1. Brad Stevens and multiple Celtics were clear to call Friday’s victory in Orlando a “team win”. In recent weeks, Stevens has shrunk the Boston rotation down to nine players. Against the Magic, three key parts of that rotation were missing, as Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Enes Kanter were all out with various injuries. That gave increased minutes to Grant Williams, Javonte Green and Semi Ojeleye. All three stepped up and were productive in their time, especially defensively. On a night where newly-minted All-Star starter Kemba Walker shined and Gordon Hayward did his all-around thing, it was Boston’s team play that really stood out. One stat to prove that: 27 assists on 40 baskets.
2. It was a team effort, but boy did Kemba Walker shine bright. He always seems to play well against Orlando and he delivered when the Celtics needed him most. Walker scored 27 of his 37 points in the first half, including 19 in the second quarter. Boston was getting him open out of some really simple actions, including pick and rolls and dribble handoffs. Here, Vincent Poirier and Walker execute a perfect DHO for a four-point play:
In addition to his dizzying array of three-pointers and pull-up jumpers, Walker is also really good at getting to the basket and using his body to shield the ball from shot blockers, like he does here against Mo Bamba:
3. Gordon Hayward takes more grief from fans than any other Celtics player, outside of maybe Enes Kanter. The common refrain is that Hayward isn’t worth his max contract and doesn’t step up when the team needs him to. Against the Magic, Hayward was the perfect all-around complement to Walker’s scoring brilliance. He scored 22 points, grabbed 14 rebounds (his Celtics-high), handed out five assists and played really good defense against Aaron Gordon, holding the Orlando forward to just 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting.
As a scorer, Hayward can get on the board in a lot of ways. This floater off a lefty dribble is a tougher shot than it looks like, but Hayward makes it look easy:
4. Hayward also had three beautiful dimes in this game. This first one comes from his ability to rebound, get his head up quickly and find Daniel Theis leaking out:
Later in the third quarter, Hayward got trapped in the left corner, but there’s no panic. He steps through and finds Semi Ojeleye in the opposite corner for the three. This isn’t a pass very many players can, or even try to, make:
And then Hayward capped off three assists on three straight baskets by breaking down Orlando’s defense to find Theis for the layup:
When the Celtics needed him, Hayward was there. This is the guy Boston signed away from Utah a few years ago.
5. After his huge first half, the Magic started blitzing Kemba Walker on every play. Orlando wasn’t going to lose with Walker scoring every trip. Boston adjusted. They started using Walker as the decoy on several plays. Here, it looks like Boston is setting up a handoff from Theis to Walker. Nope. Walker sets the backscreen for Hayward, who takes the pass from Theis (who is really showing off his passing chops this year!) and drops in the layup:
6. As is often the case, Marcus Smart’s box score stats belie his actual impact on the game. He did a lot of “Smart stuff” against Orlando. First, Smart boxes out and outrebounds Nikola Vucevic, only one of the best rebounders in the NBA. Then he fires the ball down the court to Theis for the dunk:
Then, because Smart’s really a 6’4’’ center, he drops down to take a layup from Vucevic:
And, finally, we should all have the confidence in everything we do in life that Marcus Smart has when taking a big shot late in a close game:
7. Smart’s Padawan Learner Grant Williams did stuff all game long too. He confidently knocked in three three-pointers, which was great to see given his early struggles with that shot. Williams also had three assists, including this heads-up pass when Hayward had Evan Fournier sealed off under the rim:
The very next play, Williams showed off his shot-blocking ability by stoning the much-larger Khem Birch at the rim:
8. Javonte Green stepped up for Boston too and he did it very loudly with a pair of thunderous dunks. First Green double-clutched in transition to throw it down:
Then he stole the ball and took off in transition. As Green sent this one through, the Amway Center exploded like it was a Boston home game:
9. The last two takeaways are for another oft-maligned member of the Celtics: Brad Stevens. Stevens takes a lot of heat for his timeout usage (or lack thereof), rotation decisions and relatively even-keeled demeanor. But it’s his steady hand and decision-making that keeps the Celtics chugging along. In the second half against Orlando, Boston opened in a 2-3 zone defense. Stevens said after the game that it was to help save some legs for his shorthanded roster. But there’s more to it than just that. It’s the third straight game the Celtics have mixed in the zone now, and in the other two games they weren’t shorthanded. It’s Stevens experimenting and trying stuff in the regular season to find something that might work later in the playoffs.
Late in the game, Stevens did something he’s always gotten credit for: he brought some ATO magic.
Gordon Hayward comes off a down-screen from Javonte Green, right into a DHO from Daniel Theis. By the time Hayward catches, Aaron Gordon is so far in the trail position there is nothing he can do. And watch the last wrinkle very closely. Kemba Walker comes over to screen off Nikola Vucevic from helping on Hayward’s drive. That leaves just Markelle Fultz to defend Hayward and he fouled him for and and-1 that puts Boston back up by nine and basically ended the game.
10. Against Orlando, Brad Stevens won his 300th regular season game. After the game, Stevens was asked what that accomplishment meant to him. In typical Brad Stevens’ fashion, he deflected any praise for the achievement and passed it all along to his players, staff and the Celtics front office and ownership. That was expected. What was nice was that Stevens added that the management allows the Celtics to fumble sometimes and to not be great.
When he first got to Boston, there was a continual loop of Stevens saying “It’s a process” whenever he was asked about any kind of incremental growth for what was a very bad team. Six plus years and 300 wins later, the process still churns on. Sometimes it’s not great. Sometimes they fumble. But’s the process and the gains along the way that really matter. If that eventually leads to Banner 18, Brad Stevens will be a big part of the reason why.