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Jayson Tatum propels Boston back to the playoffs: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Wizards

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Tatum scored 50 points to clinch the Celtics seventh consecutive playoff berth.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

1. The Boston Celtics are back in the playoffs again. This is the seventh consecutive year the Celtics have been in the postseason. As Brad Stevens said he told the team postgame, “Everybody’s path is different and ever year present unique challenges.”

The 2020-21 season hasn’t gone how anyone envisioned, but the end goal was always to get back to the postseason. The Celtics are now there. It was also notable that Stevens, Kemba Walker, Tristan Thompson and Jayson Tatum all mentioned some version of “We stuck together as a team through the hard times”.

In no way was that bond driven home more by watching Jaylen Brown on the sideline. Brown, who is out for the season following left wrist surgery, was hyping up his teammates. When players came out of the game, he was coaching them up and sharing things he saw. And when things tightened up, Brown’s nervous energy was readily apparent. You could tell Brown was dying to be out there, but he’s doing all he can to help his team from the bench.

2. Without Jaylen Brown, Boston needs that much more from Jayson Tatum to win. In the Play-In, Tatum delivered with 50 points. What was good to see was Tatum getting those points in a variety of ways. The jumper is almost always solid, but Tatum got inside over and over. This showed up in him going 17-of-17 at the free throw line.

The Tatum/Bradley Beal matchup was a fun one to monitor, considering their lifelong friendship. Tatum got his scoring started by drilling a jumper in his buddy’s face:

This is a strong take to the rim by Tatum. Tatum does a nice job of putting Robin Lopez under the goal, so that the big man can’t impact his shot:

Tatum opened the second half with another drive for an and-1. This one was nice because he could have taken the corner three, but didn’t settle and got three the old-fashioned way:

Washington’s best defender for Tatum was Rui Hachimura and he spent the entire game in foul trouble. That meant putting smaller players on the Celtics star. It’s not a bad strategy, because disrupting Tatum’s dribble is one way to get him off his rhythm. But if he gets to his spot, a small defender has no chance against this:

A couple of clips above, Tatum passed up an open corner three. This time, he doesn’t and buries it. And look at the scream after the shot drops through the net. He’s not an emotionless robot after all!

3. Tatum can’t do it all by himself and Kemba Walker showed up with plenty of help. The Celtics plan to keep Walker healthy and ready for the postseason seems to have worked. He was bouncy an energetic all game, starting with taking an early charge:

When Walker is feeling good, he gets downhill and attacks the basket like this:

Once Walker is in a good rhythm, he doesn’t have to make all his plays off the dribble. He can come off screens and knock down shots too:

Whatever comes in the playoffs will come, but if it’s anything good for Boston, Kemba Walker will be a huge part of it.

4. Keys to this game according to Brad Stevens were:

-Playing with good pace and limiting Washington in transition

-Playing good defense without fouling

-Controlling the glass

Washington ultimately outscored Boston 14-11 in fastbreak points, but the Celtics transition defense was very good. The Wizards were tops in the NBA in pace and transition points, and the C’s held them well under their average.

Washington also led the NBA in free throws during the regular season. They got just 20 free attempts in this game, as Boston played sound, fundamental defense without fouling.

The last key was to control the glass. Washington did a good job getting to the offensive boards, but so did Boston. The Celtics racked up 14 offensive rebounds for 21 second-chance points. That slowed down the Wizards running off misses by a good margin.

5. Evan Fournier’s shot was off, but he made plays in other ways for Boston. He did a solid job defensively and made some plays as a passer.

Fournier always worked well with Nikola Vucevic in Orlando. For the Celtics, he seems to have developed some good chemistry with the bigs too. This is a great late-cut by Robert Williams and a really nice find by Fournier:

On this play, Fournier does a nice job of attacking the closeout and then finding Tristan Thompson for the easy dunk. This isn’t as easy of a pass as it looks in traffic:

Without Jaylen Brown, Boston needs Fournier to step up as a playmaker and scorer and he seems up to the task.

6. We’ve all made jokes (or shouted at the TV in anger) about Tristan Thompson’s lack of passing from the paint. But credit where credit is due, this is a terrific pass to find Evan Fournier in the corner off the roll:

7. The Celtics ball movement was fairly good. This play was the best of that bunch. It starts with Kemba Walker attacking the paint and kicking it out to Marcus Smart. Smart could have taken this shot, but he showed faith in rookie wing Aaron Nesmith. Nesmith rewarded that faith by burying the triple:

8. If Boston is going to make any noise in the playoffs, they need their young players to step up. The Nets have a lot of wings that can do damage. Aaron Nesmith and Romeo Langford are going to have to give the Celtics quality minutes for Boston to even have a chance.

If Nesmith can make open shots like above and compete like this defensively, it’s huge for the Celtics:

9. As for Romeo Langford, he just needs to do what he’s best at. Defend with force and attack the rim. Langford doesn’t settle for the jumper here, but puts pressure on the defense with the driving score:

10. Now, it’s the Nets. It kind of felt like things were heading this direction, even as far back as Christmas. We’ll have a ton of series preview coverage for you here at CelticsBlog in the coming days. Game 1 is Saturday, May 22 at 8:00 PM ET on ABC.

Is it likely Boston will beat Brooklyn? Nope. But as a now Hall of Famer once said: