1. For a while it looked like this game was playing out according to an all to familiar script lately. Boston got up big, leading by as many as 19 points. Indiana fought back and took the lead late in the fourth quarter. This time however, the Celtics executed well on offense in the game’s final minute and a half. And Boston got two stops in the final 30 seconds to preserve a much-needed victory.
2. All year long Brad Stevens has tried to split his best offensive players into duos. With Jaylen Brown out, Marcus Smart has become one-quarter of those groupings. Against Indiana, Stevens took Smart and Jayson Tatum out about halfway through the first and third quarters. That left Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker on the floor. When it was time for Hayward and Walker to rest, Smart and Tatum came back in.
By playing his best offensive creators in duos, Stevens can run more of the motion-based, equal-opportunity offense he prefers. When it’s just one of the four (five if you now include Smart) the offense becomes a slog of ISO ball and clunky pick and rolls. When Brown is back soon, look for this to continue, with the added benefit of Smart filling a role as a creator now too.
3. After a mini-slump, Tatum was back to his hot shooting ways from February. He scored 20 of his 30 points in the first half, included 16 points in the second quarter. What’s exciting about this performance was that it came in the flow of the offense. It wasn’t as much “Get Tatum the ball and get out of his way” as it has been recently.
Tatum actually started the game by making a pass that’s difficult and still new for him. He gets in the paint off the screen from Daniel Theis and stays patient with his dribble long enough to find Smart in the opposite corner:
A couple of plays later, you can see the type of confidence Tatum is playing with. He gives a little jab step, catches T.J. Warren leaning the wrong way just a little and Tatum is off to the rim without a care for who might try and stop him:
This is the stuff of nightmares for a coach. Coast-to-coast without anyone even attempting to stop the ball:
Bonus: Look at how perplexed Enes Kanter was that Tatum didn’t pass him the ball!
4. Gordon Hayward had a big night back in his home state. Hayward scored 27 points on 10-of-19 shooting, grabbed 10 rebounds, dished out five assists, snagged two steals and blocked a shot. He scored 13 points in the first quarter and 10 in the third quarter, as part of the duo approach we talked about above.
Hayward’s passing is also key to the offense. Here he breaks down the defense and finds Theis. And watch Theis’ presence of mind to catch and use the rim for protection:
5. It was a somewhat quiet night on the stat sheet for Enes Kanter. He scored just two points, but he did pull down seven rebounds in 14 minutes. In addition, Kanter was also fairly solid on defense. Only once was Indiana able to really take advantage of him in the screen game. Boston changes up coverages a bit and went to an extreme drop for Kanter. This allowed him to stay closer to the rim. If this is how it has to be go have Kanter on the floor, look for Stevens to continue to go to it.
Kanter is also better than many give him credit for with one-on-one post defense. He’s able to keep Domantas Sabonis in front of him here and then stones Sabonis’ pet shot – the running hook:
6. Marcus Smart put on a passing display to start the second half. First, he and Hayward took turns attacking the middle of the Indiana defense:
On the next trip, Smart draws both of the Pacers big men before finding Daniel Theis with the pocket pass:
And any good passing point guard as to be able to find the shooter in the opposite corner:
7. This play was one of the best of the night for the Celtics. Neither Hayward nor Walker settle. They keep the ball moving and it ends in a Theis triple. Also, look at the bottom of the screen as the ball goes through the net. Romeo Langford has Myles Turner completely blocked out for a potential offensive rebound:
8. Unfortunately, that shot gave Boston their biggest lead of the night, and once again it wouldn’t hold. There were a couple of reasons. Boston’s offense was a real mess late in the third quarter and for most of the fourth quarter. One of the biggest issues? Kemba Walker.
At one point in the fourth quarter, as the lead was slipping away, Walker missed three-pointers on three consecutive trips. Walker simply doesn’t look healthy. He says his knee isn’t bothering him, but his game has clearly been impacted. Walker isn’t quick enough to blow by defenders, as witnessed late in the game against the Thunder. He’s also not explosive around the rim right now. And Walker doesn’t have the same lift on his jumper. Maybe it’s just getting back in rhythm, but right now Walker is struggling.
The other problem was Boston’s defense. Once again, they let one player go off. This time it was Victor Oladipo. Oladipo got rolling from outside and the Celtics didn’t really adjust. At halftime, one of Boston’s assistants said they needed to stop going under on screens, because Indiana was getting good looks. That didn’t happen (until late in the game. More on that in Takeaway 10!) and the Pacers started hitting the shots they missed early.
The Celtics were able to reverse course in this one, but this trend of blowing leads is troubling to say the least.
9. How did Boston come up with the win? They executed well on both ends with under two minutes to play. On offense, they scored three straight trips. First, it was Hayward finding Theis for this big shot to tie the game:
You can argue Hayward should have shot it himself, but he caught the ball at a bit of an odd angle with the defense closing in. This was a really good pass out to Theis, who was terrific again with 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting.
Next time down the floor, Tatum made a star play. He split the trap and used Theis’ seal perfectly. With Turner thinking about challenging, Tatum went up high and came down hard:
And then Smart put Boston ahead for good. He’s been going to his left-hand in the paint more and more often lately. This was a good finish over the Indiana bigs:
10. The Celtics also locked in defensively on the Pacers with under 30 seconds to play. Before this clip starts, Boston had taken away several looks for Indiana. That leaves Oladipo with the ball late in the clock. Walker and Theis read time and situation perfectly. Walker goes over the screen from Sabonis (finally over a screen!), while Theis presses up. There isn’t enough time for Oladipo to do anything but shoot, and Walker and Theis make it a difficult attempt:
On the Pacers final attempt, look at Smart take away Oladipo. He’s right in his pocket. That forces Justin Holiday to inbound the ball to Sabonis. Sabonis hopes to find Oladipo on the move, but Smart’s all over him. That only leaves tossing it back to Holiday for a contested leaner that comes up way short:
The Celtics have a knack for keeping things interesting, even if a boring old blowout win would be welcomed. Now it’s on to Milwaukee for another test on the road.