1. The first Celtics/Clippers game in Los Angeles was pretty good. That one resulted in an overtime win for LA. This one? Even better, and that the Celtics won in double-overtime sweetened the pot. It was an instant classing. Making it a little more special was that it was two of the NBA’s best teams battling on a night where there were only two games. The eyes of the NBA world were watching and Boston came up big.
2. The guy who stepped up the most was Jayson Tatum. He blossomed into a superstar right before our very eyes on Thursday night. With everyone watching, he went head-to-head with Kawhi Leonard on both ends of the floor and came out on top. As Kemba Walker said postgame: “Jayson Tatum was the best player on the floor.”
It started early for Tatum with 14 points in the first quarter on 5-of-7 shooting. He dribbled into the paint here and drew Ivica Zubac on a switch. That’s a mismatch Tatum has to win. He takes it out to the arc and drills a jumper on the big man:
In the second half and overtime, Tatum was even better. He scored 24 points after the break to bring Boston home. On this play, Tatum makes his move right off the catch while Leonard is still flat-footed:
These back-to-back plays to end the third quarter are the stuff that stars are made of. First, the hammer:
Then, Tatum’s signature shot isn’t the step-back three, but the side-step three. He uses that long stride to create separation for that jumper better than most can:
The Celtics made life pretty miserable for Landry Shamet on defense. Tatum jukes Shamet out of his jock on this pass-fake:
This fallaway over Montrezl Harrell, after getting by Leonard is big time:
Celtics legend Kevin McHale was on the call and Tatum did him proud with this post move:
In the second overtime, Tatum was drawing all of the defense’s attention. That led to this kick out to Gordon Hayward. Watch at the end of the clip just how excited Tatum is for his teammate to hit a big shot:
Lastly, Tatum took on the Leonard assignment late in the game. He stopped the reigning Finals MVP down the stretch. Look at how he moves his feet to stay in front of Leonard before using his length to make this an impossible shot:
This game was a chance for Tatum to show the world why he’s an All-Star and he did that and then some.
3. If it wasn’t for Tatum’s takeover, Marcus Smart would have been the story of the game. After a sluggish start for Boston, Smart went on a personal 10-0 run to get the Celtics going. He also took his turns against Leonard defensively. Leonard loves to go to the fallaway over his right shoulder from the left block or to get in the paint for a running hook. Smart took away both and forced a pass out to a contested three-pointer as the shot-clock expired:
Smart’s hot shooting start led to a couple of heat-checks that were questionable. But you know they’re coming. It’s not the end of the world. And late in the game and in overtime, he tried to do a little bit too much. But then he makes plays that only Marcus Smart makes, like this “No no no…YES!” play:
Or this steal and save to set up Hayward finding Tatum for the dunk:
Or this one which was the stereotypical Marcus Smart play:
31 points with his usual great defense is hard to get overshadowed, but alas, Tatum’s night did that. But Smart’s fingerprints were all over this win, as per usual.
4. Smart’s Padawan Learner Grant Williams played the role of “impacting the game without any box score stats”. Williams had zero points and took just one shot. For the bulk of regulation, Williams was bad. Really, really bad. It was maybe the worst game he had played. When Daniel Theis fouled out early in the first overtime, Brad Stevens initially went to Enes Kanter. But Kanter had taken a hard fall earlier in the game and was clearly limited. That left the undersized Williams as Stevens’ only real option. And Williams delivered. He wiped away all the bad from regulation during overtime by making a bunch of plays. This included holding his own against Lou Williams on switches multiple times. His instincts are also off the charts. He switches against his fellow-surname here on the cut, but then reads the pass when Tatum helps and immediately drops to snag the steal:
It’s not about how you start, but how you finish. Grant Williams is positively Smart-like in that respect.
5. Speaking of it not being about how you start, but how you finish: Gordon Hayward had a big close to this game. He was off with his shot early on and that continued for the bulk of the game. At the start of the second overtime, it looked like Hayward’s legs were shot, as he played a season-high 47:44. But he stepped up and made plays late. First, he teamed up with Williams for this block:
Then he got one all on his own:
Hayward also hit a three and four big free throws late to put the game away for the Celtics, as he scored seven of his 21 points in the second overtime.
6. Brad Stevens and his staff will go on a short vacation and then they’ll get back in the lab to work on things for the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs. One item that has to be high on the list is pick and roll defense. The Clippers picked and rolled the Celtics nearly to death in this game. LA scored 62 points in the paint, mainly on the back of pick and rolls. Boston’s bigs, wings and guards all struggled to contain or divert the ballhandler, while also failing to control the roll man. It’s fixable and with a week off to look at it, the coaching staff will certainly come back with some changes in defensive strategy against basketball’s most basic play.
7. Daniel Theis fouled out, but he once again gave the Celtics solid minutes in the pivot. His help-defense this season has been outstanding, as witnessed here against Paul George:
And he’s pretty good at making plays as the primary defender too:
8. Paul George had to leave the game at halftime due to a strained left hamstring. That allowed the Celtics to key their defense on Kawhi Leonard and Lou Williams. While those two combined for 63 points, they had to work to get them. Boston was able to hold them to a combined 24-of-60 from the floor. That’s good work against a team that is sort of limited offensively otherwise.
9. Kemba Walker had a bit of a “quiet” night with 19 points, but he also grabbed nine rebounds and handed out a team-high seven assists. And Walker made a few loud plays too. This 4-point play was a throwback to the Isaiah Thomas days where the small guard catches and immediately goes into the shot while the trailing defender runs into him:
The vision on this pass to Smart is incredible:
And then Walker broke Landry Shamet’s ankles and got the whole crowd to say “Ooooooooooo!”:
It wasn’t quite a coffee night for Kemba, but the whole team gets to share a big pot, because they were all closers against the Clippers.
10. The NBA season is full of milestones. The current milestone is the All-Star break. Coming off a disappointing loss in Houston that snapped the team’s seven-game win streak, you know Boston wanted this win. They’ve won 8-of-10 heading into the break. Despite the Toronto Raptors 15-game win streak, the Celtics are just 1.5 games back in the race for the second seed in the Eastern Conference. And Boston has created three games of separation between them and the Miami Heat for the third seed. That’s important, because finishing two or three allows you to avoid the Milwaukee Bucks until the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Celtics are on pace for 58 wins. That’d be the best mark the team has recorded under Brad Stevens. Most preseason projections and over/under totals had the Celtics between 46 and 50 wins. Boston’s already better than most imagined and has hit the break on the highest notes of their season.