1. Al Horford did most of the running of the Boston offense against the Cavaliers. Sure, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart brought the ball up the floor, but it was Horford who the Celtics ran everything through. He finished with eight of Boston’s 29 assists (on 40 baskets!), and once again it was clear that Horford’s value doesn’t always show up in the box score.
2. On this play, watch Horford pass Gordon Hayward open. He waits until Hayward has Deng Adel pinned, then the pass is there. Right on time, every time.
3. It wasn’t the best shooting night for Jaylen Brown, as he finished just 6-of-19 from the floor, but he was tenacious at sticking with shots that he did miss. And plays like this one show just how much more athletic Brown is than many of the other players on the floor, who are all incredible athletes themselves.
4. It was a good night for Gordon Hayward in his return to Cleveland, where he was injured last year. He scored 18 points on 9-of-14 shooting. He had a great mix of jumpers, drives and post-ups. He also picked up six rebounds and five assists. In particular, Hayward and Daniel Theis have developed really good chemistry on the second unit. Theis knows when to roll and Hayward knows where Theis wants the ball. It’s been building all season long and it now something Brad Stevens knows he can rely on.
5. It was a rough night for Terry Rozier on defense. Last time out, he made life miserable on Cavaliers rookie guard Collin Sexton. This time around, Sexton was looking for payback. Sexton is a bulldog, especially when he puts his head down and drives. He went to rim over and over again on his way to 27 points. Nothing to worry about, as Rozier has had more good defensive games than not, but it’s something playoff teams may take notice of should they match up with Boston in the postseason.
6. Marcus Smart has become such a good shooter, that teams are starting to press up on him now. Here Smart looks positively Isaiah Thomas-like, as he dribbles off the screen right into a pull-up triple and draws the foul for the four-point play. The Celtics offense is already good, but Smart shooting like this makes it downright scary.
7. Maybe more than any other play this year, this one is an example that Gordon Hayward is feeling good. It starts out bad with Hayward throwing the ball away. But watch what happens after. He sprints the floor for the chasedown block. This is a sign that Hayward is feeling comfortable and just playing basketball.
8. With Kyrie Irving sidelined due to a strained hip (or because it was the Cavs?), Jayson Tatum stepped forward to lead Boston’s offense. He’s been really aggressive at the outset of games lately. That’s a good thing, as Irving likes to let the game come to him early on. It also gives Tatum great confidence that the team will look to him for buckets. When Irving is out, Tatum has become the go-to scorer that the Celtics need.
9. This play is a great example of how Boston teachers their defenders to close “high and hard” on three-point shooters. Semi Ojeleye drops to protect against the weak-side diver as Jordan Clarkson drives. When Clarkson kicks it out to Sexton at the arc, watch how Ojeleye closes. Rather give a token run-out to avoid fouling, as most teams teach, Ojeleye goes “high and hard” and blocks the shot. This is why the Celtics are the NBA’s best at defending the three-pointer.
10. Hayward was good. Horford was good. Smart shot it well. But let’s go back to Tatum’s scoring, as there was a really cool development for him too. He was 12-of-12 from the free throw line. That matches his career-high in free throw attempts, set in Game 1 of last season’s playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers. This time around, Tatum made all of them.
Some nights the shot isn’t going to be there for Tatum. It happens to everyone. But the very best scorers put points on the board by getting to the line when their shot is off. Tatum is figuring that out now. We’re getting to watch Tatum grow up right before our very eyes and that’s a privilege.