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Boston’s bench sparks blowout win: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Rockets

Boston took control late in the first quarter and never looked back in Houston

NBA: Boston Celtics at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

1. The Celtics needed a win like this. It wasn’t a wire-to-wire blowout, but from about midway through the first quarter on, Boston exerted their dominance over an outmanned Houston team. In the middle two periods, the Celtics outscored the Rockets by a 66-38 margin.

More importantly, they looked like the Celtics during the portion where they took control. They were closing out to shooters, moving the ball on offense and pushing pace. That’s the only way Boston can win games on a consistent basis.

2. Part of what took the Celtics a while to get going was lackadaisical play. This resulted in open shots for the Rockets, many off them off turnovers. Boston had nine of their 14 giveaways in the first half, with five of those nine coming in the first quarter. It’s not enough to just show up and expect to win. This group isn’t that good.

3. Jaylen Brown helped get Boston going and carried them to a 13-point halftime lead with 21 points. This shot is a really tough one. David Nwaba is a very good defender. Brown uses his size and athleticism to knock down a tough fallaway:

The first play after a break can be one where you can steal an easy basket. The focus often isn’t there for the defense right away on the restart. Brown catches the defender ball-watching and Kemba Walker finds him on the backdoor cut:

This is a good example of Brown’s patience and skill development meeting for a bucket. He takes his time, then uses his improved handle for the crossover into the pullup jumper:

Last one from this game…Brown’s confidence is soaring. This shot is actually fairly well-contested. Doesn’t matter. Brown lets it fly and buries it:

4. As noted above, the Celtics got off to a slow start. Everything changed when the bench came in the game. Brad Stevens put in Marcus Smart and Payton Pritchard less than five minutes into the game. Robert Williams and Semi Ojeleye followed two and three minutes later.

Boston was down by eight points when Ojeleye checked in with 4:20 to play in the first. Over those four minutes to end the quarter, the Celtics outscored the Rockets 18-6 to take control of the game.

The Boston bench struggled in Brooklyn to open the second half of the season. They weren’t necessarily amazing as individuals in this game (outside of Robert Williams. More on that next!) either. But they played with energy, defended and gave the Celtics a spark. That’s what Stevens needs every game when he calls on the subs.

5. Robert Williams had kind of a historic night:

Boston is now regularly using Williams to facilitate offense from the top of the key. His size gives him the chance to see passes a lot of the wings and guards can’t. This is a great read by Williams, as Marcus Smart slips the screen for a layup:

Williams also has wonderful hands. He’s got nice touch on his tip-ins and his jumper is fairly soft as well. Williams also vacuums up rebounds, while his hands are starting to show up on offensive catches too. This ball is tipped, but Williams corrals it and hammers it through:

Just a monster night from a player who has become increasingly important to Boston’s success.

6. Now that the Celtics are getting healthy, Brad Stevens has some lineup decisions to make. He’s played two bigs for more of the season, largely out of necessity. Stevens said postgame that’s something Boston will begin to go away from against many teams. Daniel Theis only played six minutes against Houston, in part to help save him from some wear and tear, but also because of personnel. Stevens said all three bigs (Theis, Tristan Thompson and Robert Williams) will play, but that he’ll likely rotate through them one at a time moving forward.

7. Jayson Tatum put up a quietly efficient 23/6/6 line. It’s good to see that the doesn’t need to be spectacular all the time for Boston to win. This swooping finish through contact was pretty though:

And in the third quarter, Tatum had some fun with this play, as he went behind-the-back in transition:

8. The Celtics ran a set to open the second half to get Kemba Walker going downhill for a layup. Walker made that shot and proceeded to score 11 of his 16 points in the third quarter, as Boston put the game away. After practice on Saturday, Stevens said the team needs to do more to help Walker get going. Walker added to that by saying he has to “hunt shots” a little more. Running sets to get Walker involved seems to be something to watch moving forward.

9. The Celtics regulars got all or most of the fourth quarter off. From the 9-minute mark on, it was all deep bench players for Boston. And they held their own and maintained the Celtics big lead.

This was a nice inside-outside look from Tacko Fall and Aaron Nesmith:

10. This win was a critical one for Boston. Not only is Houston terrible, but the Celtics have a big week coming. They play five games in seven days starting on Tuesday: vs Jazz, at Cavaliers, off, vs Kings, off, vs Magic, at Grizzlies.

Other than Utah, all of those are games that Boston should win. But in this tight, compact schedule, it’s hard to know how things will play out. Kemba Walker will likely sit out the Cleveland and Memphis games, as he’s not going to play back-to-backs.

If Boston can find a way to engineer a couple more blowouts, and steal in-game rest like they did vs Houston, that’s almost like grabbing two wins at once.

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