1. The Celtics initial defense was fairly good in the first half, especially the first quarter. Boston was doing a nice job getting into the Indiana ballhandler’s bodies and they had active hands. The Celtics forced five turnovers in the opening period alone.
The problem was if the Pacers broke the initial pressure, they got a good shot. The second and third efforts weren’t there for Boston in the first three quarters of the game. To beat good teams like Indiana, it’s going to take four quarters of solid effort, and it has to go beyond defending the initial action.
2. As he has through the season’s first four games, Jaylen Brown kept Boston in it while his teammates figured things out. We’ve used this space to rave about his work in pick-and-roll, but this game Brown got things done a bit differently. Here’s a bomb of a three-pointer that he catches and shoots with no hesitation:
On this play, Brown makes a pass he either wouldn’t have seen or wouldn’t have attempted in years past. Because he’s more confident in his handle now, he keeps his head up and that allows him to find Daniel Theis:
Brown was involved late too. This steal and score went a long way towards clinching the win for Boston:
3. Brad Stevens stuck with the two-big starting lineup. Tristan Thompson was very good with 14 points and 10 rebounds (seven offensive boards), but Daniel Theis was pretty meh. It looks like Theis is struggling to figure out how to play more as a perimeter-based four than as a screen-and-roll five.
One nice thing is the two have decent defensive harmony that allows Boston to switch everything with good size everywhere. And this sort of offensive chemistry developing is great to see:
4. Where Stevens did change things up was with the rotation. He played the starters longer into the first quarter. Normally, Jayson Tatum and a big will come out around the six-minute mark. Tatum then comes back in after the under-three-minute timeout to anchor a reserve unit to bridge the first and second quarters.
After watching Grant Williams struggled to defend Doug McDermott off screens, Stevens stuck with his starters a bit longer. When he did sub, Javonte Green was in the first group off the bench. Green’s athleticism allowed him to neutralize McDermott, and he scored seven points of his own.
5. Robert Williams was the third big man in a mainly three-big rotation. Grant Williams played just five minutes during Boston’s increasingly worrisome third quarter woes. (More on that next Takeaway.) Fortunately for the Celtics, Stevens leaned on the correct Williams.
Williams had an immediate impact. Here, he contests the jumper from Domantas Sabonis, grabs the rebound and sprints the floor for a dunk:
This was the best play Williams made though. Boston has fought back in the game after a bad third quarter at this point. Tatum has a steal, but turns it right back to the Pacers. Williams had already started to sprint the floor. When Indiana puts up the shot, Williams isn’t even in the picture. He teleports in from out of nowhere to tip the rebound away from Sabonis and to save a score:
6. It was another bad third quarter for the Celtics. They were outscored 37-25 in the period and the Pacers took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter. It was the third straight third quarter Boston has lost by double digits. And it’s about the fifth straight year the guys in green have struggled after the break.
There is no clear reason for the issues. Sometimes it’s defense (this year especially), sometimes it’s offense, often it is both. It’s a different mix of players year-to-year, so it can’t be that. It’s something Brad Stevens has to figure out, because it’s cost the Celtics games in the past and will continue to do so until it’s solved.
7. Call him Fast PP or P-Rabbit or simply Payton Pritchard, but the Celtics “second” rookie has been impressive thus far. In this one, Pritchard played 27 minutes and was part of the closing group. He delivered his best game yet with 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and a steal.
This is pure point guard stuff. Run the set and find your scorer for the easy bucket:
More heady point guard stuff from Pritchard here. You have to love how he keeps the ball for one extra dribble to allow Tatum to get clear of the defense for the three:
This comes off a made Pacers basket. If Pritchard catches you sleeping, he’s gone. Guess they don’t call him Fast PP for nothing!
Right before this play starts, Pritchard turned it over. He doesn’t get down about it. He sprints back, gets the steal and then finds Marcus Smart for the transition three:
8. Jayson Tatum was a case of taking the good with the bad. He had four turnovers, most of them against blitzes off pick-and-roll plays. Tatum is going to see that sort of pressure all the time now. He figured it out by the end of the bubble, but it’s a re-learning for him to start this season.
Tatum’s defense has also been pretty “blah” to start this season. He’s usually engaged and uses his length to be disruptive. Maybe it’s having to carry a bigger offensive load with Kemba Walker out, but he’s not been the same impactful defender he usually is.
The good was Tatum getting to the basket several times in this game. He went 8-for-10 from the charity stripe, which is encouraging. And he scored 27 points while only going 1-of-3 from behind the arc. That’s good stuff and shows he’s not quite as dependent on the three-ball as it looked in the season’s first three games.
9. Boston’s fourth quarter defense looked like Celtics defense for the first time this season. They were flying all over the place and making multiple efforts. Indiana started the game 10-of-20 from the arc. In the fourth quarter, the Pacers were 0-for-6 on three-pointers and shot just 7-of-19 overall. Boston also forced seven turnovers in the final period.
The good news is that this shows the Celtics are still capable of being an elite defense. The question? Can they be it for more than one quarter when they are at least slightly desperate to get a win?
10. This next three-game stretch is a chance for Boston to get a little momentum going. The schedule is unforgivable this season, as everything is compressed. You have to take advantage where you can. The Celtics get a banged-up Memphis Grizzlies team in Boston Wednesday night. Then, it’s on to Detroit for a two-game mini-series with the Pistons. These are three games the Celtics should win. It’s early, but it’s time to make a small statement and show they are still one of the better teams in the East by going 3-0.