1. Following a familiar script, the Boston Celtics got off to a great start, built a big lead and then let the opponent claw their way back into the game. This time around, Boston held off the Miami Heat and won the game. Surprisingly enough, although Miami challenged throughout the second half, the Celtics never trailed. While finishing a blowout as a blowout would have been nice, it was good to see Boston hold off a hard charge for a change.
2. Part of what got the Celtics off to such a good start was their energy and effort on both ends of the floor. Boston was flying around defensively and causing deflections and steals, as well as challenging shots from Miami. On offense, the team was running the floor hard and finishing at the rim. This play, and the next one, tell the story of how hard the Celtics were going early on:
Irving whips a behind-the-back pass to Tatum on the break, who then lobs it up for the Horford slam! pic.twitter.com/LbeKL0sZEL— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 1, 2019
3. This play was a mess and ugly, but that made it a beautiful throwback to the scrappy Celtics of the last few years. It’s also important to note that Gordon Hayward made an effort to finish with a dunk with a defender in place to challenge the shot.
4. Speaking of Hayward, it’s great for Boston to see him going hard to the basket on a regular basis. In this clip, Hayward drives, kicks it out to Marcus Morris who swings it to Jayson Tatum for the open three-pointer. There is a lot of good things here: Hayward driving hard, Morris making the extra pass and Tatum hitting the triple, as he seems to have snapped out of his shooting slump.
Let’s also note that Tatum had a really good all-around night. He scored 19 points, grabbed six rebounds, handed out five assists and played solid defense.
5. As good as Tatum was, it was Al Horford’s night. He was the best player on the floor for either team, as he impacted the game on both ends. Here, Horford pulls one of his patented rip and runs, and because Hayward runs the floor hard, Horford finds him and gets him the layup. This is beautiful basketball and something that very few teams can match because of Horford’s skill from the center position.
6. Miami plays zone defense as much as any team in the NBA. It’s been a major weapon for them this year. It often throws off the rhythm of the opponent, as NBA teams don’t play all that much zone. Boston has also done this on occasion. The challenge was that the Brooklyn Nets had done this the game before, so the Celtics were well-prepared to attack it. Boston continually got great shots against the Heat zone and it allowed them to build, and ultimately keep, the lead.
7. Third quarters and defending opposing lead guards continue to be a problem for Boston. It was Goran Dragic’s turn this time, but the Celtics made a change to their defensive approach. Brad Stevens finally acquiesced from his preferred switching defense and began trapping Dragic to get the ball out of his hands. This got things back under control for Boston at a point in the game when things were in danger of slipping away.
8. When Marcus Morris hit a three-pointer late in the third quarter, it set a team record for the Celtics for most made three-pointers in a single season. Remarkably, this happened with four games still left to play. It’s a sign of just how much the NBA game has changed, and this record is likely to fall again in future years as well. The three-point attempt volume isn’t likely to change anytime soon.
9. Speaking of Morris, he’s out of sorts right now. He was struggling before being moved out of the starting lineup, and nothing has changed since he’s gone to the bench. And Morris is the type of player who seems to need to touches and attempts to shoot his way out of a slump. On this clip, Morris makes this shot, but he looks off a wide-open Tatum in the corner to take a fallaway midrange jumper. This isn’t a shot that anyone should ever take when a teammate is open and there is enough time to make the pass:
Morris’ confidence and ability to do a lot of different things can be huge for the Celtics. But he’s got to get his shot back on track and stay within the ball-movement based system. If Morris can get right, the Celtics have the best bench in the NBA heading into the playoffs and it’s not particularly close.
10. Back to Al Horford… what a game. After having what had been termed 41 “close” to triple-doubles (he missed by one or two points or rebounds or assists), Horford finally broke through for his first triple-double as a Celtic and the second of his career. He finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. His playmaking for himself and others set the tone for Boston. Kyrie Irving remains the Celtics best player, but no one is more important to the team than Horford.