1. The Celtics had to come from behind to beat the Hawks. Boston got down by 18 points early in the game and was struggling mightily on both ends of the floor. How did they get back in the game? As a team. Six Celtics finished the game in double-figures. And the team defense from the first quarter one was very good. Atlanta shot just 38% from the floor from the second through fourth quarters, while coughing up 11 turnovers.
2. Jaylen Brown stepped up big for Boston with his running mate Jayson Tatum struggling to get his shot to drop. Brown scored 24 points on 8-for-13 shooting. He also got to the free throw line 10 times (more on that later) and grabbed 10 rebounds. Once again, Brown showed his improved patience and also his strength. On this play, he faced up, jabbed, faked and then used his athleticism and strength to get the layup:
This one was Brown taking the time work on the over-matched Allen Crabbe in the post. This jump-hook is a big boy finish:
Brown also scored seven straight points in the fourth quarter as the Celtics took control of the game. He’s made the leap and should be an All-Star this season.
3. Marcus Smart started for the ill Kemba Walker and made a bunch of plays as a playmaker on offense. He finished with nine assists, several to Enes Kanter. Here’s some examples of them working together to pound the Hawks. First, Smart just breaks down the defense, while Kanter does what he does best and gets to the front of the rim:
Next trip? A more traditional pick-and-roll, where Smart delays just long enough to make sure Kanter gets the layup:
And this last one is just fun. Smart works out of the post, as he did a lot of the night against Atlanta, to find Kanter for the dunk. Watch Kanter’s reaction after this dunk, as this one got everyone fired up:
4. Those plays were part of a big night from Kanter, where he recorded another double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. He also had two more blocks. Kanter is now fully comfortable in what Boston is asking him to do defensively as part of their drop coverages when he’s in the game. Did that open up Trae Young for a couple of 30-footers? Sure. But that’s something you live with. Better that than Kanter pressing up and getting beat for a layup by Young or the roll man.
On offense, Kanter is showing is true value. On nights where the offense struggles, it’s a calming reassurance for Brad Stevens that he can call a post-up like this and be confident something good will happen:
And, as we all know by now, Kanter’s offensive rebounding is maybe his signature skill. Alex Len is a big man and Kanter moves him out of position with relative ease to get this putback:
5. Kanter’s efforts up front were joined by some great minutes from Daniel Theis. This play is a lot harder for a big man to make than most realize. Theis is completely under control and knocks in the pull-up over the much smaller defender:
And defense was Theis’ calling card for the night. He had two monster blocks in the fourth quarter to help preserve the win for the Celtics. First, Young think he has Theis beat for the layup. Nope:
The, as Greg Dudek broke down in detail here, Theis saved the game by having his “Kevin Love moment” against Young:
Tell me again, why should Boston trade for Andre Drummond?
6. How did Boston get back in the game after falling behind early? They amped up their ball pressure. You want to run a DHO against Marcus Smart? You better make sure you get him on the screen, or it’s going the other way:
Both Smart and Brown harassed the Atlanta guards into several busted plays. That allowed the Celtics to climb back in the game.
7. There weren’t any signature highlight moments from the game to isolate, but Boston would be lost without Gordon Hayward. The simplest way to put it is that you can trust Hayward. If he’s got the ball, he’s going to make the right play almost every time. He’s a calming influence for the rest of his teammates, especially on a night like Friday when Kemba Walker was out.
8. After the Hawks picked and popped the Celtics to death in the first half, Brad Stevens made a tweak. Instead of switching or trying to recover back to the screener, Stevens brought the weakside wing over. That allowed the screened defender to fall off and pick up the wing. It also had the benefit of resulting in a few steals like this one, as Atlanta wasn’t ready for this adjustment:
Bonus: Look at Brown’s patience again here. In the past he tries to put John Collins on a poster and who knows how that ends? Here, he lets Collins fly by and simply takes the easy layup. Good stuff all around.
9. A big part of growth for young players is contributing when their shot isn’t falling, as well as taking advantage of game situations. Both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum did this against Atlanta. The Hawks don’t have a single defender who has a prayer of defender either of the Celtics wings. Tatum couldn’t get the shot to fall, but he joined Brown in hunting fouls. This allowed them to each take 10 free throws on the night. That’s creating offense in an efficient way.
10. Marcus Smart did Marcus Smart stuff throughout the game. Unfortunately, that comes with both good and bad. We already highlighted his playmaking. He also scored 15 points, snagged six rebounds, nabbed three steals and blocked two shots. We should all hit 2020 with the confidence in everything we do as Smart has when taking a late-game shot:
But then Smart let his emotions get the better of him. Part of Smart’s value and charm is that he plays with an edge. He’s ready to scrap with whoever, whenever. But after Theis blocked Young, there is no reason for Smart to pull an “Allen Iverson stepping over Ty Lue” moment:
The clock was running out. The best play would have been to throw it ahead to Theis and celebrate a walk-off win. Instead Smart stepped over Young, tripped (get tripped?) and then got into it with the Hawks. This could have resulted in disaster, as Smart was clearly the aggressor here. He wasn’t happy about catching an elbow from Young early in the game, but that happened in the normal flow of play. This wasn’t anything normal and there was no need of it. In the end, no harm was done. But Boston has bigger goals than a regular season win in January. Smart is a big part of those goals. To get there, he needs to keep his head and stay in the game.