kanter’s size was also a deterrent on the defensive end with a number of his defensive rebounds coming off jump shots after a player pulled out of his drive.
Patrick McCaw beats Romeo Langford off a screen and drives into the lane. Kanter is playing drop defense and closes the driving lane. McCaw sees this and stops his drive, pivots and gains some space. His jumper is off, allowing Kanter to grab the rebound. When Kanter is being used on defense in this way, he can be an effective rim protector due to his size. He will not be the guy to block a ton of shots, but he will alter a large portion of them inside the paint.
By running the drop with Kanter, it minimizes the amount of times a team can abuse him in pick-and-roll coverage. It’s how Portland used him last year, and it seems as though it’s how Brad Stevens will be primarily using him this year, too.
Here is another example.
Fred VanVleet beats Walker on the drive and keeps him on his hip as he enters the paint. Kanter again closes the driving lane. This time VanVleet kicks the ball back outside to Serge Ibaka who shoots the three. Kanter, having closed the driving lane, has remained on the low help line following the kick-out. This allows him to box out and grab the subsequent rebound following the miss.
While Jaylen Brown will rightfully own the headlines for his performance in this game and both Hayward and Walker performed at a high level, it is Kanter who took advantage of mismatches early in the game to help settle the Celtics following their poor start.
This is the fourth game that Kanter has been impressive on both ends and while sterner tests will likely expose his defensive deficiencies, he is providing solid minutes from the bench. His rebounds are killing opposing possessions and providing extra ones for the team. He is more than justifying the $4,767,000 he is earning this year with games like this. And to think, he almost didn’t travel for the game.