1. Two of the more-maligned Celtics came up big in the final game of 2019. Both Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter are popular in trade proposals put together by Celtics fans. Hayward has the big salary and is seen as being duplicative with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Kanter is seen is a defensive liability and not worth the $5 million plus he got as a free agent. Both came up big for Boston in Charlotte. This time they showed their value in very visible ways versus forcing you to look deeper to see what they’re bringing to the floor.
Hayward scored 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting, pulled down 10 rebounds (five of them on the offensive glass) and handed out six assists. It was a bit of a slow start, but once he got going, Hayward was terrific. On this play, he drives and not only draws the contact, but you can see him seeking it out:
And hard drives like the above set up this little fadeaway from Hayward, which has become nearly unstoppable for him (and Jaylen Brown!):
2. As for Kanter, he was good on offense, as is usually a given. The big surprise? Kanter’s impact defensively. He recorded a career-high six blocks. Many of them came on direct challenges like this one:
Kanter does a great job of sliding to stay in front of the more-athletic P.J. Washington and then swats away his shot.
On offense, Kanter had this nice catch and finish off a tricky pass from Kemba Walker for two of his 13 points:
And, as has become expected, Kanter was all over the glass. He snagged 14 rebounds. Rebounding is often a forgotten part of a defensive player’s value. As coaches always say “A possession doesn’t end until you have the ball”, and Kanter delivers in that aspect nightly.
3. Speaking of rebounding, Boston dominated Charlotte on the glass by a 54-41 margin. That the Celtics have become such a good rebounding team is in part Kanter’s presence, but it’s also the wings being good on the boards as well. And it’s nice to have Marcus Smart back doing Marcus Smart stuff. Here he’s switched on Bismack Biyombo. No worries. Smart gets position, grabs the rebound and draws the over-the-back foul:
4. Smart also showed up a playmaker, especially to his big men. This first play is fun because look how it starts. Terry Rozier has played with and against Smart for years. He knows how improved Smart is as a shooter. That improvement means Rozier closes hard and Smart drives the closeout to find Daniel Theis for alley-oop:
Then Smart’s point guard brain shows up. He knows you always reward your big man for running the floor and he delivers the on-time bounce pass in transition:
5. Brad Stevens went into his bag of tricks for some more ATO (After Time-Out) magic. This first one looks like the goal is to free up Walker for a jumper. Nope. That’s all just window-dressing on both sides of the floor. Theis doesn’t even set a screen and slips to the rim for the dunk from Hayward:
In the second half, they ran a quick-hitting pick-and-roll off the timeout. By the time Hayward drains this shot, Charlotte is a mess defensively. Only Devonte Graham is guarding his original man, and that’s because Smart doesn’t move from the corner the entire play. For that matter, neither does Hayward. That Boston can get four defenders out of position on a play where two offensive players don’t even move tells you it was a great play design:
6. After a really terrible game of perimeter defense against the Toronto Raptors last time out, Boston’s focus and effort was great against Charlotte. They held Rozier and Graham, who key the Hornets offense, to a combined 7-of-25 from the floor. They kept them from breaking down the defense and getting in the paint, and then chased them off good looks on jumpers. To this point, the last Toronto game seems like an outlier as just a bad day. The Celtics were back to being themselves against the Hornets.
7. One of the most fun things about covering a team in depth is seeing guys make plays they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make early in their careers. Semi Ojeleye has been one of two things as an offensive plays to this point in his career: A spot-up shooter (primarily) or a head-down driver (secondarily). In this past in this situation Ojeleye either rushes the shot or holds the ball and passes it off. Here, Ojeleye drives the closeout and makes a nice kick-out pass to Hayward for the three-pointer:
8. Jayson Tatum’s finishing at the rim continues to be an issue. He’s at a career-low 57.5% at the rim. More troubling? His percentage of attempts at the rim are also a career-low at 23.6%. Is his inability to get layups to fall causing Tatum to pass up shots near the basket? And does Tatum simply put too much English on the ball to get it to drop?
Whatever the reason, it’s something that needs fixed. Tatum is too good to leave points off the board by missing just under half of his attempts at the cup.
9. One more play from Marcus Smart. Outside of Kanter, it’s not crazy to suggest Smart might be the Celtics best post player. He constantly makes good things happen, like he does here to draw the And-1:
10. The Celtics sent 2019 out in a good way. Over the first couple of months of the 2019-20 season, this group has done a wonderful job washing the bad taste out of everyone’s mouth that was left by the 2018-19 team. They’re fun to root for. They play with a smile on their face. They win and, just as importantly, lose together. After each of their eight losses so far, there has been no finger pointing. Just accountability and a promise to work on whatever it was that caused the loss. Outside of the Raptors game last week, they haven’t really been out of any games. To say that over a third of the way through the year is very impressive. Boston fans primarily want to win, but they also want a team they feel good about cheering on. As we turn the calendar to 2020, Celtics fans are getting both.
Bonus: Happy New Year from all of us at CelticsBlog. We know you can find Boston Celtics news and analysis lots of places, that you come here means more to our entire team than you could ever know. Here’s to the best 2020 possible for you, yours and the Boston Celtics!