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Boston’s stars are bolstered by a rookie: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Hornets

Aaron Nesmith came off the bench with a career night to help Boston get a victory

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

1. After the Oklahoma City loss, Jaylen Brown urged his teammates to play with urgency and to find that fire within themselves. While Brown can ask that of his teammates, all he can really do is lead by example. And lead by example he did against the Hornets.

Brown outscored Charlotte 20-19 by himself in the first quarter. More than just hitting shots, Brown was all over the floor. He had five rebounds and two assists in the period and played good defense too. This game was an example of Brown using his skills and athleticism to overwhelm an inferior opponent.

2. What’s become remarkable about Brown’s play now is that big scoring nights aren’t always filled with highlight plays. He’s become so fundamentally solid that he can somewhat quietly score 30 points. Here’s two examples of Brown’s heads-up play that stood out.

First, Brown grabs this rebound and has his head up the whole way. He directs Tremont Waters to flare out to the wing, that allows Jayson Tatum to keep the smaller defender pinned inside. The help defender is also a small guard too. Brown drops the pass in on time for the easy layup:

At times on national TV games, you’ve heard Mark Jackson say “hand down, man down”. This is a perfect example of that. Brown’s too good a shooter to get caught with your hands down. He rises and fires as soon as PJ Washington drops his left arm:

3. Jayson Tatum also had a big scoring night, as he nearly matched Brown’s 38 points with 35 points of his own. Tatum also added eight rebounds and eight assists. This pass is one Tatum is starting to make with regularity now on the drive-and-kick:

Tatum said postgame that “As my role grows, it’s important to keep others involved” and he’s come a long way with that part of his game.

4. Kemba Walker missed his second straight game with a left side strain. It’s unknown how long Walker will be out with this injury. To make matters worse, Boston found out about two hours before tip that Marcus Smart was being suspended for the game. Smart was suspended due to “directing threatening language towards a game official” during and after the loss to the Thunder on Tuesday.

That meant some others were going to have to step up. Tremont Waters got the start and contributed some nice plays early on. Payton Pritchard did his thing off the bench. Robert Williams returned and was good off the bench. But no one was better than Aaron Nesmith. The next two Takeaways are devoted solely to Nesmith’s big night.

5. Let’s start with the rookie wing’s defense. In order to play for the Celtics, Nesmith has to hold up in the team’s “switch everything” scheme. That means taking on bigger and smaller players. Here, Nesmith denies Miles Bridges the post catch:

In the fourth quarter, Nesmith got Bridges again, this time blocking the athletic forward in the paint:

On the very next trip, Nesmith blocked old friend Brad Wanamaker’s layup attempt:

Lastly, with Boston trying to close out Charlotte late in the fourth, Nesmith shows off his free safety skills for the interception on NFL Draft eve:

6. On offense, Nesmith had himself a nice game too. He scored a career-high 15 points and did it in a variety of ways.

This why Nesmith was drafted. He does a great job of relocating along the baseline and losing the big man on the switch. This is also a terrific pass from Tremont Waters:

On this play, Nesmith does a great job of attacking right off the catch. He gets to the rim, and slides by the defender for the floating bank-shot:

Nesmith’s main contributions before last night were wild forays to the offensive glass. It’s become so much of a thing that his teammates worry about him hurting himself or someone else. This was a nice controlled putback, as Nesmith snuck in behind the defense:

If you’re going to play in crunch-time, you need to make shots. Boston is clinging to a three-point lead here and the rookie confidently buries the shot to double that margin:

Finally, this combination of defense and offense more or less put the game away for Boston. The play starts with Nesmith making a great contest on Devonte’ Graham. Then he’s off the other way for the runout dunk:

It was a big night for the rookie on both ends of the floor and it came when the Celtics really needed someone to step up.

7. Tristan Thompson was basically invisible in the Oklahoma City loss. Against Charlotte, he was back in a big way. Thompson was good defensively and he was all over the boards. Thompson pulled down 13 total rebounds, including seven of them on the offensive glass. This was the best of the bunch, as Thompson outworked three Hornets for this rebound and dunk:

8. Pairing with Thompson up front was Robert Williams, who made a triumphant return. It was a relatively quiet night scoring-wise for Williams, but he showed up defensively and in the rebounding game. Williams grabbed nine total rebounds, with four of them offensive boards. Defensively, he spiked two shots like they were volleyballs or a football after a touchdown. This one might have flattened the ball:

Later in the half, Williams’ hustle saved a basket here with another great block:

Rob Gronkowski would be proud of these spikes!

9. Slowly, but surely, you can see the Celtics playoff rotation taking shape. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker will all start. They’ll be joined by either Tristan Thompson or Robert Williams, while the other will play significant minutes off the bench. Payton Pritchard and Evan Fournier will be the primary backup ballhandler and wing, respectively.

After those eight players, Brad Stevens can mix and match. Aaron Nesmith may be playing himself into a consistent role. Romeo Langford could get in there on a night when the Celtics need some on-ball defense on the wing. If Boston needs a big man defender, it could be Grant Williams. If they need to defend a bigger, strong ballhandler, that’s when Semi Ojeleye can be used. And if some offensive punch is needed, that’s Jabari Parker. Luke Kornet can also factor in if they need a little inside-outside big man play.

Stevens has his main guys set, provided everyone is available. After that, there are several options to get to a ninth and even tenth player. That looks better than it has most of the season. Again, this is all assuming good health, which is always a question mark.

10. The Celtics gained a game on the Atlanta Hawks in the standings. That’s big because Boston has to not only catch, but pass Atlanta, because the Hawks own the tiebreaker.

Despite the disappointing losses to begin the week, the Celtics are about in the same place in the standings, as New York, Atlanta and Miami have all had some struggles recently too. Boston still has a pretty favorable closing schedule. As it has been for a while now, it’s not about who the Celtics play, but how the Celtics play.

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