1. The Celtics play this game with the expected (maybe unexpected given this season?) effort level from start to finish. Things got a bit bumpy in the second quarter, but instead of folding, Boston rallied and got the game under control. In the second half, the Celtics came out and put the Rockets away fairly early on. This was the kind of effort Brad Stevens has been trying to pull from his team for the last week or so.
2. This was the sort of performance Boston needs from Marcus Smart. He was under control all game and really set the pace as a playmaker. It started on the first play of the game:
Good initial read by Jayson Tatum followed by Marcus Smart firing the bullet pass to Robert Williams for the dunk.
Later in the first quarter, Houston went to a zone defense after Boston started the game on fire. Smart slides right into the middle of the zone at the nail and finds Williams again, this time for an and-1:
This one is a nice setup. Tatum looks like he’s coming up to the ball off a Williams’ screen. Because he runs hard to the screen, he’s able to cut hard backdoor. Smart delivers the on-time pass:
Smart was in the zone as a passer. He knows where he’s going with this pass as he makes his cut. The result is Grant Williams draining an open corner three:
10 assists, 3-of-6 shooting and some pretty good defense is a combination Boston will take from Smart every night.
3. The “Posting up against Marcus Smart is not a mismatch” Club would like to welcome Christian Wood as its newest member!
4. 35 assists on 46 baskets for the Celtics is beautiful stuff. The ball was popping around and the player movement was excellent. Even when Boston did go into isolations, they did so quickly. On this play, you see the ball move well. Sure, Luke Kornet should probably just lay this ball in, but the mindset of movement is what matters here:
5. In the above clip, Evan Fournier made a nice pass to Kornet to open up the scoring opportunity. That sort of play was Fournier being involved, which he was all game. Earlier in the first quarter, this was the sort of confident pull the Celtics need from their new acquisition:
In the fourth, Fournier went off. He was 7-for-7, including 6-for-6 from behind the arc, for 20 points in the final period. Fournier said postgame “I’m going to enjoy a glass of wine and sleep very well” and he earned it.
6. Marcus Smart set the tone as a passer, but Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker did it as scorers. All were decisive with the ball. They attacked quickly or moved the ball. There was very little holding the ball, surveying the defense and taking a late-clock jumper. Walker didn’t do much scoring-wise in the second half, as Tatum and Brown got it going, but this was the sort of performance Boston needs from their three offensive leaders.
7. Part of what helped the Celtics look better on offense was that they got out and ran. This is heads up basketball off the turnover to end the first half:
Somewhere Tommy Heinsohn was screaming “That’s it baby! Run! Run! Run! Run ‘em off the floor!” after this play. Off a defensive rebound, the ball never touches the floor as Walker outlets to Smart who hits Tatum for the dunk:
8. Robert Williams should have the starting center spot on lock now. 20 points on 9-of-9 shooting, nine rebounds, eight assists, two blocks and a steal for the third-year big man. His vertical spacing has become a key component to the team. Plus, Williams to Williams is always fun!
What’s really fun? Williams finding his teammates. This is a nice save and a heads up play to find Fournier:
This was part of a two-minute stretch where Williams found Fournier four times for threes and hit a layup himself. That’s dominant basketball to put a game away.
9. Marcus Smart set the tone early and he put the game away late. This probably isn’t how he expected to get his first dunk of the season, but he’ll take it:
10. Boston welcomes in “Celtics South” on Sunday in a game that is much bigger for the standings than anyone ever would have thought it would be. The Hornets have former Celtics in Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier and Brad Wanamaker. Hayward suffered a sprained right foot in Friday’s game, so his availability for Sunday is unknown. There’s some tragic irony there.
What is known is that Boston plays Charlotte three times over their final 23 games. The Hornets are currently in fourth place, so getting a win here would be huge for the Celtics. It’s been a disappointing season to be sure, but there’s still time for Boston to salvage things and get a decent seed before the playoffs start.