In one of the best games of the season, the Boston Celtics won an absolute thriller in double overtime against the Los Angeles Clippers. It was the last game before the All-Star break and both teams emptied the tank and put it all on the line. Once again, it was Jayson Tatum who stole the show scoring 39 points, just two shy of his career high. Whenever the Celtics needed a bucket, he stepped up and hit big time shots time and time again. Check out Keith Smith’s piece on Tatum for more on his overnight rise to superstardom.
However, a less talked about story was the team defense that came up with major stops down the stretch in regulation and then in both overtimes. When playing a team like the Clippers, defensive stops are always harder to come by. This is especially true in high pressure situations which we saw Thursday night. They still had three players with more than 20 points, but in the second overtime when players on both sides were gassed, the Celtics made some stops that won them this game.
First, let’s start with Marcus Smart. It is much expected at this point, but it cannot be stated enough how important his defense is to this team. Never take for granted how Smart comes up in huge games like this that gives the team and, maybe more importantly, the home crowd a shot of life. Against the Clippers, Smart had four steals, two of which were in the 4th quarter and overtime.
Most would sit back and let Kawhi Leonard have the advantage of a post up, but Smart attacks the entry pass which creates a fast break opportunity leading to a dunk on the other end. Stevens’ confidence shows with Smart defending Leonard most of the night until Lou Williams got hot in overtime. Then, he switched over to him with no issue at all. Versatility on defense is one of Smart’s best attributes.
Two names that need to be mentioned for their defense as well are Gordon Hayward and Grant Williams. Specifically with Hayward, he had a bit of a rocky night offensively where he did not shoot the ball well but at the end of the game, he had a sneaky double-double, scoring 21 points and gathering 10 rebounds. However, it was his defense that made a huge impact in overtime. Hayward had a massive minute span at one point of the overtime where he drilled a three, had a block on Lou Williams, and then grabbed an offensive rebound to keep the Celtics possession alive.
Hayward hammered the final nail in the coffin, sneaking in and stealing the in-bounds pass to ice it for the Celtics. It was important to see Hayward be able to bounce back after having struggled a bit during the early part of the game. He has the determination to still impact the game on defense and eventually his shot will follow.
Finally, it was Grant Williams who had the best comeback story of the night. Throughout most of this game, he was being dominated by Montrezl Harrell. Williams was pushed around down low in the paint and was a bit slow on Harrell. Even in the first overtime, the Clippers were isolating him on Lou Williams. Through all this, he still had a huge second overtime when the Celtics desperately needed from him. Daniel Theis had fouled out and Enes Kanter was nursing an injury. Two times in major possessions for the Clippers, Williams made the smart basketball play to get the turnover. He had a block and a steal in the second OT.
Williams took the role as an undersized center and proved to make the plays he needed to even after looking shaky most of this game. That is the mentality of a rookie that is vital to a team. He forgot about his play before and just went out and did what was best for the team on the defensive end.
These three players may get lost in the Tatumania following this game. Tatum deserves all of the credit for sure (defensively as well), but these three players had big time moments in the closing minutes that were huge in the double overtime win. If the Celtics defense can come together and play crunch time minutes like this, this team has a real chance to go far this year.