1. We would be remiss if we started these Takeaways with anything but the tragic passing of Terrence Clarke. Clarke died in a car accident on Thursday in Los Angeles. He was there preparing for the 2021 NBA Draft, which he entered after one season at the University of Kentucky.
Clarke was a Boston kid through and through. He was born and raised in the city and was proud of his hometown. Many of members of the Celtics were friendly with Clarke. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were often seen speaking with him after games. Brad Stevens said postgame that his son looked up to Clarke. Kemba Walker talked about his ever-present smile, work ethic and bright future.
All the best to the Clarke family during this difficult time. Rest in peace to a life lost way too soon.
2. The Celtics took an early lead before the Suns rallied to tie the game late in the first quarter. Boston scored the final five points of the period to re-establish the lead and never looked back. Phoenix never seriously threatened again. This was the kind of “take control” victory that the Celtics have had far too few of this season, especially against good teams.
3. There were two keys to the game: Don’t let Devin Booker get off and find some scoring with Jaylen Brown out.
As to the first, Boston did a good job of flummoxing Booker. The goal was to stay attached to him and force him to make plays body-to-body. The end results leaned heavily in the Celtics favor. Booker fouled out of the game, with four of his six fouls being charges. And defensive plays like this from Marcus Smart were commonplace throughout the game:
4. As for finding scoring: Kemba Walker stepped way up in that capacity. Walker scored 10 points in the opening period to establish a good rhythm. In the end, Walker finished with 32 points on 11-of-17 shooting. This play was a good example of how Walker is feeling bouncing and quick again. He sees the trap is coming from Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges. Walker has been embracing these traps and moving the ball this season. Not this time. He splits it and gets to the rim for the layup:
Once it’s your night, it’s your night:
Combine his offensive output with him taking three charges against Devin Booker, along with some really competitive defense all night, and you have Walker’s best game of the season.
5. Kemba Walker made some plays as a passer too. Remember how we said he’s been reading the traps? Here was a play earlier in the game where he dimed up Tristan Thompson:
Notice how tight the defenders were. It’s possible that caused them to get wider the next time, which opened things up for Walker to split the trap.
This play came at the end of the first half. Aaron Nesmith missed a jumper right before this and Marcus Smart got the offensive rebound. Walker goes right back to Nesmith and the rookie drains it. You can see at the end of the clip that Walker went right to Nesmith for the high-five. That’s good leadership and lifting his young teammate:
This one came off good ball movement. Jayson Tatum attacked the paint first. Then Walker made just enough of a drive to draw the defense to open up Payton Pritchard:
6. One more from Walker to Nesmith here. Once again, driving the ball opens up everything for the Celtics offense:
As for Nesmith, it was good to see him get some minutes. It’s not going to happen much after Jaylen Brown and Evan Fournier are back, and with Romeo Langford in the mix. That means Nesmith has to take advantage when he gets his chances. He also has to eliminate some of the defensive lapses he’s prone to. On the plus side, Nesmith is up to 33% shooting from three after a 3-of-16 start from deep. Baby steps.
7. Assuming the opportunity ever comes, and it may not, Jayson Tatum looks like he could use a night off. Some of it is Tatum coming back to earth after being on fire for a couple of weeks, but he also looks like his legs aren’t under him. The good news is that Tatum has figured out how to make plays when his jumper isn’t falling. He had a triple-double against Chicago and he tallied 11 rebounds and six assists against Phoenix. Even more encouraging? Tatum got to the free throw line eight times. That’s finding offense without the shot falling.
8. In his three games with Boston, Jabari Parker has scored 11, eight and six points. He’s done so on 12-of-18 shooting in 15 minutes per game. Essentially, he’s doing exactly what the Celtics need him to do: provide some scoring off the bench.
Parker is a smart offensive player. He knows if he plays off Boston’s playmakers, he’ll get points. He does a nice job here in transition of staying wide. Then, once Marcus Smart starts his drive, Parker cuts for the dunk:
On this play, Parker is used as a screener. That’s a fairly new role for him. But he does a nice job of slipping the screen, while sealing off the defender for the tough finish inside:
Parker hooked up with Smart again the second half. The Suns are in a zone here. Dario Saric passes off Parker to Mikal Bridges. Parker doesn’t flatten all the way out to the corner as Bridges thinks he’s going to. Saric steps up to pick up Smart as he drives the gap in the zone. Bridges lifts a bit too high to cut off what he thinks is a passing lane to the corner. Parker stays in the dunker spot and gets the easy finish:
9. Tristan Thompson has been a completely different player since coming back from being out with COVID. It’s starting to feel like Thompson’s hamstring injury was never quite right and the time off his feet while in the health and safety protocols got him past that injury. Whatever the case, he looks like the solid offseason addition many hoped he would be.
Thompson is undersized against Deandre Ayton. But he outworks and outhustles Ayton for this offensive rebound that gets Kemba Walker a short jumper:
These are the sorts of plays Thompson is making with regularity now. Add to that some solid defense, especially against physical bigs, and Boston is happy to have the veteran big man in the fold.
10. Going against one of the NBA’s best teams has been a bit of a mixed bag for the Celtics this season, especially against the best in each conference. They finally got a win against one of the two top two seeds. And they did so despite being without some key contributors.
Now, it’s off to Brooklyn for a game against another team with a top record. It’s unknown if Jaylen Brown will play, but Evan Fournier is going to remain out, as is Robert Williams. Kevin Durant is questionable to play for the Nets, while James Harden is out. Because of the injuries, it won’t be a real measuring stick game for either team. But for Boston, it’s not about moral victories or seeing how they stack up anymore. The Celtics need wins however they can get them, and they don’t really care who is playing on the other side.