1. A few games ago, Jaylen Brown took a lot of shots and had zero assists. Since then, Brown has continued to take a healthy number of shots, as he should, but his focus on playmaking for others has picked up. Against the Knicks, Brown picked up his first career triple-double with 22 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high 11 assists.
This is the kind of simple read Brown can make when he’s focused. Rob Williams has the smaller defender sealed, Brown stays patient long enough to let the traffic clear and then hits Williams for the easy dunk:
This is a good read off of the screen. Brown could have taken the initial jumper, but he instead attacks the paint, draws the defense and hits Williams with the lob:
There was nothing complicated about Brown’s 11th assist. But it’s so good in the simplicity of the game. Brown pushes in transition and while the Knicks are scrambled defensively, he finds Smart walking into a three-pointer:
Postgame, Brown said “Basketball is a beautiful game, and it’s hard to master, but it’s not really a hard game. Sometimes keeping it simple is best.” Brown kept it simple against the Knicks and it worked perfectly.
2. Brown’s other postgame comments were more telling. CelticsBlog’s Bill Sy did a wonderful job recapping it, but it’s worth repeating: Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have had lots of success together.
The question we need to ask now isn’t: “Can Brown and Tatum play together and have success?” The question is: “Why aren’t Brown and Tatum having as much success as they’ve had before?”
It’s a different, but very important distinction. And it’s one that doesn’t involve breaking up the star duo.
3. This was a very slow-paced game. The officials allowed it to be physical and both teams seemingly embraced the playoff-feel. Because of that, Boston only took 76 field goals. That slow pace makes the Celtics 26 assists even more impressive.
This one is pretty straight forward, but it’s good stuff from Jaylen Brown and Grant Williams. This is the kind of drive-and-kick stuff the Celtics need to do more of:
This is beautiful basketball:
Attacking the paint and making good cuts opens things up as the defense rotates:
This is terrific play design. And it takes advantage of player’s strengths. Jayson Tatum isn’t really involved, but he’s going to hold a defender with him. Same for Robert Williams in the weakside dunker spot. That makes it three-on-three basketball. Al Horford gets just enough of Brown’s defender to open everything up, and Marcus Smart stays high and deep. It’s perfect floor balance to open up one of the best shots in the game:
4. Nothing about Marcus Smart’s stat-line is eye-popping, minus four steals. But once again, Smart helped control things. Even as the team has struggled to stack wins together, Smart has played well as the lead guard.
This is a good scoring opportunity for Smart. He’s been a really solid post-up player for Boston and his lefthanded finishes have come a long way:
Smart and Robert Williams have had great chemistry all year. They caught the Knicks sleeping here, as Smart delivered the very long lob to Williams on the alley-oop:
5. A positive wrinkle from this game: Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder didn’t play a single second together. Postgame, Ime Udoka said it wasn’t necessarily intentional, but that he ran Smart longer stretches because of how well he was playing. That left less time for the two to overlap. But Udoka may not have wanted to reveal his hand, as he could have gotten Schroder in earlier, as he has regularly this season.
Intentional or not, this is something that should continue. That pairing has had mixed success this season. This is especially true late in games, where the lack of shooting and size from the duo has caused Boston some issues.
6. Despite some criticism in certain corners of social media, Jayson Tatum didn’t play poorly against the Knicks. He wisely let Jaylen Brown do his thing, because Brown had it going. And Tatum was still involved, even if the stats don’t even show his full impact.
For example, this is a great pass from Tatum to open up the three-pointer. Brown gets the assist, but Tatum made the play happen:
One thing we’ve all been begging for more of: End-of-clock/quarter/game actions that involve Tatum and Brown in the two-man game. Here it was to end the third quarter:
7. There aren’t usually a lot of highlight plays from Josh Richardson. He’s just been solid for the Celtics all season. This drive to the lefty scoop seems to happen at least once per game:
17 points, in part because of a team-high eight free throw attempts, for Richardson in this win. Just another solid, unheralded day at the office.
8. Speaking of solid and unheralded, that’s Grant Williams this season. He’s secured Boston’s third-big role now. As a matter of fact, against most teams, Ime Udoka should only play three bigs with Grant joining Robert Williams and Al Horford.
Part of the reason this can work is Grant Williams improved defense. Williams losing weight has gotten him back to being a quick, versatile defender. He does a good job here of contesting the ballhandler before dropping back into the play to block the shot at the rim:
The shooting has gotten the attention, but Williams’ defense deserves just as much shine.
9. Ime Udoka tweaked his rotation in a couple of ways. We called out that he avoided playing Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder together already. Because the Knicks always play with two bigs, Enes Freedom got some time. But when things started to slip with him in the game in the second half, Udoka immediately went small instead. That’s an adjustment he’s been slow to make this season.
Aaron Nesmith also saw some limited minutes as the team’s 10th man. But for the most part, outside of the Freedom minutes, Udoka ran with an eight-man rotation. That’s perhaps a sign he’s locking into the guys he feels he can trust, while excising the rest from the rotation.
10. Boston will close the first half of their regular season schedule on Monday vs the Indiana Pacers. It’s the first game of a home-and-home with the Pacers, as the Celtics will travel to Indiana on Wednesday.
By now, you know the drill. The schedule features a whole bunch of winnable games for Boston for the rest of the month. They just have to…you know…win them.