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Stars show up late: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Wizards

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Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker both made big plays to help Boston steal a victory

NBA: Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

1. Kemba Walker has found a bit of a groove. He’s still not playing back-to-backs, but the games he is playing in are good ones. And Walker looks good physically too. This stop-on-a-dime pullup is a shot Walker couldn’t get to in the bubble:

Here’s a nice steal and Walker’s returned quickness showing up as he outraces everyone for a layup. He does a nice job at the end of using his body to shield off the shot-blocker:

2. Walker also showed up as a playmaker. In the first half, this hard drive to the rim is great. If the big stays with Robert Williams, Walker has a layup. Because the big helps, Walker lobs it up for Williams:

In the fourth quarter, Boston was trying to keep contact with Washington to stay in the game. There was a two-minute stretch where the entire Celtics offense was Kemba Walker and Daniel Theis playing a two-man game. Four times Walker dimed Theis up for baskets, as Boston hung in the game. Here’s one of those plays:

Later in the fourth Walker picked up his eighth assist on this pass to Ojeleye. Because Walker had been so good as a scorer, he drew the attention of three defenders. Because he and Theis and worked so well in pick-and-pop, Theis drew the other two defenders. That leaves Ojeleye open for the big corner three:

3. With Jaylen Brown out, and Marcus Smart still shelved, Boston was shorthanded. As shown above, Semi Ojeleye made a big shot late. He also played his typically solid defense. Javonte Green got the start and made some plays as well. Robert Williams was good off the bench again, as were Payton Pritchard and Jeff Teague.

These sorts of performances, in back-to-back games, are the building blocks of a good bench. Brad Stevens can trust players when they deliver consistently. That takes some pressure off the teams three stars from having to carry such a heavy load.

4. No real analysis, but boy it is fun to watch Jayson Tatum GIF a guy:

5. Boston underwent another trademark long scoring drought in the third quarter. The Celtics went over four minutes without scoring after taking an 11-point lead with 8:43 to play.

Those stretches are a bit maddening. Boston had a chance to extend that lead and maybe put Washington away early on the second night of a back-to-back. Instead, the Wizards climbed back in the game and it was a fight all the way until the end.

6. When in doubt, the Celtics best offense can sometimes be as simple as “Lob to Rob”. Not sure if Jeff Teague badly missed the floater or if this was a pass. Either way, Robert Williams hammered it in:

Later, Payton Pritchard almost threw this one behind Williams. Instead, it’s a spectacular alley-oop finish:

7. Let’s get to the endgame sequences now. Jayson Tatum was terrific down the stretch for Boston. He scored the Celtics last eight points, but not in his usual way. He only hit one jumper. Everything else was off Tatum attacking the rim. With Boston down three here, Tatum could have shot the three, but instead attacked the closeout for the quick two:

After a trap on Bradley Beal to cause a turnover, everyone knew Tatum was getting the last shot. This is a spot where Tatum will usually back it out, dribble a few times and take a jumper. Not this time. He catches against Bradly Beal and uses a quick spin to get to the rim for the game-winner:

8. Brad Stevens did something late in this game that he’s generally loath to do: He ran two defenders at Bradley Beal. Beal only got off two field goal attempts in the game’s final 3:45. One was a layup and the other was the last second shot (more on that next!). Beyond that, Beal was forced to give the ball up to teammates. It was a nice wrinkle from Stevens and his staff.

9. Speaking of Stevens and his staff...NBA coaching is about being prepared for personnel, time and situation. Washington’s final play came on a sideline out of bounds plays on the right side of the floor. Boston defended it really well and forced Bradley Beal into an incredibly tough shot. Why? Because they were prepared for that look.

Here’s Beal getting fouled at the end of the game as Washington beat Denver a couple of weeks ago:

Note the personnel and action: Russell Westbrook inbounding. Bradley Beal coming off a Robin Lopez screen towards the strongside corner. Davis Bertans spaced to the weakside wing, Rui Hachimura in the weakside dunker spot.

Lopez levels the defender with the screen, allowing Beal to catch on the move against the rotating big. Beal easily beats Nikola Jokic and gets to the rim where JaMychal Green fouls him. Two free throws later and the Wizards win.

Here is the final play against the Celtics:

Slightly different personnel with Raul Neto on the floor vs Brook Lopez. But look how Boston is set up to defend this action. Kemba Walker is pressed up Neto, anticipating Neto setting a screen. Because Walker is there, Neto can’t screen. That allows Jayson Tatum to stay with Beal on the cut. As Westbrook makes the inbounds, note that Semi Ojeleye drops down towards the baseline. That makes the pass go to the corner vs to the elbow. Beal can’t catch and go. By the time Beal turns, Tatum is there and Ojeleye has dropped off Westbrook to double. That’s two long defenders against Beal in the corner. Everyone else has their coverages perfect. By the time Bertans cuts, it’s too late. Beal gets it on the rim because he’s a great player, but this is perfectly defended.

That happens because the Celtics had seen it before. This is the video staff, the assistants, Stevens and the players all coming together to get a crucial stop to win the game.

10. This was the first time Boston had won two straight games in over a month. That’s a little scary, but maybe a sign of a turnaround? With games against the Clippers (Tuesday) and Raptors (Thursday, assuming Toronto has enough available players), the Celtics have a shot at finishing the first half of the schedule on a high note. It’s going to take a lot to beat both LA and Toronto, but Boston has done it already this season.