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Boston’s balance gets road trip off to a good start: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Wolves

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Four Celtics scored 25 or more points in the victory

NBA: Boston Celtics at Minnesota Timberwolves Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

1. Kemba Walker was sidelined for the first game following the All-Star break after having his knee drained and receiving an injection. As they have year, Boston employed their “next man up” mentality. Except Friday night it was “next men up”. Four different Celtics scored 25 or more points, five players had at least five rebounds and multiple players contributed defensively. It was a good team win to kick off the stretch run of the season.

2. Jayson Tatum had it going early, as he scored 18 of his 28 points in the first half. If you trail him behind a screen and the second defender doesn’t step up, Tatum’s getting to the rim with ease, as he does here:

His step-back/side-step game is so on-point right now:

Late-clock Tatum is a weapon too:

Once Tatum has defenders thinking about the step-back, all he has to do is giving a subtle nod of his head and he’s off to the rim:

Finally, this pull-up triple with very little space may be the best shot Tatum made all game:

Tatum’s got his entire offensive game working now and has become Boston’s go-to scorer.

3. There’s something about playing Minnesota that gets Gordon Hayward going. Even during last season’s troubles, Hayward scored 35 and 30 points in two games against the Timberwolves. Friday night he dropped in 29 points on 12-of-17 shooting, including 15 points as Boston took control of the game in the third quarter. Hayward’s pull-up jumper has been his bread and butter shot all year. If he gets an angle and a little head of steam, it’s over:

Hayward is also really good at re-setting the offense after the initial play breaks down. Here he loses his dribble momentarily, but settles and finds Theis for the easy layup:

Hayward is also figuring out how to use the Theis’ seal, as Tatum and Jaylen Brown have:

After Tatum cooled off a bit, Hayward stepped up and took over in the third quarter. Once again, Hayward is playing great all-around basketball for the Celtics.

4. Jaylen Brown looked like the week off did him a world of good. He was moving well and was aggressive on both ends. Maybe a little bit too aggressive on defense, as he fouled out of the game. Brown did plenty of damage before the disqualification however, with 25 points on 10-of-17 shooting. Brown’s ability to finish with his left hand through contact is terrific:

He’s also become a smarter player. Here Brown uses his strength and size to seal the smaller defender and shoots the short turnaround over him:

And you love when Brown gets the ball and goes. He makes up his mind just inside halfcourt that he’s getting to the rim:

5. Brad Stevens made an interesting early substitution and it had nothing to do with anger at the way a player was playing or an injury. Stevens pulled Daniel Theis out about two and a half minutes into the game. It was Stevens recognizing that without Karl-Anthony Towns, that Minnesota would go small on their second unit. This move was designed to get Enes Kanter in the game and to give Theis more favorable matchups. Kanter didn’t end up having much of an impact, but Theis sure did.

6. It was a monster night for Theis, as he went for career-highs in both points and rebounds with 25 and 16 respectively. Theis is good at understanding his role. On this play he rebounds, outlets to Smart and runs right to rim. Because of his hard run down the floor, look at how open he is:

On the next trip, Marcus Smart gets fancy and finds Theis on the roll:

This play is a version of the traditional pick and roll. Hayward catches and immediately finds Theis on the roll. Watch Theis use his patience and underrated strength to power up for the finish:

The “Celtics need a real center!” crew is so quiet now that you almost can’t hear them anymore.

7. Smart started for Walker and played very much a traditional point guard role. He had a double-double with 10 points and 10 assists. You saw a couple of passes to Theis above, but he had three more beauties. This bounce-pass through traffic to Hayward is way harder than it looks:

For a guy his size, Smart is a remarkable passer out of post-ups:

And this is playing point guard the old school way, as Smart drives and draws the defense before dishing to Hayward for the three-pointer:

Brad Stevens calls Marcus Smart his “Sixth Starter” and games like this are easy to see why.

8. Between Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics have three wings who are averaging between 6.4 and 7.0 rebounds per game. That team rebounding has Boston at 11th in defensive rebound rate, despite the absence of a dominant interior presence. And the Celtics steal a lot of early offense because the wings and can rip and run off the boards. Keep an eye on just how many shots Boston gets on plays where one of the three wings rebound and push it themselves. That number is usually in the teens, which is finding easy offense.

9. When Brown fouled out with 4:34 to play, Stevens had to find someone to join Hayward, Smart, Tatum and Theis in the closing lineup. With Minnesota playing small, Stevens chose to trust rookie Romeo Langford with Boston up 114-110. Langford more than held his own defensively and was a part of the Celtics closing the game with a 13-7 advantage over the final four and a half minutes. Langford didn’t do much offensively in his 19 minutes of time, but his defensive impact, especially late, was really good.

10. The post-break trip is off to a good start, but Boston has three more tough ones before they return home. Sunday afternoon the Celtics play at the rival Lakers, before heading to Portland (Damian Lillard is out, but still a tough game) and Utah (always a tough place to win) to close out their trip. Going 2-2 would be a good trip, but Boston has their eyes on more than that. And if they’re truly contenders, that’s the mindset they need to have.