1. Well, that’s more like it. No slow start for the Celtics in this one. Right from the tip Boston was on their game. The defense was aggressive and connected, while the offense moved the ball and created good looks all game. After playing their worst basketball of the season over the early part of the week, the Celtics needed a game like this and delivered. Sure, the Pelicans were without several players, but the point is that Boston took it to them all game and dominated as they should against an over-matched team.
2. Part of the success for the Celtics was pushing the pace. They started this on the game’s very first basket. Kemba Walker strips the ball and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are off the races, with Brown finding Tatum for the And-1 to start the scoring:
3. Maybe it was getting that early bucket that got Jayson Tatum going, but he was on fire for the duration of the night. Tatum scored a career-high 41 points on 16-of-22 shooting, including 6-of-9 from behind the arc. Tatum had it all working, as he had several strong drives like this one to get to the lefty finish over the shot-blocker:
On this play, the Pelicans somehow lost track of a guy who had flames pouring off his body:
And then he set his new career-high with another lefty finish. This one finished Tatum’s night, as he didn’t play in the fourth quarter with the game well in-hand:
4. The Celtics ball movement was excellent all game, as they finished with 29 assists on 55 baskets. That total likely would have been even higher if not for some 1-on-1 play late in garbage time. Here Daniel Theis skips to Gordon Hayward in the corner, who fires the pass across the lane to Brown for the layup:
And then Walker finds Tatum for a good shot, but Tatum passes it up for a great look for Hayward:
This is the stuff (quick decisions, making the extra pass, passing up good shots for great ones) that was missing this week, as too many guys tried to do it themselves.
5. Part of Boston’s struggles over the last week were teams playing a decent amount of zone against them. Every opponent during the touch stretch except for the Spurs challenged the Celtics shooting with a zone defense. The Pelicans tried it too, but were quickly chased out of it by plays like this one. All five players touch the ball and find gaps in the zone before Hayward drops it to Enes Kanter for the dunk:
6. A little while later, with the Pelicans chased out of the zone, Kanter teamed up with Marcus Smart on the traditional pick and roll for the easy bucket. Smart does a nice job of staying patient all the way to rim until he draws the defense for the pass:
7. That layup above was two of a whopping 74 points in the paint for the Celtics. At halftime, Boston had 38 points in the paint and had taken on 11 three-point attempts. The Celtics had a plan to attack the basket and didn’t deviate from it. With the athletes and big finishers Boston has, it’d be nice to see this approach continue.
8. Enes Kanter was dominant for the Celtics. He finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds in just 23 minutes. The Pelicans had no answer for the big man, as he did pretty much whatever he wanted. That included this “Welcome to the NBA” moment for rookie Jaxson Hayes:
Bonus: look at the entire Boston bench jump to their feet. Kanter doesn’t dunk all that often. When he does, the Celtics tend to get pretty fired up.
9. Gordon Hayward doing stuff as a cutter once again. And his teammates were finding him for easy buckets all night, as Hayward scored 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Saying it again: Hayward is Boston’s best cutter since Avery Bradley.
Jayson Tatum didn’t just fill up the scoring column, but he also grabbed six rebounds, snagged three steals and handed out four assists, including this one to Hayward:
On the next possession, Hayward gets out and runs the floor and Jaylen Brown dimes him up for the dunk:
Poor Jahlil Okafor. He has no chance against Hayward on the perimeter. At least Hayward made a quick death with the backdoor cut for another dunk:
10. Great ball movement led to easy baskets, as Boston shot 55% for the night. Terrific ball pressure on defense led to 16 turnovers. Of those, 14 were live-ball turnovers via steals, which led to several good opportunities in transition. Overall, this was one of the better examples of Celtics basketball this season. Connected, energetic defense leading to good team offense.
Brad Stevens said postgame that “You’re never as good as you think, nor as bad as you think either, but never far away from either one”. That’s a pretty accurate statement. The Celtics were never as bad as some suggested this week. They probably weren’t as good as some thought earlier this season either. The truth is that Boston is a good, but not great team. But games like this one show that they can be great when they play their game. It just takes effort and playing as a team, which was in short order for much of the past week.