1. For weeks, or even months, Brad Stevens has been asking his team to do a few things: Stick together, move the ball and show some resolve. Stevens has been as critical as he gets when he’s said multiple times: “We get hit and then we don’t hit back. We tend to fall apart.”
The Knicks made a run early in the fourth quarter to take a seven-point lead. Celtics fans know this danger zone all too well this season. This time around, in a physical game, Boston dug down and rallied back. Over the next several minutes, Boston outscored New York 18-7 to take control of the game.
Postgame, Stevens and several players alluded to the physicality of the game. For a change, the Celtics got punched in the mouth, wiped away the blood and went back at it. Stevens went so far as to say “That was a physical, grind-it-out, Celtics win” and that sums it up perfectly.
2. No player showed more resolve than Jaylen Brown. It wasn’t the most efficient game Brown has ever played, but he hit a shot whenever Boston needed one. Brown started his night with this ridiculously athletic finish through contact:
Brown made a few plays as a passer too. This is a good decision and pass to Robert Williams out of pick-and-roll:
One night after Brown had a lot of struggles defensively, he stepped up and made plays for Boston. This block late in the fourth quarter more or less sealed the victory for the Celtics:
Overall, Brown finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and the block above. Brown said postgame that he and Jayson Tatum talked after the Philadelphia loss and that he said “Let’s just come out and play basketball and be aggressive and be the best version of ourselves”. Brown also commented on the need for himself and Tatum to block out the “outside noise”. For one night at least, they did that.
3. A silly narrative has started to develop that Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum can’t play together. The story goes that the two young stars don’t want to share the spotlight. Some will even go to lengths to tell you that they won’t pass to each other either, especially Tatum to Brown.
That’s nonsense of course. Both Brown and Tatum are score-first players. That’s how they are wired, but they are developing their playmaking-for-others games. And for all the noise about not passing to each other, I think this says otherwise:
And this should help disprove that silliness as well. A left-handed, off-the-dribble, cross-court pass isn’t an easy read either:
And it felt like Tatum driving and hammering this one home was him getting out some frustrations that have building:
4. With Kemba Walker sitting out on the second night of the back-to-back and Evan Fournier in the health and safety protocols, there was some question as to who would start for Boston. Brad Stevens pulled a rabbit out of his hat and went with Romeo Langford in just his third game of the season. Langford responded well with some great effort plays, including four offensive rebounds. On this play, Langford had saved the possession with an offensive board. Then, he drills the step-back triple:
Early in the fourth quarter, Langford catches and shoots this one with confidence. It’s clear his form is better, as his elbow isn’t flying out, his release is good without a hitch and he’s holding his follow-through:
It’s hard to fully buy in that Langford can make an impact for the remainder of the season. He needs stay healthy for that to happen, and his track record there isn’t exactly sterling. But if Langford has turned the corner health-wise, Boston has a solid two-way wing in their rotation at exactly the right time.
5. Boston was all over the offensive boards against a New York team that had done a solid job on the glass. The Celtics grabbed 16 offensive rebounds. That was good for an absurd 32% of their own misses. On a night where the offense had some fits and starts, Boston got themselves extra chances with hustle and determination.
6. One of the biggest parts of being on the offensive glass was the return of Tristan Thompson. He grabbed three offensive rebounds himself and kept several others alive for his teammates.
The boards weren’t the only place Thompson showed up. He helped give the Celtics a defensive presence in the middle as well. Robert Williams had a bit of an off night, but Thompson was there to give Boston what they needed inside. He got started early in his appearance with a block:
Then, this block late in the fourth came as Boston was getting back in the game. It was also great because it led directly to Jaylen Brown getting a runout for a layup:
Thompson isn’t a star, but he’s going to help the Celtics quite a bit the rest of the way. Robert Williams needs to play, and should get that opportunity, but Thompson is a good backup and nice insurance on those nights when Williams doesn’t have it.
7. Despite being down two rotation players, Brad Stevens stuck with a nine-man rotation. Romeo Langford got the surprise start and then Stevens went with Grant Williams, Tristan Thompson, Payton Pritchard and Semi Ojeleye off the bench. All four reserves contributed, while the starters carried the bulk of the load. Look for that to continue, even when everyone is available. Assuming that ever actually happens that is.
8. Marcus Smart made the big plays late in the game. Brad Stevens said postgame that he trusts Smart to make the right plays late and loves him as a competitor. What is also nice is Smart functioning as the team’s primary playmaker. He’s the best passer the Celtics have, as his nine assists would indicate.
9. Boston is so much better when they push the ball up the floor. Notice that Tatum starts his basket attack with 19 seconds left on the shot clock. That allows him to kick to Brown, who swings it to Smart. Smart has more than enough time to fake the shot and then patiently step into an open look:
Ball movement is key, but the Celtics can make things a lot easier on themselves by pushing the ball and creating offense earlier in the clock.
10. The Celtics close out their seven-game homestand with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday. It’s been a disappointing run so far, as Boston has gone 3-3 over the last two weeks. With a win against the Wolves, the Celtics will at least win the homestand and head out west with an above .500 record.
Boston has tough matchups at Denver and Portland, but will catch the Lakers without LeBron James and likely Anthony Davis. After that, nine of the final 16 games are at home. And the closing schedule is filled with winnable games, including several against teams Boston is battling for seeding in the East.
The Celtics missed a chance to really right the ship and push up the standings by losing a couple of winnable games early in the homestand. But, because the Eastern Conference is a morass from 4-10, Boston is still right there for homecourt advantage in the playoffs. They just can’t afford to lose any more games they should win. And stealing a one or two that they shouldn’t win, like at Denver or Portland, would go a long way towards firming up a solid playoff seed.