1. Until Friday afternoon, Brad Stevens thought he might only have the minimum of eight players required for the Boston Celtics to play against the Orlando Magic that evening. Jaylen Brown, Javonte Green, Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis all cleared the health and safety protocols and were able to play. That left Stevens with a comfortable 12-man roster.
Despite the availability and return of several regulars, Stevens still made a lineup change. Daniel Theis came off the bench for the first time since opening night of 2019-20. Grant Williams started in his place alongside Tristan Thompson up front.
Stevens said it wasn’t to go away from the two-big lineup, but to match up better with Orlando. It seemed to work, as Boston got out to a nice lead to start the game and then increased it during the beginning part of the third quarter.
2. Jaylen Brown being available was surely a comfort for the Celtics, as they knew they would be without Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. Brown led Boston in scoring with 21 points, but even more impressive were his eight assists, which tied a career-best.
Brown got started with the passing right away. This was the game’s first play. Brown gets into the paint and does a nice job by keeping his dribble alive for an extra bounce. That draws the defense and opens up Jeff Teague for the three:
Brown’s last assist shows how far he’s come as far as playing under control. In years past, he either pushes the issue and forces a wild layup attempt or runs himself into a charge. Now, Brown gets to his spot in transition, pulls the big to him and opens up Payton Pritchard for a corner three:
3. Boston’s bench was fantastic in this game. Jeff Teague drew the start and came up with 17 points. Payton Pritchard was again solid with 16 points off the bench, while Javonte Green added 10 points of his own. Overall, the Celtics reserves outscored their Magic counterparts by a 66-33 margin.
4. Leading the way off the bench was Semi Ojeleye. This was the best in a string of strong games for Ojeleye. In his last five outings, all Boston wins, Ojeleye is averaging 10.8 points on 48.7% shooting. He’s also been a marksman from deep, as he’s hit 2.4 three-pointers a game at a 46.2% clip. It’s easily the best stretch of Ojeleye’s career thus far.
The good news is, as he continues to hit more and more threes, it opens up the rest of his game. Because teams now have to close hard, Ojeleye can drive the closeout and get himself some baskets at the rim too:
5. Payton Pritchard was really good once again. He’s contributed in each game for Boston thus far. Against Orlando, he got it done as a scorer and as a passer. First, he drilled this tightly contested step-back in the corner (kindly ignore him stepping out of bounds as he pivots, as the officials did):
On the next possession you get a sense of Pritchard’s personal pace. He goes relatively quickly in transition. Then, as he drives, he slows down to let Nikola Vucevic fly by and he gets the easy layup:
A key skill for a point guard is being able to pass off the dribble. It takes longer to develop than you think. Very few develop the ability to pass off the dribble with their weak hand. Pritchard fires this bullet to Daniel Theis to get him the easy dunk:
6. With other guys out, Aaron Nesmith got his most extensive run to date. He played 18:27 and showed up a few times with solid plays. At this point, it’s baby steps for Nesmith. We’re just looking for flashes.
First, Nesmith drove for this nice floater off the glass:
Then, Nesmith drove and found Ojeleye for the layup and-1. This is a nice play from a guy who was known as a scorer in college:
This is why Nesmith was drafted though. This is the smooth stroke that made him the 14th pick in the draft:
Baby steps and looking for flashes when he gets a chance. That’s the focus for Nesmith right now.
7. This game featured extensive Tacko Time. Last time out, Tacko Fall’s minutes were more impactful, because they came at key points in the game. This time around, they were infinitely more fun.
It doesn’t matter if his giant foot was on the line or not. This will forever be Fall’s first three-pointer:
And now that he’s an established bomber, defenses have to close out on him. That allows Fall to take defenders off the bounce:
In all seriousness, this is fun, but also shows that Fall has some skill beyond being just a sideshow. He played real minutes against the Wizards and played well. And, you have to love how happy his teammates are to see him do good stuff in the above clips!
8. The Celtics have now won five straight games. That’s got them atop the Eastern Conference. Staying there might be a tricky ask, as they’re going to be without Jayson Tatum for at least a few more games. Kemba Walker’s return was also delayed by the lack of practice time. But both of them will be back sooner, rather than later.
As long as Boston stays healthy, there isn’t a team they can’t beat. They also aren’t good enough to just show up and win either. They’ll have the occasional blowout, but they’ll have to grind out plenty of games too. It’s the latter that will serve them well come playoff time.