1. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are the Celtics present and future. That usually means sacrificing some wins now for experience to lead to wins down the line. For Brown and Tatum, they’ve done nothing but win since both of them got to the league. After a frustrating season for both players last year, they’ve bounced back and become “fire and ice” according to Brown. And against the Nuggets, Tatum and Brown hooked up early and late to make things happen.
First, you have to love the patience here. Brown drives, but doesn’t force it and kicks to Tatum. Tatum drives the closeout, but doesn’t settle. He finds Brown, who has relocated to the corner for the open three-pointer:
Then, as Boston wrested control of the game for good late in the third quarter, Tatum and Brown hooked up for this play that got the Celtics bench and the Boston crowd going crazy:
Brown got his this past summer with a big contract extension. Tatum will get his this coming summer with a big contract extension. Both the present and the future are very bright in Boston.
2. Nikola Jokic had one of his better offensive games of the season, as he scored 30 points. This was a case of the Celtics playing everything straight up and allowing Denver to go to post-ups for Jokic on several trips with no double-teams. Boston instead focused on taking everyone else away. Jokic shot 13-of-21, but the rest of the Nuggets combined to shoot just 26-of-73.
On offense, Boston attacked Jokic on almost every trip early in the game. They made him defend on the move and it got Jokic into early foul trouble. Overall, the gameplan was to make him expend a lot of energy on both ends, while keeping the rest of the Nuggets under wraps and it worked.
3. Marcus Smart returned to the lineup from a game off and looked pretty good. He was under control and made some players as a scorer and as a passer. Smart had a couple of pretty assists to Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter, which showed off his ability to find the two bigs out of pick and roll plays and on straight post-ups. It’s always great for Boston to have Smart in the lineup, and this was a nice measured performance from the team’s leader.
4. Enes Kanter came in and had an immediate impact for the Celtics. He scored eight points in the first quarter, grabbed an offensive rebound and drew two fouls on offensive boards by getting good position. The best part? Kanter was really active defensively. On this play, he executes the drop coverage perfectly. He drops and gets his hands high against the driving Jamal Murray. Kemba Walker gets the steal, but it’s Kanter who created this turnover:
Bonus: At the end of the clip, you can see Kanter run the floor and get in great position to draw one of those fouls in the rebounding action.
5. On his son Deuce’s second birthday, Jayson Tatum wanted to have a big night. It got off to a shaky start, as Tatum appeared to be a little too juiced. Once he settled down, boy did he deliver. Tatum scored 26 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists. As part of the scoring barrage, Tatum hit this late-clock beauty over Juancho Hernangomez. This was a classic case of “good defense, better offense”:
6. Later in the quarter, this is the kind of move in the paint we love seeing from Tatum. He uses his handle and athleticism to get the running hook to go down:
7. For years, dating back to playoff matchups when he was with the Hawks, Paul Millsap has been a problem for Boston. In this game, the Celtics threw a lot of different looks at him. Everyone from Brown to Tatum to Smart to Semi Ojeleye got a chance. They all delivered, as Millsap was a non-factor with five points on 2-of-6 shooting. On this play, Ojeleye stands him up and forces a travel:
Then Smart stones Millsap in the post, while Walker digs down to help:
8. Star players in the NBA always have a go-to move. It’s a play they can make with regularity to give themselves or their team a boost. For the Celtics, Kemba Walker has the off-the-dribble jumper. Jayson Tatum has his step-back jumper. For Jaylen Brown, it’s become this little fadeaway jumper in the paint. Brown sets it up in different ways, but this has become his pet move and it’s gotten to the point where it’s hard for all but the best defenders to stop:
9. By the time this play happened, the game was all but over. But that didn’t keep Vincent Poirier from treating Mason Plumlee like it was France upsetting Team USA at the World Cup all over again:
10. The Nuggets were on a back-to-back and maybe that factored in a bit, but they weren’t exactly pushed in their dominating win over the Knicks the night before. Denver was also fully healthy and started the night in second place in the Western Conference. For the Celtics to step up and whip the Nuggets wire-to-wire the way they did was a great sign. And Boston did it without Gordon Hayward (who could be back a lot earlier than expected!) and while still figuring out their rotation.
The Celtics are 16-5 at the NBA’s quarter mark. They’re 9-0 at home. They’ve already put one West Coast trip behind them. They’ve beaten the Bucks, Nuggets, Heat, Raptors and Mavericks and went toe-to-toe with the Clippers without Hayward. It’s time to stop talking about how good the Celtics can be and to start talking about how good the Celtics already are.