1. Both Jayson Tatum and Evan Fournier played vs the Timberwolves on Saturday afternoon, despite several other key Celtics sitting out. Brad Stevens said that both players wanted to play, which was a point that both Tatum and Fournier backed up. They both said they wanted to find a rhythm and get some more on-court time together.
Neither played extended minutes, but both played well. Stevens said he put them back in briefly in the fourth quarter because the team wanted to get a win they could feel good about. Stevens admitted to “holding my breath” when they were out there, but everyone made it through the game fine.
Despite some caginess about whether either would play in Sunday’s regular season finale at the Knicks, it’s likely they won’t. Marcus Smart, Tristan Thompson, Kemba Walker and Robert Williams are already out. It’s likely Tatum and Fournier will join them. That leaves it to the kids to close out the regular season.
As the kids will take center stage on Sunday, we’re going to shine a light on their supporting work from Saturday too. No Tatum and Fournier highlights, but not because they didn’t have them, but it’s time to let the spotlight fall on the others for a change.
2. Payton Pritchard hit three more three-pointers on Saturday. He’s now the third Celtics rookie to drain at least 100 triples in a season, joining Jayson Tatum and the immortal J.R. Bremer.
One thing Pritchard has done as the season has gone along is to extend his range. This is a deep step-back here. Most of Pritchard deep ones have come off catch-and-shoots this season. Drilling this off the bounce is a sign there’s still a lot more to come from the young ballhandler:
3. Everyone should hope this is the toughest season of Romeo Langford’s NBA career. He missed considerable time while rehabbing from wrist surgery. Then Langford was out due to COVID. He’s back now, but has been buried in the wing rotation. With Jaylen Brown out, there may be a chance for Langford to make an impact. Plays like this finish in transition will help. Langford does a nice job with the hesitation dribble to freeze the defender to open up the drive for the reverse layup:
To this point in his young career, Langford has made more of an impact on defense than offense. That approach can earn him minutes. It’s also good to see him hustle back in the play. Luke Kornet makes the initial nice play to contest a layup, while Langford blocks Karl-Anthony Towns’ follow-up attempt:
4. Grant Williams has had a sophomore slump. While he’s had moments, and has become a fairly reliable shooter, Williams hasn’t built on the promise he showed as a rookie. In Game 71, he made some plays, as he finished with 11 points, six rebounds and two assists. One of those assists was this pretty play to Jabari Parker. Williams drives the closeout before delivering the kick-out pass to Parker for the three:
5. Aaron Nesmith has a quick release. He’s letting shots rip with confidence at this point. He’s come a long way since early in his rookie season and that bodes well for the future:
6. In the clip above, Tremont Waters made the extra pass to find Nesmith. Here, Waters hooks up with Nesmith again, as Boston’s rookie caught his Wolves counterpart ball-watching:
Waters did a nice job running the offense in this game. He had seven assists and seemed to play mostly within himself. This is a perfect read to Luke Kornet, as the big man slipped the screen:
Boston back-cut Minnesota’s terrible defense several times. Waters did a nice job of delivering on-time passes like this one:
Waters is probably finishing up his Celtics tenure. With Payton Pritchard in the fold, it’s unlikely Boston has room on the roster for another small ballhandler, and Waters won’t be back on third Two-Way contract. But Waters has shown enough that he should get another chance somewhere else. He needs to shoot it more consistently. If he can, Waters could be a solid backup point guard.
7. Semi Ojeleye might also be wrapping up his time in Boston. The Celtics only have a couple of roster spots available next season and Ojeleye is a free agent. He’s shown promise as a specific type of defender against big ballhandler, but his offense hasn’t progressed to warrant a consistent rotation role. Mostly, Ojeleye needs to shoot it more consistently to make it as a different type of 3&D player.
Ojeleye has shown more willingness to attack off the dribble, which should serve him well moving forward. This Eurostep into a floater is a pretty move:
8. Luke Kornet could also get caught up in the roster crunch. He’s shown enough to warrant a spot as the fourth big though. He can block some shots, step up and shoot with range and he’s stronger than he looks inside. If his contract comes cheap enough, Kornet could be back next year.
This was the best run of Kornet’s time with Boston so far. He had 12 points, six rebounds, four blocks, three assists and a steal. He hasn’t hit a lot of jumpers for the Celtics, but he’s been active on the offensive glass like this:
9. Jabari Parker remains an enigma for Boston. He’s barely played since joining the Celtics, but has flashed at times when he has. Parker has a long way to go defensively to even be passable, which is likely why he’s not playing. But his offensive game is why the Celtics signed him for two years. If they can get Parker to a point where he’s playable defensively, Boston might have an offensive weapon off the bench.
Parker scored nine points off a couple of jumpers and layups. Any minutes Parker plays the rest of this season will come with offensively0talented teammates, so scoring won’t be enough for Parker to see time. This play, where he put it on the floor with purpose and found Grant Williams for the layup, is a sign Parker can do a little playmaking too:
10. As Brad Stevens said postgame, this win was important for the Celtics to get feeling good again. They close the season on Sunday with a meaningless game for themselves. Boston is locked into the 7th spot in the East. They’ll host a Play-In Tournament game on Tuesday. The Celtics will play either the Charlotte Hornets or Washington Wizards. Those two teams play on Sunday to determine who will head to Boston as the 8th seed in the Play-In Tournament.
There’s still a ton of playoff positioning to be decided on the last day of the regular season. For the Celtics, it will be about getting out of New York healthy and rested. Then it’s a day of practice and right back at in the Play-In Tournament. Boston will have two cracks at earning a playoff spot. If they win Tuesday, they’ll be the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. If they lose, the Celtics will play the winner of the 9 vs 10 matchup, again in Boston. Win that one, and they’ll be the 8th seed. We’ll know Sunday evening what the Celtics path looks like in the postseason.