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Close but no cigar again: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Lakers

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Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are ready, but they need some help from their friends

Los Angeles Lakers v Boston Celtics Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

1. We’ve known since the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals that the moment isn’t too big for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. They looked LeBron James in the eye for seven games and nearly got the Celtics to the NBA Finals.

Saturday night, against the defending champions, Boston’s building blocks went head-to-head with James and Anthony Davis and outplayed the veteran superstars. With a little help from their friends, Boston likely wins this game.

Brown and Tatum combined to shoot 25-of-37 for 58 points. The main takeaway here is Brown and Tatum are more than ready to do big things. Because of that, it’s imperative they get the help they need. Some will come internally, but it’s up to Danny Ainge to seize this moment and bolster this duo for a real title run.

2. Jayson Tatum was great late, but an early basket showed what kind of night it might be for him. Tatum drives Montrezl Harrell and puts his shoulder into him. It’s the kind of strong move we don’t see enough from Tatum:

These next two come late in the game, when Boston has to have buckets. Tatum goes against Anthony Davis here. Davis is one of the leading contenders for Defensive Player of the Year. Tatum wants it and gets it:

Again, the Celtics need a basket and they need one quickly. Tatum goes right to the paint and nails the floater. By going so early in the clock, he gives Boston a great chance at a tie or win with a stop on the other end:

3. There isn’t a shot Jaylen Brown can’t make now. This was old school Brown, with a wrinkle. Love the little fake off the catch to open up the driving lane. Then he takes the contact, hangs and finishes over Harrell:

In the notes this one is down as “Brown angry pullup” because that’s exactly what it was. Brown drove and though he got fouled on the previous trip. This time around, he’s giving no chance to foul as he drills the “angry pullup”:

Love when Brown takes what is there. If he over-drives, he’s not getting a good look. If he pulls up, the trail defender is right on him. Brown splits the difference for the floater:

4. Kemba Walker… I don’t know what to say any more than Walker himself did. You could tell he was down in the postgame, referencing getting in his own head about his struggles. He also spoke about how good Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are and how he felt he let them down.

The good news is that Walker looks fairly good physically. He’s missing maybe a bit of his burst at time, but it’s regularly there. And he’s bouncy and energetic on defense, especially as a helper.

The shots aren’t falling for him. History tells us that they will, but right now he’s going through a rough patch. And against the very best teams, Walker can be a liability on defense because they’ll find him. The Lakers didn’t do a lot of it, but when they were able to find Walker in a mismatch, something good usually came of it.

5. Boston clearly missed Marcus Smart after he left the game with a strained calf. The first thought is they missed him defensively, but the Celtics held their own there. What really went missing was his playmaking. Smart had seven assists when he left the game and had a few plays where he really controlled the flow. In the fourth quarter, Boston was sort of a mess without Smart running the show. The Celtics had seven turnovers in the final frame alone.

This play opened the scoring. It looks like Smart and Jayson Tatum are setting up a wing DHO. Tatum takes a step towards that, then he cuts backdoor. Smart dimes him up for the easy bucket:

Smart has Marc Gasol on the mismatch here. A lot of time you’ll see him drive for a contested layup or a pullup or that weird floater he flings at the rim. This time he drives, draws the defense and hits Brown for the easy triple:

6. The Celtics threw a bunch of different looks at Anthony Davis. They don’t have a great option to defend Davis, especially when he’s playing the four. Instead, Boston rotated a bunch of different guys at him. And they also doubled him at various time. Davis scored 27 points, but missed 14 of his 25 shots. That’s something the Celtics will happily take.

7. Time and time again, we’ve heard the Celtics talk about losing focus on defense and it not being acceptable. Overall, this was a very good defensive performance by Boston. But in a close game, one or two possessions will cost you. For the Celtics, Tatum and Brown were both guilty of making it too easy on the opponent.

This is really bad from Brown. You can’t open up the baseline drive this easily, especially when the bigs aren’t even back to protect:

Tatum picks up Talen Horton-Tucker on the switch, but does nothing to impede his drive to the rim. This can’t happen in the fourth quarter of a tight game:

8. The time has come for this space to admit that Robert Williams has to play. Even when he makes mind-boggling decisions, he has to be out there. Williams simply makes too many impact plays to be on the bench while Tristan Thompson clearly needs time to round into form.

This was the full Timelord experience. Williams blocks Dennis Schroder’s pullup. Then Williams turns it over for no reason at all. Then he blocks Anthony Davis at the rim. Then he fouls Anthony Davis. Full Timelord:

Love this one because it shows how intuitive and athletic Williams is. He immediately slips the screen as soon as Brown has the ball. That puts him in the spot for the easy finish. Williams fumbles the catch, but he’s more athletic than anyone else on the floor. He recovers and slams it before anyone noticed he fumbled the catch:

9. This is pure, unadulterated basketball goodness:

10. This last play was wild. Let’s watch it and then discuss:

Alright…so Walker missed. It’s a good shot. That’s a shot we’ve seen him make a million times, lots of times as a Celtic. You can live with that shot.

Why not Brown or Tatum? Brown had trouble catching the ball initially and that sort of took him out of the play. For whatever reason, Tatum never got much past halfcourt after Boston had possession.

Why not a timeout? That’s fair, but there are a couple of reasons you don’t call timeout. You have the Lakers scrambling. They didn’t get matched up well at all, and Walker got an open look. The second reason is the Lakers are the best defense in the league, especially on set plays. They are both big and fast. It’s hard to score against them.

Bonus: Overall, this isn’t the result anyone wants, especially against the Lakers. But the Celtics are right there. Walker has to get going or he needs to get going, if you catch the drift here.

It’s “only” a strained calf for Marcus Smart. He’ll miss a while, but should be back with plenty of the season to play. Payton Pritchard’s return should be nearing as well.

Jeff Teague is going to play more while Boston is down Smart and Pritchard and it’s possibly a last chance to show he can still contribute. If not, his minimum salary deal could be moved on from with ease.

Tristan Thompson should be the third big behind Daniel Theis and Robert Williams for the time being. Let Theis and Williams play 20-24 minutes each and Thompson can have the handful of remaining time. He’s clearly got something that’s holding him back.

Beyond that, as we said at the top, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are good enough to lead a championship team right now. It’s up to Danny Ainge to give them the help they need. Some of it will come internally, but Boston has a $28.5 million trade exception to use. That could, and should, deliver one really good player or a couple of good depth pieces. It’s up to Ainge to get that done or it’ll be another year of almost getting there. And almost isn’t good enough.