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Making plays late to win: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Pacers

Ime Udoka tweaked the closing group and Boston got a needed home win

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

1. Jaylen Brown was the main offensive engine that drove the Boston Celtics to an overtime win over the Indiana Pacers. Brown finished with 26 points, 15 rebounds and six assists. Most impressive? Zero turnovers for Brown.

This is great patience from Brown to open the overtime scoring. He uses his speed to get into the paint, but then his craft to get the defense off-balance before dropping in the shot:

On the next trip, this was a good stop-and-pop floater. Brown uses his size, skill and athleticism perfectly to get this bucket:

On a night where many Celtics couldn’t get their shots to fall, Brown kept Boston’s offense competitive.

2. Robert Williams got love from his teammates and coaches for an All-Defense nod. When a guy blocks the same shot twice, once with each hand, it’s hard to argue with those sentiments:

Williams also cleaned up a lot of messes around the basket. He finished with six offensive boards on the game, including this really loud putback:

Then, in overtime, Williams did this. Look where he starts the play. Williams is guarding the weakside corner. He knows Oshae Brissett isn’t passing the ball when he drives and Williams comes across the lane for the huge block:

3. Enes Freedom was a big part of keeping the Boston offense going in the first half. Like Robert Williams, he did some of it by cleaning up for his teammates:

This is good pick-and-roll play. Because Domantas Sabonis has switched out onto Jayson Tatum, Freedom has a small in the paint. Tatum makes a good read and Freedom does a nice job of keeping the ball high for the easy layup:

Indiana went with one big for a lot of the second half, so Freedom’s impact was limited to the first half. But with the Celtics offense scuffling, Freedom gave them a lift when they badly needed it.

4. This one is short and simple: 20 turnovers are a ridiculous number of giveaways. The only reason Boston won is because Indiana is bad, and they also coughed it up 20 times.

The main issue for the Celtics with turnovers? They are very careless ones and often completely unforced. Against a good team, it’s nearly impossible to win when you throw the ball away 20 times.

5. It was a poor shooting night from Jayson Tatum, but he didn’t keep launching from deep. Tatum was 10-for-11 from the free throw line and made several plays at the rim. This is something we want more of. Tatum takes the smaller defender into the post. Grant Williams delivers a nice pass from a difficult post-entry angle. And then Tatum powers through contact for the and-1:

Of course, the jumper was there was Tatum needed it most:

In overtime, this is a good example of Tatum using his size and skill together. He gets into the paint for the easy jumper over the smaller defender:

It wasn’t exactly a banner day for Tatum, but he made plays when Boston needed them. That’s the important thing to take away from this one.

6. Part of the reason Boston was even close with Indiana was poor offense. The Celtics shot it poorly and they threw the ball away a lot. But the defense had plenty of breakdowns too. This is really poor transition defense from Dennis Schroder. Torrey Craig is not a good offensive player, but he runs it right down the middle of the floor completely uncontested. Grant Williams initially fans out to the wing to take that pass away. Once it’s clear Craig isn’t kicking to the wing, all Schroder has to do is stop the ball. Instead, he stands in no-man’s land and allows the easy layup:

7. Speaking of bad…this is awful on both ends. This isn’t a good shot by Jaylen Brown, factoring in time and score. It’s a contested, pullup three with half the shot-clock left. To compound matters only Jayson Tatum makes even a half-hearted attempt to get back on defense, and he gives up an and-1 dunk:

Is it a little nitpicky, given Boston came back to win? Maybe. But plays like the two above are issues for the Celtics and they continually crop up at the worst possible times.

8. Grant Williams is easily Boston’s most improved player. This is outstanding defense. First, Williams holds his own against Domantas Sabonis in the post and pushes him off the block. Then, as Enes Freedom recovers to Sabonis, Williams scrambles out. He’s headed to pick up Jeremy Lamb on the opposite wing, but Williams reads Dennis Schroder gambling for the steal, so he picks up Justin Holiday and forces the turnover:

9. The sort of defense above earned Grant Williams a spot in the closing lineup. And he delivered:

Williams has been nearly automatic from the corners and Jaylen Brown wisely made the good extra pass.

Beyond Williams closing over Al Horford, Ime Udoka made a couple of other lineup changes. For a second straight game, Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder didn’t play together for any minutes. With Smart sidelined due to a thigh bruise in the second half, Schroder was the lone available point guard, but Udoka closed with Josh Richardson over Schroder. Udoka said postgame that he wanted more size on the floor and liked the way Richardson was playing on both ends.

These are the kind of small, but important rotation tweaks that have been missing for a lot of the season. Udoka has given his vets a lot of rope, but now he’s pulling back. In his own words: Udoka is running with “the players I know I can trust.”

10. The Celtics hit the halfway point of the regular season at 20-21. That’s underwhelming and disappointing to be sure. But Boston has won four of their last six games. And they have the seventh-easiest remaining schedule. That includes a rematch with the Pacers on Wednesday in Indiana.

That game is pretty close to a must-win, because the Celtics have a difficult back-to-back with Philadelphia and Chicago to close the week. After that, it’s two weeks of winnable games. But we all know the drill by now. Winnable hasn’t often equaled wins for this group. At least not yet.