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Effort and energy lead to a blowout win: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Nets

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Boston brought it to Brooklyn right from the jump for the big victory

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

1. Brad Stevens spoke after the loss to Miami and before the game against Brooklyn about the need for Boston to play with effort, energy and attitude. He also said the Celtics hadn’t played much defense during the restart. Stevens got what he wanted right from the jump in this game. His defense was locked in early, especially with a focus of running Brooklyn shooters off the arc. This is the effort the Celtics need to play with if they want to be a title contender.

2. Another thing Brad Stevens wanted to see his team do was to execute better. Nothing about this set is complicated, but it’s well-executed. Everyone stays spaced, Jaylen Brown makes a purposeful cut and Daniel Theis sets a good screen. It’s simple, but sometimes simple is best:

3. Kemba Walker was taking the second night of the back-to-back off, so Marcus Smart started. When Jayson Tatum picked up three fouls in the first quarter, Brad Stevens had to go deeper into his bench. That meant Romeo Langford got an early call and he delivered.

So far in his young career, Langford has driven the ball to score. He does a great job here of finding Robert Williams (more on him later!) with the drop-off pass for the dunk:

Langford knows what will get, and keep, him on the floor is his defense. He was thrown right into the fire against Caris LeVert and held his own. And here against Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who has been played great for the Nets, Langford’s quickness and length showed up for the strip:

One more from Langford…He misses the initial layup here, but shows his quick second-jump ability and makes a far tougher putback in traffic:

4. Time Lord showed up big time. Robert Williams was the player of the night for the Celtics. He was the first big off the bench and almost immediately he gave up an and-1 to Jarrett Allen. It was a bit of “Here we go again”, but Williams bounced back in a big way.

Williams scored a career-high 18 points on 7-of-7 from the floor. He also grabbed five rebound and blocked three shots. After the game he spoke about his need to keep his hands high and not swipe at the ball. On offense, Williams said his role is to set good screens to open things up for his teammates.

Clearly, Williams brings a vertical component to the Celtics that none of their other bigs can match. It’s all about execution. If Williams can give Boston 10-12 minutes of great energy in the playoffs, it helps change the team’s ceiling.

5. In the blowout, Gordon Hayward was a team-best +30 in just under 32 minutes. Hayward has looked strong, quick and confident in the restart. This pull-up off a nice screen from Robert Williams is a shot Hayward can get almost whenever he wants:

Hayward is also Boston’s best playmaker off the dribble. This pass, through traffic, to Jaylen Brown in the opposite corner is a lot harder of a read than Hayward makes it look:

6. Jaylen Brown was excellent again. He’s been the Celtics best player in the bubble. It’s easy to focus on his scoring, but what’s really exciting was his passing against the Nets. On this fastbreak, Brown does two things that should get your blood pumping. As he approached halfcourt, Brown signals to Jayson Tatum to make the run to the basket. Brown then gives a subtle look to Gordon Hayward spacing to the corner. That opens the passing lane for the Tatum layup:

This look-away interior pass to Daniel Theis for the dunk is just terrific:

Brown had more turnovers assists this season. The next evolution in his game, now that his scoring is consistent, is his ability to make plays for others. It’s coming along slowly, but surely.

7. Jayson Tatum played just 18 minutes because of foul trouble and the blowout nature of the game. He still managed to score 19 points, several on jumpers that barely moved the net as they dropped through.

Like Brown, Tatum also showed up as a passer. He’s a bit ahead of Brown in that area, because Tatum is learning how to deal with doubles on the fly. On this play, Tatum draws the trap in the deep corner and delivers a beautiful bounce-pass from a really tough angle to Daniel Theis for the dunk:

8. Robert Williams is getting all the praise and deservedly so, but he’s part of what Brad Stevens has always planned to be a three-headed monster at center. Daniel Theis starts and will almost always play the crucial minutes. Williams will get the call when the Celtics need an energy infusion. The third man in that rotation is Enes Kanter.

Kanter gets somewhat unfairly maligned because nothing in his game is pretty and his defense is often bad. What Kanter can be however is a brutally efficient offensive machine. Kanter just works Jarrett Allen in the post here. This is the type of call Stevens can go to when Boston needs a bucket and feel confident that Kanter will deliver:

9. It was a team effort for the Celtics. All 13 players scored at least one basket. Every player was at least +4 in plus/minus. A couple of Boston’s key kids got great run in Romeo Langford and Robert Williams.

It’s the Zombie Nets, so you can’t get too excited. But this victory, especially in this fashion, was one it felt like the Celtics needed. A blowout win feels good. It was on a back-to-back, so bringing better effort was great to see. These are the kind of wins that can carry a team for a couple of weeks.

Boston plays Toronto next. The Celtics are clinging to life for the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference, but it looks like a dream at this point. However, Boston is closing in on wrapping up the #3 seed. That’s important because it keeps them off Milwaukee’s side of the bracket.

If Toronto and Boston finish 2-3 in the East, a second-round matchup is looming. Friday’s game could start to give us some clues as to how that series could go.

10. Focusing on Friday vs the Raptors can come later though. Let’s bask in the glow of this blowout for one more play. Javonte Green is one of the more ridiculous athletes the Celtics have ever had. This alley-oop finish is absurd and was a nice capper on a great night: