1. This was a big win for the Celtics. In many ways, this win was just as important as the blowout victory over the Warriors the night before. This is the exact type of game Boston has lost this year. They come up with a monster effort and everyone says “That’s the team we thought we were getting!” followed by a lackadaisical performance and a loss to a team they should have beaten. It was far from perfect, but that almost made it better. The Celtics haven’t had a grind-it-out win over a good team on the road in a while.
The victory took on added importance, as Philadelphia lost earlier in the evening. Boston gained a game in the race for homecourt advantage in the playoffs. In addition, it also helped to better the pick the Kings owe to the Celtics in the 2019 NBA Draft. All around, it was a good night for the guys in green.
2. Can’t hold it back this time around…how about Gordon Hayward? Wow! After a great game against Golden State, Hayward came back with another solid effort. The end of the game didn’t look great for him at first, as Hayward fouled Buddy Hield shooting a three-pointer with just 7.6 seconds left and the Kings down three points. And, yes, it was a foul. Hayward himself said so a couple of different times postgame.
But that was all wiped away with this play:
You can’t but help crack a huge smile watching that game-winner drop, knowing all Hayward has been through to get to this point.
3. To rewind to earlier in the game, Brad Stevens has made a subtle rotation adjustment. The last two games, he’s pulled all three frontcourt starters (Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris) around the six-minute mark of the first quarter and replaced them with Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Aron Baynes. This tweak has made for more lineup balance, as Stevens then staggers the starting bigs back in with the reserve units. The last two games have seen less minutes with four or five reserves in at once than most of the season has.
4. Part of the above rotation change, is putting Hayward and Tatum on the floor together for stretches of the late first/third and early second/fourth quarters. The two are developing nice chemistry, as seen here on this wing/wing pick and pop play:
5. Speaking of Tatum, he was the Celtics go-to guy with Kyrie Irving sitting out due to a thigh contusion. Boston went to him early and often, as Tatum delivered 15 points in the first half. Then, before Hayward’s heroics, Tatum scored six straight points late in the fourth quarter. This included getting to the free throw line four times, which is a very welcomed development in Tatum’s offensive game.
6. Tatum continues to develop as a passer, especially on the move, as seen on this clip. The other fun part of this sequence is how patient the Celtics are. Marcus Smart starts out in the mid-post area and finds Tatum. Instead of forcing a mid-ranger, as he has often this year, Tatum drives the ball and kicks to Horford. Horford then takes his time to dribble into a better shot. Just a nice look overall from Boston to avoid forcing anything.
7. Horford, to put it simply, was borderline unstoppable. He hit 8-of-10 shots on his way to 21 points. He also grabbed 11 rebounds and dished out seven assists. When the Celtics hit a rough patch in the third quarter, they went to Horford over and over and he delivered 12 points in the frame. This was yet another one of those games where it was re-affirmed that Kyrie Irving is Boston’s best player, but Al Horford is the team’s most indispensable player.
8. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for the Celtics though. A disturbing trend of not getting back on defense has developed since the All-Star break and it showed up in the last two games. Against the Warriors the team allowed leak-outs for easy buckets. The Kings got buckets in a far worse way: by pushing the ball off made baskets by Boston. That’s a cardinal sin in the NBA. After scoring, that is when a team should be setting their defense the best. De’Aaron Fox is a blur, as maybe the fastest player in the NBA, but there is no excuse for the number of times Sacramento got easy looks after the Celtics hit a shot.
9. One other problem, as it has been for a while now, was Morris struggling on offense. Morris has had trouble knocking down jumpers for a while now, after an incredibly hot start to the season. Every player goes through shooting slumps during a season, but what makes Morris’ struggles seem worse is how he misses those shots. He doesn’t just miss out of the flow of the offense. Often, his missed shots come after a bunch of dribbles out of isolation. Then, you can see him begin to press and the shots become more forced. It’s cost him some minutes and, in part, forced Stevens to re-jigger the rotation to work around his slump.
10. All that said about Morris, his confidence never wavers. That paid off late in this game, as he made a couple of huge buckets down the stretch. That including hitting the rare corner-three for the Celtics, which has been a problem area for the team all season long. Smart makes the play off the bounce and delivers an on-time pass to Morris for the open jumper. It was a big shot, in a big moment, in a big victory, for Morris and the Celtics.