1. Following Boston’s blowout victory over Memphis, Brad Stevens, Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum were all asked if the team was ready for the playoffs. Walker and Tatum both said versions of “I think so. We’re close.” Stevens was very much a coach and said “We’ve done some good things. We just need to keep improving.”
No matter what was said, Boston looks playoff ready. The defense is back to playing at a high level. The Celtics were locked in against the Grizzlies from the tip. Memphis shot just 39% for the game and had trouble finding good looks almost all game long. Given a first-round match up with a Philadelphia team that is lacking creators is looming, Boston is rounding into form defensively at the right time.
2. The Celtics are likely to see a lot of drop coverage in the playoffs, if their path goes as hoped for. The Grizzlies were a good tune-up, as they play an extreme drop style of defense. Philadelphia has adopted this approach more, as they try and conserve Joel Embiid. Toronto plays this style with Marc Gasol. And Milwaukee is the league’s foremost progenitors of the drop defense.
How do you beat the drop? One way is to take the pull-up jumpers that present themselves. The Celtics have a plethora of good pull-up shooters. Here, Kemba Walker buries a perfect shot against the dropped Jonas Valanciunas:
In the fourth quarter, Boston beats the drop in a different way. Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward work a small-small pick and roll. Because both defenders are lifted, and Valanciunas is already back, the strongside corner defender has to come up to Hayward. That opens up Brad Wanamaker for the corner three:
These are both examples of shots the Celtics should be able to get against their most likely playoff opponents.
3. This play is fun because it features three things we love here in the Takeaways: Jayson Tatum kick-out passing, Daniel Theis sealing and Jaylen Brown getting way up to hammer home a dunk:
4. We’ve talked a lot in this space about the idea of Brad Stevens using a double duos approach to his rotation. The idea is to almost always have two of four of Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker on the floor at the same time. This usually breaks down to Brown-Hayward and Tatum-Walker. This way Stevens has a pick and roll ballhandler in the duo with either Hayward or Walker. Because of their improved facilitation skills, Stevens has started to play Brown and Tatum together more as the duo. Something to keep and eye on moving forward.
5. Related to the above, Boston’s ball movement has been on point lately. The Celtics had 29 assists on 44 baskets against the Grizzlies. Having three wings who can pass is really causing opposing defenses issues.
Tatum beats the defense here by dribbling past the blitz. Look how scrambled that leaves Memphis’ defense. Smart on the receiving end of an alley-oop for a change? Why not!
When the ball hits the paint, good things happen. Hayward drives and kicks to Wanamaker. Wanamaker does the same to get it back to Hayward. Now, Memphis is out of sorts and Hayward finds Smart for the triple:
This pass from Jaylen Brown to Gordon Hayward in the opposite corner is eye-poppingly good:
6. The Celtics made a little defensive tweak in this game that could show up in the playoffs. Boston has taken to “hiding” Kemba Walker on the opponent’s worst perimeter player. Against the Grizzlies, they changed it up and hid Walker in the weakside corner a lot. The rest of the team would switch around him. As the ball moved sides, Walker would switch strongside to weakside. It was like a pseudo one-man zone.
Boston has gone through consecutive playoff runs where the offense targeted Isaiah Thomas, Terry Rozier and Kyrie Irving. This may be a wrinkle where Stevens can keep his offensive star out there without worrying so much about targeting on the other end of the floor.
7. Enes Kanter is the best rebounder Boston has had in years. He’s the best offensive rebounder the Celtics have had in decades. He may be one of the best rebounders Boston has ever had outside of Bill Russell. The numbers don’t lie:
8. With Daniel Theis almost always rock solid and Kanter doing his thing, Robert Williams vertical style gives Stevens a three-headed monster at center.
On this clip, there is no highlight, but watch Williams call out the switches and make sure both Brown and Tatum know where to be. Shades of Al Horford making calls from the backline here:
You want some highlights? I bet Grayson Allen hasn’t had a floater blocked in his life before yesterday. And then Williams almost got Anthony Tolliver’s bailout three as well:
Time Lord also has learned when to give his ballhandlers space and to just hang out in the dunker spot. Look at this bullet from Brown to Williams for the dunk:
9. When Jayson Tatum has it going, his points come in bunches. Here’s back-to-back offensive trips. A one-legged fallaway? C’mon!
The shoulder fake into another silky fallaway? So good!
10. Boston has one more seeding game left. They play the Washington Wizards on Thursday at 12:00 noon eastern. That game means absolutely nothing for the Celtics, as they are locked in as the third seed in the Eastern Conference. A year ago, in this exact situation against Washington, Stevens sat all the regulars he could. Jaylen Brown made a cameo appearance, as he was working his way back from a sprained ankle.
Look for Stevens to take a similar approach here. All of Boston’s top-6 players should sit. Heck, they should be allowed to sleep in and maybe chill at the pool. Let the Summer Celtics roll one last time. And that means plenty of Tacko Time, which is a win for everyone!