1. As it has been for many years now, whether you call it “next man up” or “Hospital Celtics”, Boston always seems to bring their best when they are down a couple of key players. With Gordon Hayward recovering from a fractured hand and Marcus Smart out due to being sick (but also getting some time off his feet with a number of other bumps and bruises), the Celtics stepped up and got a win over a good opponent.
Part of that was balanced scoring from their trio of stars and burgeoning stars in Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Those three combined for 78 of Boston’s 112 points. They also had 11 of the Celtics 21 assists. It was a good night for Boston’s best players.
2. Kemba Walker scored 28 points on his usual mix of jumpers and herky-jerky drives to the rim, but what really stood out was his passing, as he tallied seven assists on the night. On this first play, Walker has Duncan Robinson twisting and turning to defend the break, but happily leaves it for the sprinting Jaylen Brown to finish:
And, as he showed in Charlotte with Cody Zeller, Walker can get a lot of mileage out of working with a big who knows where to be and when. He did that on baskets to sandwich the half with Daniel Theis. Walker comes off the stagger screens from Jayson Tatum and Theis, gets to the paint and looks off the defender by making it look like he’s going to Brown in the corner, but hits Theis for the layup:
Then to open the second half, it’s not the same exact thing, but close enough. Tatum slips the screen, as does Theis and Walker finds the big man for the dunk. Nice wrinkle on a play Miami saw to close the first half:
3. With Marcus Smart out, Brad Stevens went a little bigger against a Miami team that plays two bigs in Bam Adebayo and Meyers Leonard. Grant Williams got the first start of his career. Nothing about his stat-line jumps out, but Williams was solid. Kind of what we’ve come to expect. He did do a nice job here of driving the closeout and finding Theis for an easy one to open the scoring:
More than that, Stevens also experimented with some more two big lineups, as Theis played alongside Robert Williams III, and then Timelord played a few minutes with Enes Kanter. The results were a little mixed, but there was enough good that Stevens might be comfortable using the pairings more against bigger teams.
In this one, Kanter didn’t play much because it’s not a great matchup for him. The Heat doesn’t really have a bruising big, so there wasn’t anyone for Kanter to bang with, as Leonard and old friend Kelly Olynyk tend to play around the perimeter. Robert Williams saw more time, as his athleticism was a better fit tonight, and he responded with 10 rebounds in just 19 minutes.
4. Post-game Stevens said that the game turned around when the Celtics picked up their defense in the second quarter. Boston held Miami to just 16 points on 7-of-21 shooting and forced six turnovers in the second frame. The defenders did a good job of pressuring dribblers and passers which gave the Heat very little airspace to work in. This steal from Carsen Edwards shows off both his quick feet and strong hands:
Bonus: Edwards also then made a nice read in transition to open up Brad Wanamaker for the three-pointer too!
5. There weren’t a ton of Jaylen Brown highlight plays from this game, which is actually a good thing. Brown is no longer the guy who shows up and makes you say “Wow! I’d like to see more of that!” a few times a game. Instead, he’s now a confident, comfortable scorer who gets his points in the flow of the game.
Several times this year, with a teammate(s) struggling, Brown has taken over and put the Celtics offense on his back. Against Miami, he scored 22 points on 7-of-12 shooting (including 4-of-6) from behind the arc, in the second half. Brown’s always been able to make athletic plays like this catch and finish:
Those are great. But the exciting plays are contested three-pointers late in the clock like this:
Funny, you don’t hear much more said about Brown’s big extension anymore. Interesting how that has worked out!
6. Jayson Tatum made a couple of nice reads once again. This first one is exciting because he immediately sees the trap coming and wastes no time getting it to Kemba Walker for the triple:
And this was just a fun capper on the night:
7. Once Boston picked up the defense, they were really flying all around and making it hard on Miami. This sequence features multiple switches, helps, closeouts and finishes with some sweet rim protection from Daniel Theis:
8. Kemba Walker has said a few times that he loves playing in Boston because of the environment and the talent around him. The Celtics have guys like Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and when he gets back, Gordon Hayward who are a threat to score 30 every night. That gives Walker a sense of not having to do it all, as he so often did with the Charlotte Hornets. Walker put up 17 points in the first half and 11 in the second half against the Heat, but they all pretty much came in the rhythm of the game and from playing off his teammates
Walker’s usage rate is still fairly high at 28.2%, but a lot of that comes from being the team’s primary ballhandler, especially with Hayward out. But that figure is down from a career-high 31.5% in his last year with the Hornets. When Hayward gets back, expect to see Walker off the ball even more, as he was in the season’s first eight games. That should open up even more good shots for Walker, who is a tick under 40% from behind the arc this season. And, as we all know, he’ll be there in the clutch when Boston needs him.