1. Sure, Jayson Tatum buried the game-winner (More on that later!), but his passing is what jumps out from this one. Tatum set a career-high with 12 assists, and each one was crucial in a two-point win.
He got started early with this one to Daniel Theis. Double screen at the top of the arc, Tatum draws two defenders, while Tristan Thompson rolls and takes the third defender out of the play. It’s good to see Theis confidently take and make this shot too:
This play is nice because Tatum doesn’t wait for the trap. He uses his dribble to get into the paint before the trap can come. From there, it’s a pretty bounce-pass to Robert Williams for the easy dunk:
Here Tatum gets it in the corner off some nice ball movement. He doesn’t rise and fire, but drives baseline and drops it off to Tristan Thompson for the and-1. The best part? Look at how excited Tatum is that Thompson got the hoop and the harm!
Talk about saving the best for last…Tatum’s final assist was this one to Jaylen Brown. With the Celtics down by one point with under a minute to go, Tatum doesn’t catch and hold the ball. He attacks right away and draws the defense. This opens up Brown for the three-pointer:
2. This version of the Takeaways is back to being mostly positive, despite recognizing that this bounce-back victory never should have been a thing in the first place. The biggest negatives right now for the Celtics are defense early in games and turnovers.
Where is the defense to start these games? It’s taking at least a quarter or two for Boston to wake up. Once they do, they look like the terrific defensive group from the past several years. That’s not sustainable. As Marcus Smart said, they “need to bring it early”.
The turnovers are a byproduct of the short offseason, short training camp and no practices. It’s very sloppy right now. That’s the case all around the NBA. But Boston is in the bottom half of the league, after usually being in or around the top-10 in turning it over.
If the Celtics can clean up the defense and turnovers, there is a chance we’ll see this team really take off.
3. Brad Stevens stuck with the two-big starting lineup once again. Once again, the results were mixed. Stevens said that group has been “too inconsistent to draw a conclusion. Or maybe that is the conclusion”. That feels about right. It was better in the second half, including some nice offense.
If Daniel Theis is going to be a perimeter-based four, he needs to be able to make quick decisions. On this play, he catches and sees daylight. No hesitation and right into the paint for the easy floater:
About a minute later, Boston runs the same set. This time, Plumlee closes on Theis. You can see he thinks about the pullup jumper, but instead he lobs over the top to the cutting Thompson for the bucket:
Theis and Thompson are figuring out their chemistry together on both ends. You can see why Stevens is sticking with this lineup, while also recognizing its flaws. The guess here is that these are growing pains for a payoff down the line when Boston plays bigger teams.
4. Jaylen Brown is a scoring machine. He’s at 28 points per game on 59.8% shooting, including 42.5% from behind the arc. It’s become more surprising to see Brown miss than make. He’s also become adept at getting to his pet shots. This short turnaround is one Brown developed over the last year or so. You have to think three years of being around Gordon Hayward helped this one along, as this is a shot Hayward had for years:
What’s next for Brown as a scorer? Demanding the ball, especially when he’s carrying reserve lineups. Brad Stevens goes to Jayson Tatum in these spots a lot, but has been leaning on Brown to do it too while Kemba Walker is out. Brown needs to take a page out of Tatum’s book and demand the ball in these groups when the guards get dribble-happy. Stevens can also help by running more sets designed to get Brown touches.
5. Boston’s ball movement in this game was better than it has been for most of the year. Jayson Tatum had the 12 assists, but Marcus Smart had 10 assists, Payton Pritchard had four and Jaylen Brown had three. All told, the Celtics had 35 assists on 49 baskets. That’s a winning ratio every time.
6. Marcus Smart has talked a good amount about how he is focusing on shot selection. He’s largely done a good job to start this season. There were two plays late in this one where Smart passed up OK shots to get better ones. First was Smart skipping the step-back three to get to an easy floater:
Later in fourth quarter, Smart wants to take this three. You can see it. But he passes on it to hit the cutting Daniel Theis for the and-1 chance:
Those are good examples of Smart putting his money where his mouth is with his shot selection.
7. Brad Stevens cut down his rotation. Only nine players saw minutes in this one. Grant Williams was the odd man out, as he got his first DNP-CD of the season. It was a good night for the four-man bench, as Semi Ojeleye, Payton Pritchard, Jeff Teague and Robert Williams all contributed to the victory.
Expect the short rotation to be somewhat short-lived. With a back-to-back against the Raptors on tap, Stevens will probably get some others in the game. Teague also rolled an ankle, which will have his availability in question. And then there is the general unforgiving nature of the schedule this season. That necessitates going deeper into the bench than usual.
8. Semi Ojeleye had another strong game off the bench. He looks more decisive and confident most of the time when he’s out there now. This is a well-contested shot, but Ojeleye shows no hesitation:
That was the final of Ojeleye’s three fourth quarter three-pointers in the game. With the Celtics having little wing depth, Ojeleye has a shot to lock down a rotation role if he can continue this sort of solid play.
9. We’ve been gassing Robert Williams up in this space a lot. He’s been that good to start the season. But he still makes the occasional play where you shake your head in exasperation:
These are the dumb ones that cost him minutes, because it’s so unnecessary. He’s rushing for no reason at all. Look at Brad Stevens at the top of the screen. Every coach (or dad!) has had this moment a time or ten thousand.
10. We all love Jayson Tatum’s step-back. It’s one of the best in the game. We all love that Tatum can get it off against anyone. And we love his confidence in it.
What we also love is this:
Boston runs a simple screen action to get Blake Griffin switched onto Tatum. Tatum catches, squares and blows by Griffin for the pullup game-winner. No holding the ball. No backing it out. No step-back. Tatum has a poor defender and gets right to his spot. That’s some good, early-season growth.