1. Too many times this season the Boston Celtics have played an overmatched or undermanned opponent and played down to their competition and squeaked out a win or straight up lost. This time Boston got both an overmatched and undermanned Orlando Magic team and handled their business from the jump.
The Celtics led wire-to-wire in a 36-point victory. In basically every category, Boston dominated. They turned Orlando over early to race out to a big lead. The Magic made a run in the second, but the starters came back in and got things under control by halftime. Orlando never threatened in the second half.
It was the kind of victory that has been in short supply for Boston, but was very much needed. Jayson Tatum played just shy of 31 minutes and not at all in the fourth quarter. Every other Celtic was under 30 minutes. That’s stealing some in-game rest at a crucial point in the schedule. To put it simply: Boston finally took care of business against a bad team.
2. Kemba Walker made his return to the lineup and looked great. Brad Stevens said Walker being out gave him a chance to get his legs fresh, and that the team’s management approach with the veteran guard this season has worked.
Walker got started early. This is a nice play design off a DHO into a screen for a three:
This one is a traditional Walker shot. He comes right off the screen with the off-the-dribble pullup triple:
Last one is this gorgeous drive-and-kick to Payton Pritchard. It’s good floor balance from the Celtics and Walker knows exactly where Pritchard is as he starts his drive:
3. It was a happy homecoming to Orlando for Evan Fournier. Boston’s trade deadline acquisition has been open about his struggles with COVID since becoming a Celtic, but he seems to be finding his footing. Fournier had another solid game with 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting.
Fournier knows he has time here, because Cole Anthony was wiped out by his own teammate. Off a nice tip-out from Robert Williams, Fournier lines up and buries a three:
Postgame, Kemba Walker talked about how he likes playing with Fournier because Fournier “knows how to play. He plays the right way.” That shows up here on this baseline drive and find to Marcus Smart in the corner:
Several Celtics have talked recently about how important Fournier is to this team being the best version of themselves that they can be. Fournier himself said he’s hungry to prove himself to Boston fans. A few more games like this and he’ll be just fine.
4. Fournier drew the start even with Walker back, because Jaylen Brown was out. The good news is that Brown is day-to-day with a sprained right ankle. Danny Ainge said on Thursday morning that it’s likely Brown sits out the Chicago game on Friday and then Boston gets him back for the big two-game set with Miami next week.
On the not-great injury front, Tristan Thompson was unexpectedly out for this game due to a left pectoral injury. It was a late downgrade for Thompson, so hopefully it was more of a “sit and get it right” deal than a serious concern.
Romeo Langford was also a late downgrade. He’s out yet again, this time due to being in the concussion protocol. Langford banged heads with a teammate at Tuesday’s practice and didn’t feel well on Wednesday.
Thus continues Boston’s trend of getting a player or two back, while a player or two goes out. Thankfully, none of these injuries seem to be long-term concerns.
5. Jayson Tatum had a slow start to this game, as he was content to let Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier cook Orlando early. Late in the second quarter, Tatum started to get going. This swooping layup shows off just how athletic Tatum is:
In the third quarter, Tatum had enough and wanted to put the Magic away. First, he used a combination of strength and skill to get by the defender for the finish at the rim:
A little later, Tatum buried what has become his signature shot: the sidestep step-back three:
6. Marcus Smart wasn’t shooting it well, but he stayed within himself and didn’t take many shots. Instead, Smart controlled the pace of the game and focused on being a playmaker.
As per usual, Smart is first to the loose-ball here. Then he dimes up Robert Williams for the easy dunk:
Later in the third, Smart made this gorgeous skip-pass to Kemba Walker after Walker relocated following his drive to the paint:
This was the sort of understated, but solid performance Boston needs from Smart nightly. Let the others do the scoring by being a playmaker, shoot open jumpers and defend. That’s when Smart is at his best.
7. The Celtics bench is really rounding into form now. Fournier looks good as a spot starter or off the bench. Whoever doesn’t start out of Robert Williams and Tristan Thompson is going to be solid. And rookies Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith have found their groove.
In this game it went beyond just the main reserves though. Luke Kornet did a nice job as the backup big man. Semi Ojeleye had a solid game, as did Grant Williams. And when given their chances, the deeper reserves all made plays as well.
All 14 Celtics who played scored at least one basket. And all were at least +3 in plus/minus. That’s not common, as things usually get a little messy late in a blowout. This was a solid all-around team effort.
8. In a clip above, Payton Pritchard buried a three-pointer as part of a 4-of-6 night from downtown. The rookie guard is now up to 42.4% from behind the arc on the season. That’s elite-level shooting.
Pritchard’s fellow rookie Aaron Nesmith delivered some solid minutes again himself. Beyond hustle plays, Nesmith’s shooting has really come around. He went 1-for-2 on threes and is up to 38.5% from deep on the season. What’s really exciting beyond the jumper, is Nesmith making plays like this off the dribble:
9. On Cinco de Mayo, it was only appropriate that we got some quality Tacko Time! Tacko Fall got into the game with for the final five minutes and delivered a few highlights. TackOlajuwon anyone?
Bonus: Look at how excited Boston’s bench is for the big man. Take special note of Celtics assistant Evan Turner in the top right corner. He’s bouncing up and down before Fall even makes his move!
In addition to the fun basket, Fall showed up with what will be the signature skill to keep him in the NBA: his shot-blocking. He blocked four shots in about one minute of game time. The best of the bunch was rejecting this dunk attempt from R.J. Hampton:
10. The win pushed Boston back up to sixth-place in the Eastern Conference. Now, it’s off to Chicago to face the sliding Bulls. This is another game the Celtics should win, but they recently lost to Chicago. So, no counting those eggs just yet.
Following that game, the team returns home to Boston for their final two home games of the regular season, both against the Miami Heat. Those are huge games for determining seeding in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics have clinched at least a spot in the Play-In Tournament, but if they can handle their business they can assure themselves of a traditional playoff spot.