1. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are special. They became the first Celtics duo to score at least 30 points in the same game in nearly five years, since the iconic duo of Avery Bradley and Jeff Green did so against Dallas in 2014. Brown set a new regular season career-high with 34 points (Brown also scored 34 points in a playoff game against Milwaukee in 2018), and Tatum added 30. The two combined to shoot 24-of-40 from the field and 10-for-20 from behind the arc. Brown grabbed nine rebounds, while Tatum chipped in with five boards and two blocks.
That the Celtics were able to land two wings in back-to-back drafts (both courtesy of picks they received from the Brooklyn Nets trade for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and then the subsequent trade with Philadelphia to get the pick used on Tatum) is a testament to Danny Ainge and his staff’s eye for talent. With Brown already inked to an extension starting next season and Tatum sure to sign an extension of his own this summer, Boston’s present and future are both very bright.
2. When Brown first got to the NBA, his game was all head-down drives to the basket, mixed in with the occasional wide-open jumper. Now, Brown scores in a variety of ways. Against Cleveland, his athleticism was too much. On this play, Brad Stevens drew up a beautiful ATO. Gordon Hayward gets the ball on the wing and it looks like he’s going to run a pick-and-roll with Brown. Cedi Osman thinks he blew that up, but Brown is really sealing him off the whole time. Hayward reverses the ball to Daniel Theis, who tosses the lob to Brown over Osman:
It’s a smart, patient play where Brown still shows off his incredible athleticism.
Later Brown has the ball in transition. Seeing only Tristan Thompson in front of him, Brown turns on the jets and glides to the rim:
That play brought back memories of Clyde “The Glide” Drexler with how smooth Brown beat the big man to the bucket.
Lastly, Brown finished off the Cavs. Cleveland had made a run and was hanging around midway through the fourth quarter. Brown scored three straight baskets to put the game away. He hit two three-pointers on consecutive trips and then grabbed his own miss to hammer this one home:
3. As for Jayson Tatum, he did most of his work with 24 of his 30 points in the first half. This pull-up fadeaway over Kevin Love is a shot Tatum can get on most defenders whenever he wants. He uses his handle and quickness to get in position and then his size to easily get the shot off over Love:
Later in the game, Boston went back to an old staple of the offense: hunting a mismatch. One out of Tatum, Brown and Gordon Hayward had a smaller player on them all game in either Darius Garland or Collin Sexton. Here Tatum gets on the block against Garland, who doesn’t stand a chance and gives up the And-1:
4. Now that his main guys are back, minus Marcus Smart, Brad Stevens has gone back to a stagger approach with his lineups. Generally Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum will be part of the first round of substitutions. They then come back on when Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown go out later in the first quarter or early second. Then all four are usually on the floor to close out the half alongside a big. Presumably Smart will factor in there when he’s healthy.
By staggering Hayward and Walker, Stevens keeps one of his two best playmakers on the floor at almost all times. And splitting Tatum and Brown keeps one of the best scorers out there at all times too. It’s a luxury to have four players that complement each other in such a way that Stevens can split and stagger their minutes.
5. Enes Kanter played another really nice game off the Boston bench. He’s simply too much for a lot of second unit bigs to handle, but he’s also holding his own against starters too. With Robert Williams out, Stevens has basically split the center minutes between Daniel Theis and Kanter. Against Cleveland, Kanter was called on a bit more due to Theis’ foul trouble. And he delivered with 14 points and nine rebounds, six of them on the offensive glass.
Kanter also picked up three assists, including this pretty pass to Gordon Hayward on the backdoor cut:
And Kanter played solid defense once again as well. This sequence was a good one, as he came up with the strip and was rewarded for running the floor hard:
Kanter has been better than many give him credit for. He won’t make the All-Defense team, but he’s playing good minutes for the NBA’s third-ranked defense. That tells you Kanter is holding his own and executing Boston’s scheme as asked.
6. A big part of the lift Kanter has given Boston is on the glass. The Celtics out-rebounded the Cavaliers by a 43-38 margin overall, including a 12-6 edge on the offensive glass. Given the troubles Boston has had with Tristan Thompson over the years, that’s pretty notable.
Overall, the Celtics are middle of the pack in defensive rebound rate at 14th, which is up from 17th a year ago. . Their offensive rebound rate rank is currently tied for sixth with the much bigger Philadelphia 76ers. That’s a huge improvement on being in the bottom third for much of the last decade or so.
7. One thing keying Boston’s third-ranked defense? Blocked shots. Despite the absence of a signature rim protector, the Celtics are tied for fifth with 6.1 swats per game. They’re doing it as a group and with help from their wings. Two examples stood out against Cleveland. First, Romeo Langford comes in to deny Cedi Osman at the rim:
Then Jayson Tatum helps off the weakside to block Larry Nance Jr at the basket.:
Bonus: Tatum keeps the ball in play vs sending it five rows deep in the seats, which is something Tommy Heinsohn has been harping about for almost 40 years.
8. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum carried the scoring load with 64 combined points, but Boston’s balance was pretty good. Helping that along was good ball movement all game long. The Celtics dished out 28 assists on 49 baskets, led by eight from Gordon Hayward. Hayward is up to 4.5 assists per game, which would be the second-best average of his career. His playmaking opens up the Boston offense in a big way.
9. Daniel Theis is undersized as a starting center, but he battles. He’s very good about establishing early position as defender and then fighting to keep it. That physical style of play often finds Theis in foul trouble, but it’s a necessary give-and-take. On the offensive end, Theis is better than most think. He’s elite at the seal block to free up driving teammates, as seen here:
Look at Theis’ drop-step to get in front of John Henson and make sure Henson can’t get over to provide any sort of help on the driving Tatum.
He’s also a good at rolling to rim, either as a primary in pick-and-roll or off dives on other actions. And when he gets there, he uses his quick-leap ability to finish to make up for his lack of size:
And finally, Theis isn’t Al Horford as a stretch big, but he’ll make you pay if you leave him open behind the arc. Also, check out the nice passing here by both Jayson Tatum and Brad Wanamaker to find the best shot:
10. This game was broadcast nationally on NBATV. Following the game, former coach and current analyst Sam Mitchell opined that Boston is the logical destination for Kevin Love. When asked how the Celtics could make that trade, Mitchell advocated that they trade Gordon Hayward for Love. His reasoning was that Boston has enough on the wing in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and that Love is an established All-Star big which Boston lacks.
Look, that all sounds good. Love has shown that he’s still a really good player. Few bigs bring the combination of shooting and rebounding that Love does. But if the concern is already about Boston’s interior defense, Love doesn’t fix that. Not even a little bit. There was a time when Kevin Love in green was the desire of many Celtics fans, but that’s no longer a reasonable fit.
The main reason? Love makes too much money for Boston to match in a trade without dealing Hayward or gutting their depth in something like a 6-for-1 trade. The latter isn’t happening, and to give up on Hayward now would be shortsighted. When healthy, he’s proven what he can do for this team. In addition, wings win in the playoffs. We’ve seen this time and time again. With Hayward in the fold alongside Brown and Tatum, Boston has three wings capable of playing at an elite level in a playoff series. That’s hard for most teams to match. Maybe Danny Ainge will find a big, but as noted above, the Celtics have gotten along just fine to this point. But if Ainge does decide he needs to upgrade that spot, it won’t be Kevin Love. That ship has sailed.