1. In the 2019 NBA Playoffs, the Boston Celtics swept the Indiana Pacers in the first round and then handled the Milwaukee Bucks fairly easily in Game 1 of the second round. Then the wheels came off. Big time.
Late in the third quarter of Game 2, the Toronto Raptors went on an 11-0 run to push their lead to 12 points. If this was last year, Boston fans would have sighed, rolled their eyes and said “Here we go again.” Not this season. Not with this team.
This group is more like the unexpected 2018 team that fought and scrapped their way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. No deficit seems to big to be overcome. The team stays together. This group of Celtics just keep coming.
2. Jaylen Brown got the Celtics going early. This step-back, fadeaway over Pascal Siakam is a really nice shot for Brown to have in the toolkit now:
A sign Brown is feeling good? Pullup triples like this:
And when he needs to, Brown can still use his athleticism to get to the basket at will, as he does here for the finish over Marc Gasol:
3. Jayson Tatum carried the Celtics through some rough offensive stretches. He scored a playoff career-high 34 points, including 14-of-14 from the free throw line.
As fun as it is to see him bury a whole bunch of three-pointers, a favorite of this space is when Tatum is scoring in all sorts of different ways. This hesitation dribble into the fallaway is beautiful:
Remember when Tatum missed all those floaters early in the regular season? Practice makes perfect:
And Tatum remains a late-game killer. The way he looks off the defender to open himself up for this three-pointer is ice-cold:
Bonus: Grant Williams creates this chance by grabbing a big offensive rebound. Williams came up big when he got his chances in this one.
4. The early star of the game was Robert Williams. As Brad Stevens said postgame: “Williams saved us. He played with great energy and kept us in the game.”
Williams scored 10 points in the first quarter, but they weren’t all on the usual array of alley-oop dunks, even if that happened to. This putback slam was crazy. As Kemba Walker takes the shot, Williams is at the arc. The end result is a dunk:
This play shows off Williams’ improving understanding of where and when to move. Jaylen Brown drives the baseline and has Semi Ojeleye in the corner. After getting burned on corner threes in Game 1, the Raptors were conscious of taking those away. Pascal Siakam steps toward Ojeleye, as Williams relocates to the front of the rim to open up for the pass:
When you haven’t missed a shot in the series, why not?
5. Turnovers were again a problem for the Celtics. Boston racked up 17 turnovers for the game. Especially troubling were the live-ball turnovers. Toronto lives off those opportunities. The Raptors had 16 fastbreak points (although Brad Stevens will probably say it was more) and 25 points off Celtics turnovers. That’s something Boston has to clean up moving forward in the playoffs.
6. Beyond turnovers, the other area the Celtics struggled with was the Raptors zone defense. This is where not having Gordon Hayward shows up most. Hayward is Boston’s best player at driving the gaps in the zone to find passes or pullup jumpers for himself. Look for Toronto to throw even more zone at Boston as they’re now desperate down 2-0 in the series.
7. Much is made of their lack of size, yet the Celtics have held their own as interior defenders all year. In this one, Boston had a bit of a block party with nine rejections. It started with noted rim-protector Marcus Smart:
Jaylen Brown sent this one back on a man-to-man drive by Pascal Siakam:
Siakam is probably starting to have some nightmares about the Celtics defense. Can’t imagine he’s had a paint turnaround blocked too many times like Robert Williams does here:
Daniel Theis had three blocks of his own, including this one against Fred VanVleet. Look at how Theis reads Siakam staying way outside and comes with the help:
8. The above clip ends with Marcus Smart burying a triple. What happened after that was even more impressive. That shot was the first of five three-pointers in a row from Smart. The first three came off passes from Jayson Tatum. You already saw the first one. Here’s the next trip where Tatum makes a pretty hook pass to Smart:
And then Tatum finds Smart again. This time Smart probably got fouled too:
9. We’re going to stick with Smart. The note for this portion of the game simply reads: SMART!!!
That’s probably as good a description for what happened. After the three clips above, Smart buried two more triples around a couple of Boston turnovers. The last one was a 4-point play that gave Boston the lead. And, as you probably expect, Smart made a bunch of plays as a defender. It was a signature performance by the longest-tenured Celtic when they needed it most.
10. It was a brutal game for Kemba Walker. He shot just 6-of-18 from the floor. As he noted postgame, that type of performance in the past would have resulted in Walker’s team getting blown out. He expressed appreciation for his teammates having his back and picking him up on a rough night.
But Walker did some of that picking up himself, especially late. You drop on Walker and the shot is going up:
And the snatch-back, step-back is just a killer. You know it’s coming if the big presses up, as Serge Ibaka does, and there is nothing you can do:
Coffee is for closers. Kemba gets coffee.
11. This final play won’t get much love, but it meant everything to the victory. Watch Marcus Smart go to the offensive glass as Jaylen Brown shoots. Smart’s effort made Serge Ibaka have to tip the rebound. It also took Kyle Lowry completely out of the play, because he had to block out. That made the Raptors final look, sans timeout, a contested three off the move from Fred VanVleet.
Brad Stevens said it best: “Champions do ordinary things…better than everyone else does them.” The above clip is pretty ordinary, but Marcus Smart did it better than everyone else did.