1. The Celtics got off to a slow start. The offense took a while to find their range, with several missed three-pointers early. The defense got off to a similarly slow start. The Hornets were playing inside-outside basketball, much of it drawn by finding Kemba Walker matched against big men.
Because Boston switches everything, Walker often finds himself matched up against bigger players. Usually, the Celtics are pretty good about getting Walker scrambled out of these matchups with a second switch. Early on against Charlotte, Boston was just living with Walker on bigs. By the end of the first quarter that changed as the Celtics went back to scramming Walker out of those mismatches. The Hornets struggled to find easy scoring opportunities from that point forward.
2. What got the Celtics offense going was a return to good basketball. The ball and players were moving in the kind of side-to-side actions that make them tough to guard. With Evan Fournier in the fold, Boston now has multiple players who can drive and kick to find open shooters. Here’s Fournier setting up Jaylen Brown in the first quarter. Note the pass from Robert Williams to start the action too:
It’s not clear if Kemba Walker knew Brown was open on this play or not, but this aggressive drive opened up another three-point attempt:
In the third quarter, it was more of the same, but with Marcus Smart finding Walker:
One other thing to note: The last two actions happened early in the clock. Boston has gotten back to pushing the ball up the floor the last two games. That makes it easier for them to attack against a defense before it’s set.
3. Romeo Langford made his long-awaited return to the lineup. Brad Stevens said Langford will be used in short stints for a while, as he gets his conditioning up. Stevens got a little creative with that, as he brought Langford in late in the first and third quarters and bridged his stints into the second and fourth quarters respectively. That almost made it like Langford was playing four two-to-three-minute stretches with the quarter break in-between.
This is really good defense against a quick guard from Langford. He stays with Devonte Graham off several dribble moves and then contests the shot:
Langford’s first basket of the season was a confident pull-up. This is the sort of shot he has to be able to make off the dribble to maximize his potential. It was good to see Langford let it fly without any hesitation:
As a rookie, Langford showed an aptitude for help-side shot-blocking. He’s a good athlete, strong and he’s got good timing. Miles Bridges isn’t easy to send one back on at the rim, but Langford is up to the challenge here:
4. Langford wasn’t the only Celtic to play good defense. All around, this was one of Boston’s better efforts of the season. They held the Hornets to just 40% shooting from the field and only allowed Charlotte to get off 31 three-point attempts. It’s fair to note the Hornets were missing some key contributors, but that should also come with the understanding that the Celtics have lost to worse teams in worse situations this season.
5. Kemba Walker has transitioned into a bit more of a playmaking role for Boston over the last week or so. He’s had six or more assists in three straight games. Many are coming on heads-up plays like this one. Marcus Smart comes up with the strip and Walker finds Jayson Tatum for the runout dunk:
6. The Celtics had 29 assists and just missed topping the 30-mark for the second straight game. Had the fourth quarter not been 12 minutes of garbage time, they would have gotten there. Part of what helps is when Jayson Tatum is a willing playmaker. Tatum wants to take the floater here to beat the buzzer, but instead finds Marcus Smart in the corner for three:
This is the kind of in-sync basketball with movement that Brad Stevens wants. Tatum is in some trouble here late-clock, but Kemba Walker doesn’t just stand and watch. He makes an on-time cut for the layup:
7. In an effort to be balanced, here’s a small, but important thing the Celtics do all too often. Boston regularly ball-watches on defense. They assume someone else will make the play. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and to a lesser extent Robert Williams, all watched this rebound assuming someone else would grab it. The result was an open three for Devonte Graham:
8. It’s a mystery how Boston’s big man rotation will play out when Tristan Thompson is back. Robert Williams has to be in there for 25-30 minutes per night. Thompson still has value with his rebounding and defense. Will Luke Kornet keep his newly found place in the rotation? Plays like this will only help The Green Kornet stay on the floor:
9. Speaking of Robert Williams…these two plays more or less put the game away. First is Williams doing what he may do best by blocking a shot no other Celtic could even hope to get to:
A few plays later, Williams showed off a new shot. We’ve seen him hit a few stationary jumpers. This turnaround in the paint was a new one. With his size and elevation, this could become a really important shot in Williams’ inventory:
10. No one from Boston played more than 28 minutes in this game. That’s big as this one kicked off a three-games-in-four-nights stretch for the Celtics. On Tuesday, the Celtics will play the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston has no realistic chance of catching Philly in the standings, but this could be an important confidence-building game. The first two matchups were close, despite the Celtics being without Jayson Tatum.
On Wednesday, in the second half of the home back-to-back, Boston plays the New York Knicks. That one is huge in the standings, as the Knicks and Celtics are part of that group of jammed-together teams from 4-9 in the Eastern Conference. Boston still has a chance at winning the tiebreaker over New York too, so that makes these next two games really important.