1. Late-February and early-March are the dog days of the NBA season. The All-Star break is behind us and the playoffs still seem like they are forever away. Teams just need to get through it. Against Portland on Tuesday, Boston had one of those games. They were facing a banged-up opponent, while missing a key player themselves with Kemba Walker still out. The Celtics got sloppy at a couple different periods, but eventually ground out a blowout win on the road. That’s a sign of a good team.
2. Jayson Tatum is out of his mind offensively right now. Tatum was named an All-Star reserve on January 31st. Since that point, over 10 games in February, Tatum is averaging 30.3 points per game and shooting 50% from the floor and 49.5% from behind the arc.
Against Portland, Tatum had it all working again. He’s become equally as adept at driving to the rim as he is burying jumpers. It’s always good to get your night going with an easy one, as Tatum does here:
Late in the first half, Tatum was a one-man fastbreak:
That one looked a lot like that kid in Biddy League who is just better than everyone else and outruns them for layups all game.
Tatum has become a lethal fourth quarter scorer. Here he’s patient and drills the late-clock triple:
Next trip, it’s the side-step three in the face of Carmelo Anthony (who Tatum praised as an idol of his and swapped jerseys with after the game):
If Tatum gets a big switched on him, it’s over. Hassan Whiteside finds that out here:
3. It wasn’t just scoring for Tatum either. He’s continually getting better at reading the floor and finding teammates, as he does here with Daniel Theis on the alley-oop:
Tatum is also up to almost a block per game on the season. His instincts to come over and help from the weak-side are outstanding:
4. It’s disingenuous to call Jaylen Brown “Tatum’s sidekick”. Brown is much, much more than that. It’s more accurate to call them partners. He’s getting overshadowed because of how good Tatum has been, but Brown’s had himself a pretty good February too. In eight games (two missed due to injury), Brown’s averaged 22 points per game on 49.3% shooting. This crossover into the pull-up shows both how improved Brown’s handle and jumper are:
Three-pointers off the dribble? Yes please!
And the final evolution for wing scorers is learning how to punish smaller defenders on mismatches. Watch Brown take his time in the post to get to the jump-hook:
Brown and Tatum teaming up for the next decade? Sign me up.
5. The Celtics bench has been hit or miss all year. Outside of Marcus Smart, all of the reserves are a mix of role players, young players or both. That can cause up-and-down play, especially on the road. Against Portland, a couple of bench players stepped up with good minutes. Enes Kanter bounced back from an invisible game at the Lakers on Sunday with 17 solid minutes. If he gets a smaller defender on him, Kanter is getting in the paint for a shot:
Assists from Kanter are a rarity, but this is a beauty as he finds Tatum with a full-court outlet pass:
6. Brad Wanamaker had a major bounce-back game. He scored 13 points to along with five rebounds and four assists. Wanamaker’s been a pretty fearless driver all year and gets in the paint for the and-1 here:
Bonus: Watch Tatum at the bottom of the screen. This was at a point where Tatum could have demanded the ball on every trip down the floor. Look at the yell of joy and fist pump as Wanamaker scores and draws the foul. That’s as unselfish as it gets.
7. Marcus Smart got his 32nd start of the season on Tuesday. That’s probably not a great thing because of injuries, but it’s a comfort to Brad Stevens to have his “sixth starter” ready to go. You have to love Smart’s defensive instincts. He drops to take away Whiteside as the roll-man and comes up with a steal here:
Late in the first half, with Portland threatening to take the lead back, Marcus Smart rim protector showed up:
In the third quarter, Smart broke up this post-up by Anthony with a steal. Then he shows great patience when running the break, as he waits for the traffic to clear, as Brown makes a hard rim run, to open up Tatum for a three:
Speaking of patience, Smart dribbles Theis open for the layup here:
Smart’s defense has always been a thing. His playmaking has become a thing. When Kemba Walker gets back, Smart’s return to the bench should help stabilize some of those shaky bench units.
8. It wasn’t just the reserves who bounced back. After a rough shooting game against the Lakers, Gordon Hayward went 5-of-7 from the floor for 12 points. Enough isn’t made of Hayward’s willingness to defer to his younger teammates. That’s a rare quality in a veteran and both Hayward and Walker possess it.
That said, this shot feels automatic when Hayward gets to it:
9. Romeo Langford continues to make the most of his opportunities. He’s done some great stuff on defense over the last week or so, as he’s guarded everyone from LeBron James to C.J. McCollum and held his own. Langford came in with highly-touted offensive game, but his defense has been equally as good thus far in his rookie year.
Langford is also figuring out some things as a passer too. It’s common for young players to panic in the paint and force up a contested shot. Langford keeps his head and finds Theis for the easy one:
10. The Celtics were able to turn this one into a blowout. On the first night of a back-to-back, with travel to Utah looming, that’s important. The Jazz game on Wednesday night is also the third game in four days and the end of Boston’s last West Coast trip of the regular season. All too often, the Celtics have let opponents hang around in games where they could have run away with it. Against Portland, Boston pushed the lead and stole about three minutes of valuable in-game rest. That should help them tonight at one of the NBA’s toughest venues.