1. The Boston Celtics schedule out of the gate featured two long-time nemeses in the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat. Those games are always battles, even when the Celtics are healthy. Without Robert Williams against Joel Embiid and Bam Adebayo, those matchups look even more difficult.
Boston won them both. And somewhat decisively. Neither game was a blowout, but the Celtics were comfortably in control down the stretch of both games.
Banking wins over Eastern Conference playoff teams without Williams is huge. These wins count just as much as the ones in February, March and April. And Boston is off to a much better start standings-wise than a year ago.
2. We’re going to start by shouting out the most unheralded member of the entire Celtics rotation: Derrick White. In his first full season in Boston, White is starting games and off to a nice start. His shot is clearly much improved, but against Miami, White shined on defense.
Jimmy Butler is a very difficult matchup, because he uses his shoulders to create space so well, and he’s a very crafty scorer in and around the paint. White does a nice job to start this play by navigating the screen, then he stays in front of Butler after absorbing the shoulder. From there it’s staying vertical while contesting, before finishing the play with the rebound. Outstanding defensive sequence:
A few minutes later, White did another great job on defense. He stays in front of Herro and then uses his length to pick up one of his three (!) blocks on the night:
Later in the first quarter, White blocked Tyler Herro’s step-back jumper:
In the fourth quarter with the Heat threatening, White again does a nice job of absorbing the contact as Butler tried to create space. This time, White gets the strip by using his length and quick hands:
3. The Celtics piled up 11 blocked shots against the Heat. That’s a big number without Rob Williams. Five players had at least two blocks, and Derrick White had three.
Kyle Lowry is very good at getting defender to bite on his pump fake when he drives into the paint. Jaylen Brown does an excellent job of staying down and then using his size advantage to erase Lowry’s jumper:
Jayson Tatum’s offensive numbers will be enough to put him in MVP consideration. To win it, Tatum needs to be a great defender too. This is an MVP-type sequence. Tatum helps on the drive before closing hard to Tyler Herro in the corner. Then Tatum stays in front as Herro drives the closeout, before going way up for the monster block:
That’s highlight stuff that will catch the eye of MVP voters.
4. Marcus Smart had a nice stretch to end the first half. This running floater is a shot Smart has seemingly mastered. He gets to it pretty regularly when he catches a defender leaning:
This is why you drive hard at a closeout. Smart zips past Kyle Lowry, draws the defenders up, and Jayson Tatum makes the well-timed cut to get the dunk:
This is a good play because Smart doesn’t back it out and survey when he draws Bam Adebayo, who was already in foul trouble. Smart goes right at Adebayo and kisses the running hook off the glass:
He got a little wild with the ball at times and missed all of his threes, but Smart helped hold Lowry in check and did a good job getting Boston in the right sets for Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to do work.
5. It wasn’t one of those huge assist nights for the Celtics, but it could have been. Boston missed a lot of open and wide-open shots in the early going. Still, there was some terrific ball movement anyway.
Jayson Tatum has come a long way as a playmaker out of pick-and-roll. This is a pass Tatum makes regularly now:
Not be outdone, Jaylen Brown is flashing his improved passing too. This is kind of an off-ball pick-and-pop. Al Horford screens for Brown to flash middle and Brown immediately pitches it back out to Horford for the open three:
Good things happen when you make the extra pass. And when you make the right play, the ball tends to find its way back to you:
Malcolm Brogdon and Grant Williams have the chemistry of two guys who have played a decade together and not just for two games. Brogdon is going to pile up assists by picking out corner shooters when he drives:
When the ball doesn’t get sticky with a bunch of ISO plays, good stuff happens. The ball moves, the players move and Tatum finds Horford to put the nail in the coffin:
6. On the flip side…the Celtics had 20 turnovers. At least half were of the sloppy, unforced variety. That sort of messy play almost cost Boston in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and it was a major contributor in losing the 2022 NBA Finals.
While it was nice to see the team bounce back and win anyway, coughing it up 20 times against a good team isn’t a winning formula. That will need to be cleaned up.
7. It’s been well-publicized that Jayson Tatum intends to use the floater he worked on this summer. On this play, Tatum uses the spin move and his size to drop in the shot in the paint:
Later in the game, this one shows Tatum’s growth. In year’s past, Tatum probably spins into a very difficult pass or turnover here. This time around, he catches Jimmy Butler pinching in to help, so Tatum keeps his dribble alive, goes behind his back and gets to the floater over the smaller defender:
8. It’s going to be a theme of the season: defensive rebounding. Between the 20 turnovers an allowing 11 offensive rebounds, Boston allowed Miami to get 13 more shots up. Unlike against the 76ers, where they allowed three offensive boards in three minutes to open the game and then one offensive rebound over the final 45 minutes, the Celtics never really cleaned things up in this one.
Eight players did have between four and seven rebounds, but someone needs to take charge on the glass while Rob Williams is out.
9. The someone to take charge could be Noah Vonleh. But in this game, Vonleh got his work done on the other end of the floor. This is just wanting the rebound more than anyone else. Then Vonleh punctuated his hustle with a sweet spin for the dunk:
Early in the second quarter, Vonleh overpowered the small defender to get on the offensive glass again. Once again, he hammered it through with the putback slam:
10. The Celtics head slightly north to Orlando to face the Magic in their first back-to-back of the season. While no one logged massive minutes against the Heat, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Joe Mazzulla try to limit minutes some in the early-season back-to-back.
Orlando tends to go somewhere between big to very big to enormous with their lineups. That could lead towards Blake Griffin seeing time (Sam Hauser took Griffin’s opening night minutes in the second game of the year, and Hauser delivered), but Luke Kornet and maybe Mfiondu Kabengele could see some run too. Mazzulla already said the plan was for Al Horford to play both ends of the back-to-back, but he’ll certainly want to play Horford less than the 33:30 he logged in Miami.
It’s also a chance to Payton Pritchard to maybe see a little time, while lessening the load on Malcolm Brogdon.
Orlando is 0-2, but they’ve been scrappy in their first two games. Boston will need to be focused and to execute to not give the young Magic hope in their home opener.