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Boston’s bench steps up: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Cavaliers

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The Celtics backups combined for 57 points in the victory

Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

1. It feels like everyone’s favorite version of the Boston Celtics should be when the team is fully healthy. Yet, you can’t help but feel people actually enjoy rooting for the team most when they are the “Hospital Celtics” and missing a few key guys. It’s probably because that designation, going back to two seasons ago, has had a lot of success. And it’s always fun to root for the underdog. It’s a weird thing to be good without main rotation players, but it’s become a hallmark of the Brad Stevens era.

2. One of the healthy main rotation players was Jayson Tatum. Tatum returned from missing a game with an illness and scored 32 points to go with nine rebounds, six assists two steals and a block. It was Tatum’s fifth-straight game with 30 or more points. As he has during this hot streak, Tatum had it all working. On this play, Tatum uses his improving crossover dribble to create separation for the triple:

You have to love that even though the jumper was falling, Tatum didn’t settle for it here. Instead he put the ball on the floor for the layup:

And late in the game, with the Cavaliers threatening, Tatum powered through Cedi Osman for the and-1:

3. It’s hard to be more impressive than 32 points, but Tatum’s passing may have been even better. Teams are starting to throw double-teams and traps at him now. He’s been so hot, that opponents aren’t going to let him beat them. It’s something new for Tatum and he’s been up and down dealing with it. Against Cleveland, he read the floor quickly and made plays for others. On this play at the end of the first quarter, Tatum reads the over-aggressive show from Ante Zizic and sees Robert Williams has rolled free. And good on Williams to immediately go up for the bucket too:

This is classic playmaking from a primary scorer here. Draw the defense and find the shooter. Also, watch Waters smartly relocate from the wing to the baseline as Tatum draws the defense’s attention:

Daniel Theis is so good about knowing when to screen and when to slip, especially in transition. Tatum reads Collin Sexton jumping him and dimes up Theis for the layup:

This play is just funny because you’ve got five defenders staring at Tatum as he drives. That opens up Timelord for the easy catch and finish:

4. Tatum is supposed to step up when guys are out. He’s a star. The question was if he would get enough help from his friends. Semi Ojeleye was more than happy to pitch in. Ojeleye scored a career-high 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-8 from behind the arc. He also grabbed six rebounds and came back in the game after taking a very hard knee to a very sensitive place late in the first half. One of the best things about Ojeleye’s season has been his confidence. He catches and lets it rip here, even though he’s a few steps behind the line:

Once he’s feeling good, Ojeleye becomes a different player attacking the rim, as he does here in transition:

This play is just good basketball. Tatum reads the trap to start it. Kanter kicks the ball out quickly and relocates to the rim. Ojeleye catches and is patient enough to see the defender leaning the wrong way. The he drives and dishes to Kanter. This is good stuff from all parties involved:

5. Grant Williams got the start and was productive with eight points and five rebounds. Williams’ offensive confidence is starting to match that of his defensive confidence. This pull-up jumper off the dribble is a sign of that:

Yet another play where Tatum starts it off with a correct read of a double coming. He finds Grant at the free throw line, who in turn finds Timelord for the alley-oop. Who doesn’t love the Williams to Williams connection?

And if no one is going to stop the ball, why not drive it all the way in for a dunk to end the third quarter?

6. Boston got all over the offensive glass once again with 13 second chances. Unfortunately, the Celtics didn’t take care of their own backboard. The Cavs snagged 17 offensive rebounds one night after the Nets grabbed 22. Boston has slipped all the way down to 14th in defensive rebound percentage. That’s still better than expected, but they had been top-10 for a lot of the season. It could be injuries, guys wearing down in the dog days of the season or opponents realizing they have an advantage.

This is one place where the having the full roster healthy will help the Celtics. They’ve got so many scoring options that opponents are going to want to get back versus crashing the glass. When they’re limited, that worry doesn’t exist the same way.

7. One place where the Celtics continue to surprisingly excel is in blocking shots. Boston ranks fifth in the NBA in blocks per 100 possessions. That sort of rim protection is a big reason why the Celtics have the NBA’s fourth-best defense. With Robert Williams back in the fold, the block numbers could even rise. He had three against the Cavaliers and is now getting them in the flow of the defense, as opposed to chasing blocks.

8. With Kemba Walker out, Tremont Waters was up from Maine for additional point guard depth. He’s flashed at times while up with the Celtics, but this was one of his best overall games. Waters scored five points in 16 minutes and handed out a couple of assists. This drive and kick to the opposite corner is a must for an NBA point guard to have in his game:

Waters also doesn’t lack for confidence. The Cavs blow this switch, so he pulls up and drains the three-pointer:

9. This was the prettiest basketball of the night from Boston. All five players touch the ball. The ball hits all of the spots on the court and finishes in Ojeleye’s hands for a huge three:

Bonus: Look at Grant Williams at the top of the screen. He loves when Ojeleye knocks down the shot.

10. Boston’s bench has taken a lot of grief lately and deservedly so. But let’s be fair and give them praise when they step up. With three starters and 59 points per game on the bench, the Celtics had to find additional scoring. Semi Ojeleye provided the bulk of it, but others pitched in as well. Enes Kanter had a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds. Grant Williams and Brad Wanamaker started and combined for 14 points. And Tremont Waters and Robert Williams combined for 11 points off the bench. That’s how you replace the output of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward.