1. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Not sure what the adage is if the Boston Celtics fool you 20 times in the first half of a season.
It’s impossible to say the Celtics have figured it out or turned the corner. But they are playing better. That’s undeniable. Boston has won seven of their last 10 games. Against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night, the Celtics played well in crunch time, scoring the final eight points to get a win.
On Monday afternoon, in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day special, Boston rallied from a first-half deficit to beat the New Orleans Pelicans. Not only that, but the Celtics took control by the end of the third quarter and then increased that lead in the fourth quarter for the win.
Blissful ignorance is still blissful. So, consider us fooled.
2. Let’s start in the second half, shall we? Jayson Tatum completely took over. Tatum scored 21 of his game-high 27 points after halftime. He got wherever he wanted, against whoever he wanted to make plays.
On this play, Tatum went down on the block for the finish over Herbert Jones:
Late in the third, Tatum used the screen from Enes Freedom to get free. From there, he went right at Jonas Valanciunas before spinning for the finish:
To open the fourth-quarter scoring, Tatum again used a Freedom screen. This time, Valanciunas lays back to protect against the drive. No problem. Tatum pulls up and drills it:
Next possession, Dennis Schroder pushes it up and finds Tatum trailing in transition. Tatum puts the ball on the deck and is off to the rim for the and-1 without hesitation:
The Pelicans never really threatened again after the above play.
Boston has had a ton of issues closing games. On Monday afternoon, the Celtics superstar made sure to take care of business.
3. Let’s jump back to the start of the game…It was a mess. Boston was really bad on both ends. They couldn’t get a shot to fall. Worst of all, the Celtics transition defense was awful. The box score shows New Orleans scored 18 fastbreak points, but they easily had double that amount when you count non-fastbreak transition opportunities.
Once Boston cleaned up the turnovers and their transition defense, they took control. Sometimes basketball can be a really simple game. Especially when you don’t make it easy for the opponent.
4. Grant Williams was a huge part of keeping the Celtics within striking distance early. He had a stretch of eight straight points to help Boston hang around. This is a nice drive-and-kick from Dennis Schroder to find Williams hanging out in his money spot:
On the next trip, Williams did a good job spacing in transition for a three:
Then Williams gets out and runs for the transition dunk off a nice steal and pass from Josh Richardson:
That was a key stretch for Williams, who got the surprise start when Robert Williams was out. Rob missed the game due to the birth of his child. Congrats to the Timelord family!
5. Boston won by dominating the game in the second half. But they actually picked things up late in the first half. And it started with defense.
Grant Williams said he slimmed down in the offseason to be a more versatile defender. Brandon Ingram is a tough cover and Williams does a great job against him here:
This play starts off with great defense by Dennis Schroder. He does a wonderful job fronting Ingram and denying him a touch. Because of the switch, Williams has to handle the speedy Devonte Graham. Williams stays right on Graham’s shooting hand and blocks the shot to kill the possession:
6. With both Dennis Schroder and Grant Williams starting, it opened up opportunities for others to play off the bench. It was a mixed bag for the Celtics reserves.
Romeo Langford and Payton Pritchard were both pretty rough. It was definitely a missed opportunity for Langford, as he hasn’t been playing much. Pritchard had a bad game after a string of good ones.
Josh Richardson didn’t so much scoring, but he did a little bit of everything else. Another solid game for him.
The surprises were Enes Freedom and Aaron Nesmith. Freedom didn’t have any real highlights, but he was solid on defense against Jonas Valanciunas and his screens helped create space for his teammates throughout the second half. And he did a good job on the boards. Basically, Freedom did what he had to with the Celtics down a big man.
7. Aaron Nesmith was so impactful, that he gets his own Takeaway. This was a good ball-fake by Nesmith, then he blows by the defender for the floater off the glass:
This play is great all-around. Freedom has the great strip on Brandon Ingram. Jayson Tatum makes the perfect pass. Nesmith loudly finishes for the and-1:
Check the end of the clip to see how excited Dennis Schroder is for his young teammate.
Ime Udoka said he went to Nesmith to “try to change our energy”. Udoka then said he stuck with Nesmith because of his “energy and intensity and effort”. This is how you make the most of an opportunity. Chances are, Nesmith earned himself another chance next game with his play in this one.
8. Boston had two really good “process over results” plays. This is an outstanding drive of the closeout from Aaron Nesmith, followed by a really nice pass for what should have been an and-1:
This might have been the best pass Jayson Tatum threw all night. He deserved an assist here:
9. Ime Udoka called out postgame that the Pelicans were the worst team in the NBA in defending the middle of the floor and the midrange area. The Celtics got a lot of mileage out of those plays. Here’s three straight scores late in the game where Boston made good use of their coach’s strategy.
First, Jayson Tatum got downhill for the floater in the lane:
Then Jaylen Brown worked middle pick-and-roll for the floater:
On this last one, Brown makes the nice cross-court pass to Dennis Schroder. Schroder goes right off the catch for the mid-range floater over Valanciunas:
We saved Schroder for the last highlight because this space has been tough on the point guard. We don’t feel that criticism has been unfair or unwarranted, but credit where credit is due: Schroder was great the last two games.
Against Chicago, Schroder had 16 points, six rebounds and eight assists, including some big plays late. In this game, Schroder finished with 23 points, five rebounds and nine assists. He had a big stretch late in the third quarter to give Boston a lead they’d never relinquish. And, like on Friday, Schroder chipped in with some solid play in the fourth quarter.
It’s been a roller coaster ride with Schroder this season, just as it has been with the Celtics. If we’re going to gripe during the low points, we need to celebrate the high points.
10. Boston is above .500 for the first time since December 7 when the team was 13-12. We preached patience during a really tough December schedule, while saying January offered opportunity for things to turn around.
So far in January, the Celtics are 6-3.
That’s not perfect, but it’s not bad either. With a five of their next eight at home, most against teams at or below Boston’s level, the Celtics could go on a run.
We know, we know, we know: You’ll believe it when you see it. But for now, consider us blissfully ignorant and dreaming of a playoff push.