1. For decades the NBA’s marquee TV slot has been Sunday afternoons. Sometimes matinees get weird and the game is sloppy. Other times you get a great game. Celtics at Lakers fell in the latter category. Both teams went back and forth, while stars on both sides stepped up and made plays. Sure, Boston came out on the short-end of the stick, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that they went head-to-head with LA without Kemba Walker and were right there at the end. It was a great game and about as encouraging as a loss as you can possibly have, as it proved the Celtics are legitimate title contenders.
2. Jayson Tatum got all the love from both sides after the game and it was all deserved. Tatum was the best player on the floor in a game that included LeBron James and Anthony Davis. As an aside, remember when most of us thought Danny Ainge should trade Tatum for Davis? No? Me either!
The Takeaways are starting to become a bit of a Tatum highlight reel. It’s not the intention, but it’s just how the games are developing right now. Sunday was no different. It took Tatum a little bit to get going, but then he scored 18 points in each of the second and third quarters. And these clips won’t show it, but Tatum got to the free throw line 15 times and made 13. That’s the good stuff.
On his first bucket, Tatum did a good job of getting in the paint and then using his patience to fake the defender away for the finish:
What you see on this play is Tatum getting in the lane and hanging and finishing over Dwight Howard. It was a big-time finish, but look at how he starts the play. Tatum has Davis on a switch. He uses his dribble to allow Grant Williams to screen off Davis and to get matched up against the easier to beat Alex Caruso:
One more patient drive out of pick and roll. Tatum has become the Celtic who is most adept at using the Daniel Theis seal. Here he uses the seal, while ducking under the help for the layup:
Davis is an awesome defender. One of his best attributes is his ability to switch out and defend on the perimeter. When Tatum’s this deep in his bag, there is nothing Davis can do:
The good times carried into the third quarter. When Tatum’s feeling it, he not only starts dropping in jumpers, but his drives to the rim come with more force. In transition, Tatum doesn’t care that Danny Green is back. He’s hammering this one through:
By this point, the Lakers are starting to change their coverages against Tatum. No matter. He simply drives before the double can come and finishes with the pretty bank-shot over Davis:
Tatum wasn’t able to get much in the fourth quarter, as Frank Vogel completely went away from his regular defense. But that tells you just how good Tatum was. He single-handedly forced a stubborn coach to change his defensive approach just to stop him. It was that kind of afternoon.
3. Marcus Smart started again for Kemba Walker. His shot was off, as he hit just 4-of-11 from the floor. Part of that may have been him taking a shot to his quad once again. Smart’s been dealing with various bumps and bruises all season and he was forced to leave the game briefly in the second quarter after going down. When he came back in, he immediately made a steal:
That play shows perfectly how Smart defensively reads the floor like few others. He knows exactly what the play is. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope off the screen from Davis to get the quick entry pass and mismatch against Williams. Not happening. Cobra strike and off the other way.
4. Smart’s playing time was extended more than usual against the Lakers, as he played almost 36 minutes. Part of that was Walker’s absence, but a bigger part was Brad Wanamaker having a disastrous game. In 18 minutes, Wanamaker was 0-for-4 for two points, with three turnovers. He also struggled mightily on defense against old friend Rajon Rondo.
After a really solid start to the season, Wanamaker’s play has slipped over the last month or so. There are many Celtics fans who would love to see the team upgrade the bench in the form of scoring and backup point guard play. A large percentage of that group wants a return to Boston for Isaiah Thomas. A couple more games like this from Wanamaker and those murmurs for help will turn into full-on screams.
5. The Lakers go big to start games with Anthony Davis starting alongside JaVale McGee and the biggest “small” forward in the league in LeBron James. Even Danny Green is big for a shooting guard. For the Celtics, who play fairly small, guarding Davis can be a real challenge, but they were up to the task. Davis scored 32 points, but was just 10-of-25 from the floor.
Jaylen Brown did the bulk of the defensive work early against Davis, before picking up James late in the game. Brown’s strategy against Davis was to push him off his spot and make him work for his offense. You can see that here as Davis misses his pet jump-hook:
Gordon Hayward takes a similar approach in the fourth quarter. Davis doesn’t get the catch until he’s about 16-feet from the basket. That forces him into a tough running-hook in the lane:
And then Jayson Tatum shows how Boston was ready for Davis’ patented spin-back move. Davis loves to catch on the left block, take a hard dribble to the middle and then spin back to shoot over the defender. Tatum is ready for it and comes up with the strip:
It’s difficult to defend Davis for even the best players. By using a team approach, the Celtics were able to harass him into a tough afternoon.
6. Daniel Theis was again quietly terrific for the Celtics. He scored 16 points on 8-of-9 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds, while playing over 31 minutes. This play shows off Theis’ versatility. He catches and sees Dwight Howard leaning the wrong way with his hips opening up the lane. Like a guard, Theis takes Howard off the dribble for the dunk and the foul:
7. Part of the reason a couple of the takeaways highlighted playing time for Smart and Theis is that 36 and 31 minutes played respectively are too many. That speaks to the relative lack of quality minutes from the Boston bench recently. Enes Kanter was rendered ineffective pretty quickly in this one. That’s disappointing because when the Celtics blew out the Lakers in Boston, Kanter was a big part of things. Semi Ojeleye got an early call for his defense against James, but he didn’t do much. We already highlight Wanamaker’s poor night. Overall, the Celtics reserves aren’t giving them enough. They’re either young and not proven, or just unproductive.
How does Danny Ainge fix this for Brad Stevens? Maybe someone emerges via the buyout market, but we’re under a week left for that to happen. (Players must be waived by 3/1/20 to be eligible for the playoffs. That’s waived by 3/1, not signed!) Unless someone unexpectedly becomes a free agent, we might be looking at what we’ve got. Getting healthy will help, because Smart will return to his bench role and that’s an immediate upgrade. Kanter will be better and useful against most teams. Romeo Langford and Grant Williams will continue to flash. But outside of Smart, no reserve is guaranteed to make a positive impact on a nightly basis. That’s going to be a challenge the rest of the way.
8. We highlighted some of Brown’s defensive work earlier, as he was a big part of holding Davis and James to a combined 19-of-44 from the floor. He also made some big offensive plays late in the game. The Lakers changed their defensive approach to blitzing Tatum or straight up double-teaming him. That forced Tatum to give the ball up and Brown was the primary beneficiary. Brown gets Kyle Kuzma one-on-one here. Kuzma has no chance and Brown gets in the paint before powering up and over him for the layup:
On the next trip, Brown broke a floater that we haven’t seen very often:
Tatum is getting all the accolades, including from Brown himself, but Brown deserves lots of love too. They aren’t Jordan/Pippen, but it’s starting to feel like they are the lite version of that legendary duo. Tatum does the flashy stuff, while Brown toils in relative obscurity. It’s a partnership that history tells us works and it may work in Boston for the next decade.
9. Gordon Hayward had a tough afternoon shooting, as he scored 10 points on 5-of-15 from the field. That included missing a layup with under a minute to go play that would have put the Celtics up by four points. As often happens when Hayward has an off-game shooting the ball, the torches and pitchforks come out. No player is above criticism, but it goes way too far in Hayward’s case. One bad game and his max contract is immediately brought up. If other Celtics have an off-night, it’s shrugged off as just one of those games.
More importantly, it ignores that Hayward was really good defensively. Like Brown, he took turns on both James and Davis and held his own. He also had eight rebounds and nine assists. So, while the criticism of his shooting is fair, maybe pause and look at the all-around game too? You’ll like what you see.
10. This game had a wild ending that unfortunately involved way too much of the officials. In a competitive game that went right down to the buzzer, no one wants lengthy reviews and confusing calls. It was both ways too. Each side had a weird goaltending/no-goaltending call. The officials alternated between allowing homicide to be committed in the paint and calling the slightest of brushes.
There were two bad calls that went against the Celtics. One was an out-of-bounds call where the official claimed Jaylen Brown was out, but he couldn’t actually see because he was out of position and got in Brown’s way. The second was a technical foul late in the game against Brad Stevens. That technical wasn’t even called by the official Stevens was barking at, which is usually a no-no. And it came after a questionable no-call, which just compounds things. The Lakers missed the free throw, but that belies the larger point of it being a bad look for the league.
While the officiating didn’t ruin a great game, it came really, really close. No one pays a dime to see the referees. All too often, it seems like they need that reminder. Let the players decide the game, not the officials.