1. It was a great road trip for the Boston Celtics. They won three games at Minnesota, Portland and Utah by double-figures. The only loss on the trip was by two-points and came right down to the buzzer against the Lakers. And Boston did all that without Kemba Walker. If you aren’t taking the Celtics seriously as contenders, it’s time to get on board.
2. Jayson Tatum did it again. He scored 33 points on 13-of-20 shooting. In doing so, Tatum became the first player since Shaquille O’Neal to average at least 30 points on at least 60% shooting or better for three straight games. Now factor in that the vast majority of O’Neal’s attempts came from within five-feet of the basket. If you add in the marker of five three-point attempts per game, it’s Tatum all by himself in that historic context.
Tatum has become one of the game’s more-versatile scorers. Against Utah, Tatum broke out a couple of newer moves. He got his night started with this floating, fallaway over Rudy Gobert:
Tatum doesn’t go to the Euro-step much, but he did here for a lefty bucket:
He’s had this one for a while now. Because Tatum’s stride is so long and he gets great lift and extension on his shot, his side-step triple is basically unstoppable. Watch Georges Niang flail helplessly as Tatum drains the three:
As is everything else right now for Tatum, the pull-up three-pointer is wet right now:
Have you noticed Tatum’s finishing around the rim doesn’t seem to be an issue anymore? Here he uses his long arm to get the ball up and over Gobert for the layup:
Tatum’s also starting to work more and more out of post-ups. He blows by Bojan Bogdanovic off the bounce here, then uses the rim to protect his shot for the lefty finish:
Finally, the Jazz did what the Wolves, Lakers and Blazers all did late in the game and ran doubles and traps at Tatum. He calmly accepts the double and keeps his head up. Notice that Utah’s defenders’ hands aren’t high. That opens the passing lane and Tatum finds Brad Wanamaker for the bucket:
It’s all come together for Tatum in the month of February. If he’s not Eastern Conference Player of the Month, the award should be abolished. But Tatum’s got his eyes on bigger prizes and they’re all starting to come within his grasp as well.
3. It’s hard to figure out exactly how to qualify Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. It’s shortchanging Brown to call him a sidekick because he’s much better than that. Maybe it’s Captain America and Iron Man leading The Avengers? Let’s all keep thinking on it and meet back here soon to discuss.
As for the game, Brown took over late in the third quarter. He scored 10 points in about a two-and-a-half-minute stretch to keep Boston ahead. It ended up as Brown’s fourth straight game of at least 20 points. And his defense late in the game against Donovan Mitchell was instrumental in the Celtics pulling away. That’s hero work, not sidekick stuff.
4. Marcus Smart started again in place of Kemba Walker and again Smart delivered. He scored 17 points and dished out nine assists. This one was a beauty to find Tatum on the run-out:
Smart reads the floor like a free safety reads the field in an NFL game. His ability to see plays develop defensively is a rare and wonderful skill:
Smart will get ambitious with heat-check launches after making a couple. But he’s also got a great head for situational basketball. Here he makes sure the Celtics get the 2-for-1 opportunity by taking the quick floater:
This quick-pop pass was perfect. Smart sees Daniel Theis has Rudy Gobert beaten before he even catches the ball:
5. Smart’s fourth quarter takeover deserves it own Takeaway. With 9:50 left in the game, the Jazz had closed to within six points. Over the next two-and-a-half-minutes, Smart hit three three-pointers. You could feel the heat-check coming on this play and maybe the Jazz did too, because Niang presses up on Smart. No heat-check, just a beautiful dime to Enes Kanter, who sprinted the floor ahead of Gobert:
6. You know who loved the above Smart stretch the most? Kemba Walker. Despite not playing, Walker has been with Boston for the entire road trip. Each game he’s been extremely animated. He’s up gesturing and yelling and screaming. Always with that big grin. Look at the above clip again. You can see him making “eye goggles” at Smart. It’s a quite a difference from the guy who couldn’t even sit on the bench during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals in Boston a couple of years ago.
7. Daniel Theis wrapped up one heck of a road trip for himself by outplaying Rudy Gobert. Theis shot 64% from the field and averaged 16.8 points and 10.3 rebounds for the trip. Against Gobert, he simply out-hustled and outworked the All-Star center. Here, Theis outran the Jazz for a dunk:
Sometimes it just about who wants the ball more:
And when you combine his instincts and athleticism, Theis can make special plays:
8. Theis wasn’t the only Celtics big man to have a good night. In a return-game to Utah, Enes Kanter had a nice night off the bench. He scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds in 21 minutes. Kanter struggled initially against Donovan Mitchell in pick-and-roll defense, but Brad Stevens helped him in the second half. Stevens went to a zone in the second half during Kanter’s minutes, which allowed him to hang back around the rim.
On offense, the Celtics weren’t afraid to go right to Kanter in the post against Gobert. That resulted in a score on the first trip of the fourth quarter:
Some matchups aren’t for Kanter. Some are. Going against Gobert was one where Kanter was able to have an impact, with a little help from his coach.
9. Donovan Mitchell went off for 37 points, but Boston was able to contain him late. Mitchell scored just five of his 37 points in the fourth quarter, as he shot 2-of-7 from the floor. Brad Wanamaker got the call against Mitchell for a good chunk of the quarter and was able to harass him into tough looks like this one:
The Boston bench isn’t great. No one should pretend it is. But sometimes you need to look beyond the scoring numbers to see the bigger picture. The Celtics reserves’ impact doesn’t always show up in terms of points.
10. When Gordon Hayward left the Utah Jazz, he talked about how agonizing a decision it was for him and his family. Hayward very literally grew up in Utah. It’s where his family started. Had the draw to reunite with Brad Stevens not been so strong, it’s unlikely Hayward ever would have left the Jazz. Yet, Utah fans still feel spurned three years later. Hayward was booed loudly on every touch Wednesday night.
Following the game, multiple Celtics said they wanted to get the win for Hayward. They wanted him to know they have his back. No one is griping about Hayward getting unwarranted minutes anymore. There are no claims of favoritism. He’s just their teammate. They want to play well for him and see him play well. That’s why this shot from Hayward to put the Jazz away means a little bit more than if anyone else had made it:
11. Bonus Takeaway!
That’s how you put an exclamation point on a road trip and head home happy.