1. As Brad Stevens put it, the game “got interesting” at the end. But the Celtics completed a dream 3-0 west coast trip and come home to Boston on a five-game winning streak. They’ve now moved up to 5th place in the Eastern Conference (tied with Atlanta for 4th, but the Hawks own the tiebreaker). The Celtics have seven of their next nine games at home.
We’ve been here before this season, with feeling like they’ve turned the corner, but this time it feels a little more real. This run has included some quality wins and the team seems to have figured some things out. Let’s see if that holds down the stretch.
2. Jaylen Brown was dominant in this game, but did so while staying completely in the flow of the offense. Brown got started early with this clean jumper off a Tristan Thompson kick-out:
Later in the first quarter, Brown’s composure showed up. He does a great job of driving the closeout, while staying under control. The end result is an and-1:
Overall, Brown scored 40 points on 17-of-20 shooting. It was a remarkably efficient night, as Brown got to his spots whenever he wanted.
3. Boston’s ball movement was terrific throughout the first three quarters of this game. The rotation regulars piled up 25 assists on 37 baskets during that portion of the game. All five Celtics starters had between three and seven assists. The next several clips are examples of good passing by a few different Celtics.
4. If there is something Boston has excelled at in the last year, it’s attacking Marc Gasol in pick-and-roll. The Celtics just have his number. Marcus Smart does a good job of getting deep enough into the paint here that Gasol has to stay up. Tristan Thompson slips in behind for the alley-oop:
Smart has played within himself during the win streak. He’s been understated, but extremely solid on the offensive end, while being a menace on defense. On this play, Smart is calling for the ball early. He doesn’t settle for a contested three though. Smart makes the extra pass for Jayson Tatum to get an open triple:
5. Kemba Walker has had at least six assists in eight straight games. He’s settled into his role as playmaker/third-scorer now. That fits quite well around Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum’s ascensions to being the primary scorers.
This play starts with Tatum making a good read of the double team. It ends with Walker making a quick reversal to Brown for the better look:
Walker has been really good about pushing pace for the Celtics lately. He does a good job off a made free throw here, of getting the ball right up the floor before the Lakers can set their defense. The result is Brown cuts backdoor for the dunk:
6. Jayson Tatum is a lethal scorer. There isn’t much he can’t do in that phase of the game. Now, his passing is steadily coming along to complement that. This behind-the-back pass in traffic is a great example of how Tatum is better than ever as a playmaker:
This one shows how unselfish Tatum can be. He could have taken the transition three, but Brown has it going and has the easier shot:
7. As the saying goes: the ball finds energy. Jayson Tatum was unselfish on the clip above. That comes back around here, as Tristan Thompson made a really nice pass to Tatum on the cut:
Sticking with Thompson for a bit…he’s been really good for Boston since his return from COVID. Thompson’s defense has been terrific, his rebounding is excellent and he’s been more comfortable on offense. After some fits and starts to the season, Thompson has finally settled in to a key role for the Celtics.
8. We’re going to praise some of the bench players now. Note: some of them. The next takeaway is going to be a lot harsher for the other reserves.
Payton Pritchard said postgame that he does think he hit the rookie wall. In this game, he seemed to find his shot again. More importantly, he’s stayed on the attack even when the shot was missing. Pritchard does a good job of getting downhill for the finish over Montrezl Harrell here:
The trade of Daniel Theis opened up a rotation spot for Grant Williams. Over the last week or so, Williams has seized that opportunity. He’s done a nice job as a third big behind, and alongside at times, Robert Williams and Tristan Thompson. Williams’ offensive game is starting to blossom a bit. This hesitation dribble/fake DHO for a layup is good stuff:
Luke Kornet also did a nice job when pressed into emergency duty with Robert Williams out with a sore knee. If you squint, Kornet could be that sort of elusive stretch five that offers some rim protection. He finished with four blocks in 18 minutes of play. Those are markers only Robert Williams has hit for the Celtics, in terms of blocks in less than 20 minutes.
9. The above three players (Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams and Luke Kornet), along with Romeo Langford did a nice job off Boston’s bench. The deeper reserves? Hope someone opened a window because they stunk.
Brad Stevens tried to empty the bench fully with around five minutes to play and the Celtics leading 113-89. Over the ensuing three-and-half minutes, the Lakers went on a 19-2 run. That forced Stevens to put several rotation regulars back into the game to ensure Boston would come away with a win.
In the grand scheme of things, the players who were in at the end of the game are somewhere between 12 and 17 in the Celtics rotation pecking order. They aren’t necessarily expected to be very good. But they also shouldn’t be a complete disaster either.
For years, NBA coaches have tried to get the media and fans to stop using the term “garbage time”. They prefer to think of it as development and opportunity time. And there is some fairness there. All of these minutes go on tape. The players Boston had in late are guys who haven’t established themselves in the NBA yet. Some of them are fighting to stay in the league. Losing some points off the lead is fine. Playing extremely poorly on both ends is not. What was especially troubling were some of the low basketball IQ plays like running the ball up the floor and taking quick shots as the lead was evaporating.
This was a badly missed opportunity for these younger Celtics. And now, when Boston is up big next, Stevens may hesitate to go back to them quite as early. That’s a loss for these guys who need some floor time, and for the rotation players who need all the rest they can get.
10. As the lead dwindled, Brad Stevens called on the regulars to save the day. Jaylen Brown answered that call. In many of the clips above, Brown finished plays off passes from his teammates. During this stretch, he put the cape on and did it himself. This play should have been an and-1:
Then the next time down, Brown put the game away:
It got a little hairy at the end, but Boston pulled it out behind Brown’s big play. And even if they were diminished due to injuries, it always feels good to beat the Lakers.