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2021 ends on a high note: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Suns

Boston handled Phoenix with relative ease to finish a frustrating calendar year with a much-needed victory

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

1. Happy New Year everyone! The Boston Celtics ended a frustrating and confusing 2021 on a high note. The Phoenix Suns came into Boston tied for the NBA’s best record and the Celtics handled them with relative ease. Boston took the lead with 4:28 to play in the first quarter and never looked back. The Celtics built a lead as large as 30 points and were never really threatened. Boston even held off a few separate Phoenix runs to keep a double-digit lead, which was a fun change of course to end the year.

This is a jumbo-sized, clip-packed New Year's Day edition of the Takeaways, because let’s get 2022 started off in the right way!

2. Robert Williams had an absolutely monster game. He recorded the first triple-double of his career with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists (a career-high). Williams also had two steals and five blocks.

It was the passing that really caught the eye. And it started right away:

The Celtics bigs finding cutters would become the theme of the game. Williams did it again here, as he found Romeo Langford for the easy layup after Chris Paul tried a sneaky baseline double:

This was a perfectly timed cut by Josh Richardson. Williams did a nice job of holding his dribble, while Richardson set up his man:

The Celtics got a lot of mileage out of “fake screen into basket cut” plays. Those only work if your big can hit the cutter on-time, as Williams did here with Smart:

Williams’ 10th assist may have been his least impressive. But the play to get your first triple-double gets into the takeaways! Also, good to see Williams dribble more than once too:

3. Williams was also a monster defensively. He did a good job of challenging shots, while also being solid on the boards. As far as blocks go, it’s pretty rare to see Devin Booker have a running jumper sent back like this:

Cameron Payne thought he had a floater here, but the ball ended up in the seats:

4. Because Boston ran a lot of the offense through the bigs, Marcus Smart transitioned into a scoring role. Instead of handling the ball a lot, Smart got most of his scoring off cuts, or quick, decisive drives. With the Celtics big men piling up assists, Smart’s total was low, but he did get this one from a post-up:

This is an example of Smart making a quick attack. He knows Phoenix doesn’t have a shot-blocker in the game, so it’s off to the rim right away:

This one is Smart feeling confident. He’s got Jalen Smith and Smart knows he can get to the rim on the big man. He backs it way out and then blows by Smith for the layup:

5. Jaylen Brown helped carry some of the scoring load, as he tied Smart with a game-high 24 points. After a game where he had zero assists against 36 shots, Brown picked up three helpers against the Suns. Again: that number would have been higher, but Boston ran most of the offense through their big men. Still, this was a pretty pocket pass by Brown:

A big part of the Suns defensive success is driven by ball denial on the perimeter. Brown uses Devin Booker’s aggression against him here, by setting him up for the backdoor cut:

Brown’s handle has been a little loose this season. But he had no problems here as he used the spin-dribble, then turned on the jets for the layup:

6. Ime Udoka played only eight players in this game. In part that was due to absences, but it was also because Udoka ran with the guys he knew he could trust. All eight Celtics who played contributed in a major way. Seven players scored between 10 and 24 points, and Al Horford added seven rebounds and seven assists.

Obviously, Jayson Tatum will rejoin the rotation when he’s out of the protocols. The question is if Dennis Schroder will instantly get his spot back. Payton Pritchard has played well enough that he has to get minutes. His range provides spacing that Boston sorely needs, but the Schroder/Pritchard backcourt pairing is weak defensively.

How Udoka manages the rotation will go a long way towards determining how successful the Celtics are the rest of the season.

Also: he’s shown up in a few other takeaways here, but Josh Richardson was excellent off Boston’s bench once again. He’s been a very steady, reliable contributor all season.

7. We mentioned Payton Pritchard’s range above. Here’s a good example of that:

Pritchard is the only Celtics player who needs to be guarded from 25-30 feet. He regularly makes those shots. That helps open up the floor for cutters and drivers. That’s a necessity for Boston, since they can struggle to create easy scoring opportunities.

8. Romeo Langford bounced back from one of his worst games with one of his best. More of this please!

More of this too. Langford can’t lose confidence in his jumper and has to take open ones like this:

When Josh Richardson dimes you up, you pay him back:

And when you’re feeling good, like Langford was, why not beat the buzzer?

9. It’s been quite the roller coaster ride for Grant Williams. He went from promising rookie to disappointing sophomore to getting back to being a productive player this season. Williams said he bulked up too much to try and play bigger and it caused him issues. Williams came into his third season slimmed down and he’s taken off. Enough so, that he started at small forward in this game. Ime Udoka said he wanted more size when switching the Suns pick-and-roll plays, and Williams repaid that faith.

Even Skinny Grant is too big and too strong for most wings to handle on basket cuts:

And losing weight has helped Williams become an impactful defender once again. Here, Williams teams with fellow Tennessee Volunteer Josh Richardson to make a Kentucky Wildcat sandwich out of this Devin Booker shot attempt:

It’s time to move beyond Grant Williams being a pleasant surprise to simply recognize this fact: Grant is good.

10. We preached patience throughout what was an incredibly tough December schedule. Even so, the Celtics used every last bit of our patience reserves. 17-19 and ninth-place in the Eastern Conference isn’t anything to brag about. In fact, it’s pretty disappointing.

The good news? The schedule really lightens up over the final 46 games. Over half of the remaining games are at home. And, as the calendar flips to 2022, Boston has the easiest schedule remaining of all 30 NBA teams.

Now, it’s up to the Celtics take advantage of those things. Here’s to hoping they do and that 2022 offers far more Boston Celtics enjoyment than 2021 ever did.