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Balance and big plays late for seventh straight: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Thunder

All five Boston starters scored in double-figures, while three had double-doubles in the victory

NBA: Boston Celtics at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

1. To keep a win-streak going against a really good team on the road, you need to have a good team effort and that’s exactly what the Celtics got to beat the Thunder on Sunday. All five starters scored in double-figures, ranging from 13 to 27 points, and three had double-doubles. The main reserve group of Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter, Grant Williams and Brad Wanamaker all contributed too. In a game where Boston fell behind by 10 points to start the second half, they gutted out an impressive road win. The Celtics have had plenty of bad losses this season, but they’ve been more than balanced by impressive wins. Sunday was one of the latter.

2. The Jayson Tatum breakout tour continued. He scored 26 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Tatum scored 12 points in the third quarter, including a stretch where he scored 10 straight for Boston. He started things a bit slowly offensively, but not defensively. He blocked another shot, which has him at a block per game since Christmas. This one came against Nerlens Noel at the rim:

Tatum is starting to protect the rim like a traditional big with his timing and athleticism. On offense, Boston started going after mismatches in the second half. Tatum uses the screen here from Daniel Theis to get Steven Adams. Adams is a terrific defender in the paint, but he’s no match for Tatum off the dribble:

A lot happened on this drive, but Tatum splitting the trap and getting to the finger roll at the rim was one of the better drives of his young career:

Late in the game, you love seeing Tatum stick with it and eventually finish at the rim. This sequence came with Boston nursing a two-point lead and shows the tenacity that it sometimes feels like Tatum lacks:

Late in the game, Tatum struggled with his ballhandling and had a few turnovers that kept the Thunder in the game. That’s something he’ll need to clean up. At this point, he doesn’t like the pesky small guards like Chris Paul, who get up underneath him. Once he can tighten up his handle against that type of defender, the sky’s the limit.

3. This game featured a string of cross-matches that made for some interesting situational basketball. Early on, only Daniel Theis and Steven Adams were guarding each other on both ends. The Thunder used this, and the Celtics “switch everything” approach, to their advantage. Multiple times in the first half, OKC was able to get Danilo Gallinari matched up with Kemba Walker on switches. That resulted in good looks for the Thunder throughout the first half, as either Gallinari scored himself, or found open teammates when the Celtics doubled.

In the second half, Brad Stevens put Kemba Walker on Luguentz Dort, who wasn’t a part of the OKC attack. Tatum picked up Paul, while Jaylen Brown started on Gallinari. When Boston switched that action, they didn’t have to double and were able to stay home defensively. That helped the Celtics get back in the game and to eventually take control.

4. For years now, from Isaiah Thomas to Kyrie Irving to Kemba Walker, the Celtics have been blessed with point guards who can make contested jumpers late in the clock like this:

Walker is thought of primarily as a scoring guard, but he’s got underrated vision. This pass, through traffic, to Gordon Hayward in the corner isn’t as easy as it looks:

5. Jaylen Brown continues to impress with his situational recognition. As the game has slowed down for him, he’s able to use his impressive physical skills to make plays. This drive in transition is all Brown. He takes the outlet and he’s off to the races. In years past, Brown drives right into the teeth of the defense and forces the action. Now, he reads the defense and calmly sets up Tatum for a wide-open triple:

Brown’s best play of the night may have come late in the fourth quarter. He missed the jumper and Gallinari leaked out behind him. Paul hit Gallinari with the outlet, but Brown got back and contested the layup. This was great hustle combined with speed:

6. Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis didn’t have the biggest numbers of the night, but they were both integral to the win. They joined Tatum to give the Celtics three players with double-doubles. Hayward scored 13 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and handed out four assists. Theis was even better with 13 points, 11 rebounds and a team-high five assists.

Stevens is starting to run a lot of the same stuff the Celtics used the last few years with Al Horford at the five. This has allowed Theis to show his stuff as a passer and occasionally as a shooter. Theis is also best described as a “battler”. He’s undersized every game, but he just gets after it. He had five offensive rebounds against Steven Adams and OKC, which helped Boston to a 53-44 rebounding advantage for the game. He’s also got great chemistry with Hayward, as shown below. This type of quick-hitting play in transition is a way the Celtics regularly steal some easy offense:

7. After a couple of good games in a row, Romeo Langford earned himself some minutes as the 10th man in Stevens’ rotation, despite almost everyone being back healthy. It didn’t go great for Langford. As with most rookies, you have to take the good with the bad. The last two games were the good. This one was bad, as he picked up three fouls in only 5:30 and generally looked lost. Langford will get there, but expect things to occasionally be rocky, especially against smart, veteran teams like the Thunder.

8. The Celtics are middle of the pack in pace, at 17th in the NBA. But they’ll run when the opportunities are there. Against OKC, they made it happen a couple of times in transition. This play is a good example of getting the ball up quickly, without it being a fastbreak. Tatum quickly finds Hayward, who pushes the ball and finds Brown for the open three-pointer with 18 seconds still on the shot-clock:

And Boston loves to run off turnovers. Smart blows up one of the Thunder’s pet plays (Adams dribbles into a Paul screen for a handback) and finds Tatum on the run for the dunk:

9. If Kemba Walker is bad early in games, it’s almost a lock that he’ll make a bunch of plays late. If not for Boston’s sloppiness in the final minute, Walker would have put the game away on back-to-back trips. He drills the big three-pointer against Gallinari on a switch:

Then, why not run it again on the next trip?

Coffee is for closers. Kemba gets coffee.

10. And Walker can share a cup with Marcus Smart, who made one of those signature “Marcus Smart Winning Plays” to clinch the game for Boston with this steal:

It’s just Smart doing what he does at the end of the game: making a play to preserve a win for the Celtics. Seven wins in a row with a tough one in Houston coming on Tuesday.

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