1. This was the sort of win the Boston Celtics and their fans have been waiting for. The Sacramento Kings are a bad team and they were missing a couple of key players. The Celtics were at home. Conditions were ripe for a blowout and, for a change, that’s exactly what happened.
For a second game in a row, Boston never trailed. After destroying the Washington Wizards on Sunday afternoon, the Celtics led by as many as 60 points in hammering the Kings.
No, these aren’t blowouts over the cream of the crop. But they are blowouts. And in a season where Boston has been uneven and prone to blowing big leads, they finally look like the team we thought they might before the season.
2. This play isn’t overly remarkable in and of itself. Jayson Tatum has made lots of threes in his career. But what is notable is that it’s a wrinkle off the Celtics typical opening set.
Boston’s first play most games involves Jayson Tatum setting a back-screen for Robert Williams to get a lob at the rim. Harrison Barnes knows this, so he dropped off to pick up Williams. Richaun Holmes doesn’t execute, and Tatum pops out for one of the easier three-point looks he’s had this season:
3. The Kings threw a lot of different defenses against the Celtics. They played straight man-to-man, straight 2-3 zone, a halfcourt trap that dropped into a 2-3 zone and a box-and-1 with Davion Mitchell (a terrific on-ball defender) picking up Jayson Tatum.
This is a good look at how Tatum’s movement, combined with excellent spacing, helped beat that box-and-1 look. Tatum comes into the gap looking for the touch, but Mitchell is right on him. Dennis Schroder doesn’t force the pass. Instead, flips it to Al Horford in the corner and lets Tatum relocate. Horford is spaced to the strongside corner and Schroder holds the strongside wing. Neither Grant Williams (weakside corner) nor Josh Richardson (weakside wing) lose patience and cut. All four players stay rooted and that gives Tatum room to work to a spot where Horford can find him for the easy layup:
The Kings are in a rotating 2-3 zone here, with the baseline box defenders chasing up to the level of the ball. The best way to beat this type of defense is to drive the gaps. As Tatum drives, Harrison Barnes can’t leave Schroder, who has relocated to the strongside corner. Horford rolls to the front of the rim, which keeps Richaun Holmes from helping on the drive. Easy money for Tatum:
4. Before the 2020 pause, Jayson Tatum was playing out of his mind. Because of how easily he was scoring, teams started blitzing him with two defenders. There were some turnovers as Tatum figured out how to handle that sort of pressure. It’s a common end-of-clock strategy against Tatum now. Here’s a good read of the blitz, plus a good lift by Grant Williams to get an open three-pointer:
The end of the half featured another blitz. This time the Kings rotate up to take the man who is one pass away. No worries, Tatum skips it all the way to the opposite corner for Josh Richardson to beat the buzzer:
5. If you didn’t watch the game and only checked the box score, you might think Marcus Smart had a ho-hum night. You would be wrong. Smart was dominant defensively, as he helped make the night miserable for the Kings guards. He also did a really good job as a playmaker. This is a nice pass to Jaylen Brown as Boston successfully completed a fastbreak for a change:
This isn’t a fastbreak, but it’s stealing offense in transition by pushing the ball. Perfect cut by Brown, perfect pass by Smart:
This is an outstanding pass on the break. Smart makes this pass as Aaron Nesmith is even with Richaun Holmes, because he saw Nesmith outrunning the big man:
The Celtics have a point guard. Marcus Smart has just spent too much of this season playing off the ball or without enough talent around him to shine as a playmaker.
6. This one is a quick-hitter. What a pass from Jaylen Brown:
7. Robert Williams is eventually going to have a 5x5 game. He got close in this one with 13 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks in 27 minutes.
Williams leap from promising player to actualized performer changes the Celtics ceiling for this season and beyond.
8. Grant Williams has had a terrific season off the bench for Boston. He’s contributed in just about every game. Sometimes it’s with his defense. Sometimes it’s with his shooting. Against the Kings, he made a couple of really great extra passes. Williams could have shot this one, but instead he gives it up to Jayson Tatum in the corner:
This is a quick read by Williams. He’s in his money spot, but he’s not even considering shooting on this catch. Instead, he whips it to Jaylen Brown for an open look:
9. In the third quarter, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum both had plays where you could see the light go off that said “We’re better than everyone else out here. Let’s put this one to bed.”
First, Tatum is simply too big and too good for Buddy Hield to guard one-on-one:
Then, Brown catches this ball and knows no one is stopping him on his way to the rim for the easy layup:
That’s the two best players on the floor being the two best players on the floor to finish off a dominant win.
10. Aaron Nesmith got some real run in this one. He had played well a few games back, but sprained an ankle that put him out of action for a few days. Instead of worrying about missed opportunity, Nesmith took advantage in this one when his number was called.
Sometimes all it takes for a player to really get going is to see the ball go in the basket. And if that happens in the latter stages of a blowout, so be it. And sometimes you have to break a tackle on the way to a score:
It’s not often Nesmith will be called upon to create something late-clock. This is a good in-game developmental experience for him:
11. You’re getting a bonus takeaway today, because Boston just won back-to-back games by 29 and 53 points.
Have the Celtics turned the corner? Who knows? They’re back over .500 again, but we’ve seen this story before.
What is different is we said January offered the opportunity to stack some wins. Boston has done that and is 8-5 in the month. They close January with two-game road trip that features a back-to-back at Atlanta and New Orleans. Then, they come back home to finish the month with a game against Miami.
It’s impossible to know if that Heat game will be part of a win streak, to snap a two-game slide or part of the continuing “win one, lose one” nature of this team. What we do know is that the Celtics are playing better, even if they remain flawed. And that makes the next two weeks leading up to the trade deadline really interesting for Brad Stevens and Boston’s front office.