1. The first of our 3 Questions before this game was asking if Boston could play faster. The answer is a bit of a complex one. The Celtics came in averaging under 100 possessions per game, with the Nuggets playing even slower. This game featured over 100 possessions, which says the Celtics did play faster. It may not seem it because Boston got up only 81 field goal attempts, but that was in part due to 22 turnovers.
You can live with the turnovers, provided you’re playing at a fast enough pace to add possessions to make up for them. It wasn’t fastbreak basketball from the Celtics though. Mostly, they pushed the ball up the floor quickly and got into their sets with around 20 seconds on the shot clock. When they walk it up, they start running something with around 15-16 seconds on the clock. That doesn’t allow for much ball and player movement, and regularly results in the isolation ball. Isolation has its place for sure, especially against mismatches. But this team is at its best when the ball moves.
2. The second question was: Who steps up with players missing on both sides? The answer for Boston turned out to be lots of people. Brad Stevens only went nine-deep, but all nine players contributor. Stevens seemed to hold true to playing those who would play hard and execute the system on both ends.
For Denver, it was the Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray show. It was spectacular at times, but they didn’t get enough help. That ultimately was the different in the game.
3. The last thing we wondered about was turning turnovers into points. We called out that Denver doesn’t give it up all that often, but more than half of their giveaways are live-ball turnovers. That held true to form and Boston was able to turn those into 23 points. Combine points off turnovers with the ball movement and this was one of the better offensive performances of the season for the Celtics, even with 22 turnovers of their own.
4. The next several plays feature some of that good ball movement. Some have the ball pinging around, while others are more simple things. The main point is that all were good to see after two games of stagnant ISO ball.
The ball and players are moving on the first possession of the game. This play had more movement than 90% of the plays the previous two games. The result is Kemba Walker finding Tristan Thompson on a delayed roll, as Walker draws three defenders:
Remember how we said getting the ball up the floor quickly pays dividends? The Celtics push the ball here. The result is Jaylen Brown finding Walker for a wide-open three with 17 seconds on the clock, before the Nuggets can set their defense:
Brown spoke after the game about learning and growing as a playmaker. That comes with some hiccups (seven turnovers), but that’s part of figuring it out. You’ll trade those bad ones for good ones like this (also…Robert Williams jumper is looking real!):
Jayson Tatum goes early for the 2-for-1 here. Aaron Nesmith saves the possession with a good offensive rebound. Tatum resets and doesn’t force it. Instead, it’s a drive-and-kick to reward the guy who got you the second chance:
First possession of the second quarter featured some of the best ball movement of the night. Tatum works pick-and-roll with Williams to start the play before a nice hook-pass to Nesmith. Nesmith drives and drops to Williams. As the defense rotates to Williams, he makes the quick kickout pass to Payton Pritchard. This is beautiful stuff:
When the ball moves and everyone is involved, you have “positive vibes” as Robert Williams said postgame. That leads to stuff like this. Luck is where preparedness, skill and opportunity meet or something like that:
5. Let’s spend a little time on two of the younger Celtics. Aaron Nesmith was grateful following the game to have gotten opportunities in the last two contests. He was maybe the lone bright spot of the Washington debacle, and it was because of his defensive effort. That led to minutes and more efforts like this one (kindly ignore that this should have been a foul!):
The offensive rebound earlier was nice and the block (foul) was nicer, but this is what Nesmith was drafted to do. This is a gorgeous quick pull off a DHO. Nesmith knows the defender is a little too low and he’s going up as soon as he has the ball:
6. Robert Williams stepped up big with Daniel Theis out with a sprained right index finger. No, Williams didn’t stop Nikola Jokic, but he did his best to wear him out a bit. That was key, as Jokic ran out of gas late in the game.
This is a typical Williams highlight. The fun part is this came one play after Williams played Dimelord and hit Payton Pritchard for a triple. Pritchard pays him back here:
In his first stint, Williams bit hard on a Nikola Jokic up-fake. This time around, he stayed down and made it a tough look:
This is both athleticism and understanding the game. Williams lays back, because he can read Jokic is trying to slip the screen. Then he gets really low to pick off the pass. This is good stuff:
7. Jaylen Brown is really good. Like really, really good. He scored 27 points, but more importantly, he stepped up when Boston needed him most. Jayson Tatum took a bit to get going, and Kemba Walker was a little inconsistent. Others were contributing, but Brown took over when the Celtics needed it.
With 3:39 to play in the third quarter, Denver cut Boston’s lead to one point. On the next two trips, Brown buried three-pointers. The Celtics lead went back to seven and they pushed it to double digits by the end of the quarter.
“Brown or Tatum?” is a stupid debate. The Celtics have both, need both and love both. What is great is that Brown has made it even a question at all.
8. Speaking of Tatum…double-teams no longer bother him as much. His passing is good now, as he showed with eight assists, but moves like this open him up to score. Tatum reads the double right off the catch. He quickly spins baseline and then uses his length and athleticism for the gorgeous finish:
9. Tatum or Brown? Why not both?
10. This was a good win for Boston. Denver was down guys, but so were the Celtics. And Boston needed a win after the weekend mess. To beat a good team, and to do so convincingly, can be a launching point. It feels like we’ve all been waiting for a while for the Celtics to take off. They now get Atlanta for two straight in Boston. Winning those two would go a long way towards settling everyone down and rebuilding confidence in this team.