1. It probably wasn’t Kyrie Irving’s favorite day in his NBA career in New York the other day. He had a nice game against the Knicks, but just seemed out of sorts all night. Against the Thunder, Irving looked more like himself. He scored 30 points and dished out 11 assists, and also seemed to have a little bit of that joy back in his game. A good example is this play. When Irving has it in transition, you have a feeling something good is coming. If he has a head of steam against a big, you get plays like this:
2. Al Horford has long been the Celtics stabilizer. He regularly regroups the team on defense, and he always gets a touch when the offense is struggling because something good generally happens when he touches it. This year, Horford has had some help as a stabilizing force, as Marcus Morris has stepped up into that role. Morris rarely stands out in the box score, but he’s been Boston’s most consistent player. He’s played good defense this season, and whenever the Celtics need a bucket, Morris is there. In a contract year, Morris has stepped up in a big way.
3. Jaylen Brown is on one of the best runs of his career. He’s bringing great energy every game off the bench, and his scoring has really come along. Now that Brown is healthy, he’s knocking down shots all over the floor. One play he’s making with regularity now is punishing smalls on switches. Here, Brown gets in the post against Dennis Schroder and powers through him for the easy bucket:
4. While Irving and Marcus Smart are the traditional playmaking options for the Celtics, Boston runs just as much of their offense through Al Horford as they do anyone. Horford finished with 17 points and nine assists. On the season, Horford’s assists per game are down a touch from his first two years in Boston, but that seems to be a result of the Celtics playing him less than anything else. When your big can run the offense from the perimeter like a point guard, it opens up the floor for everyone else to make plays.
5. Speaking of running the offense, Smart breaks down the Thunder defense off the dribble and gets in the paint, where he finds Irving for one of his many layups in the game. Smart has become such an improved playmaker from the start of his career. This is yet another example of Boston kind of playing backwards. All the forwards are outside the paint, opening up the floor for Irving to duck in for the easy bucket:
6. In what has been a season-long struggle, the Celtics defense opened the third quarter poorly. Boston still has problems putting together four strong quarters most nights. There is an old quote that goes: “It’s the NBA. Everyone makes a run”, but the Celtics make it too easy for teams sometimes. Oklahoma City has talented scorers in Russell Westbrook and Paul George, but Boston opened up lanes to the basket like Moses parting the Red Sea to open the second half. Once the Celtics got that back under control, they got the game back under control too.
7. Part of what got the game under control again for Boston was Marcus Smart continuing to shoot the lights out. Yes…Marcus Smart. Yes…shoot the lights out. Smart has become a real weapon from behind the arc on offense. He shot 4-of-9 on triples against the Thunder and is now up to 36.7 percent on the season. After the game Smart said “It’s all the work I put in and the confidence I have in myself and my teammates have in me to take them.” It’s all come together for Smart this season, whose new contract looks like yet another steal for Boston, a la Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley in recent years.
8. Morris makes the bigs shots, but he’s made some really unselfish plays this year too. On this play, Morris gets Noel on his feet and he’s right in his sweet-spot: the pull-up jumper from the free throw line. But Morris sees the help coming and instead lobs it to Daniel Theis for the easy bucket:
9. Speaking of Theis, he played a great game with Aron Baynes out. Boston will need this from him, as Baynes is out until after the All-Star break with a bruised foot. Against one of the bigger and more physical frontlines in the NBA, Theis more than held his own. He finished with 14 points off the bench and hit a bunch of big shots for the Celtics.
10. It was a balanced effort for Boston, one that showed off just how deadly they can be when they play as a team. Eight players scored in double-figures and all nine who played got at least one basket. They also recorded 36 assists on 54 baskets, with seven of the nine who played tallying at least two helpers. The balanced scoring and offensive threats coming from anywhere is a big part of why the Celtics dropped 134 points on one of the best defenses in the NBA.
The Celtics have won four in a row and nine of their last 10. The great play has bumped them to third in the Eastern Conference. It hasn’t been the smoothest stretch, but Boston is playing their best basketball of the year and looks like the Finals contender everyone expected. And as we all know: winning cures everything.