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A ‘just win’ effort: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Magic

Boston improved to 3-0 by holding off scrappy, young Orlando

Boston Celtics v Orlando Magic Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

1. This was one of those “just win” games for the Boston Celtics. It was a back-to-back with travel (albeit very short travel) against a young, scrappy team. Eventually, it comes down to making just enough plays to win.

Today, on October 22, it might not seem like much. But if Boston gets the one seed in the Eastern Conference, or even just homecourt advantage, by one game, this win over the Orlando Magic counts just as much as any other.

Also, winning the “just win” games is something the Celtics didn’t do early last season. In October, November and December last season, Boston would have lost this game, setting off an existential crisis. This year? So far, so good.

2. It might seem odd to start with someone other than Jayson Tatum, who dropped in 40 points, but Derrick White might have been the player of the game for the Celtics.

White scored his Celtics-career-high with 27 points. He also added in four rebounds, four assists and some pretty good defense at times.

White’s jumper has improved enough that teams are going to have to rethink going under screens against him, as they Magic do here:

A little later, Mo Bamba closes out to White and bites on the shot fake. From there, White is off to the rim:

Late in the game, with the Magic hanging around, White drove for the tough lefty finish and the and-1:

A couple of trips after that one, White showed off that 0.5 decision-making. He caught the kickout from Tatum and immediately attacked the rim for the explosive finish:

3. We weren’t going to bury Jayson Tatum too deep in the Takeaways. He was pretty terrific too. Tatum scored 40 points on 14-of-21 shooting, and he got to the charity stripe for nine more free throw attempts too.

When Tatum draws a big, he’s not settling for just getting to his step-back anymore. This is a nice drive past Wendell Carter Jr. for the floater off the glass:

Paolo Banchero is playing wonderfully to start his NBA career…but he’s not ready for the hesi, spin-back from Tatum yet:

Orlando gave Boston trouble with a couple of different zone defense looks. But the Celtics eventually got back to what worked to beat zones last year: Tatum working from the nail. This is easy money for Tatum:

With Orlando clinging to life, you just knew it was coming. Tatum side-step dagger:

There are no three-game MVPs, but if there were, Jayson Tatum would win the award.

4. Al Horford sat out because he “just didn’t feel right” according to Joe Mazzulla. Likely, it was more of a rest day for Horford on the second night of the back-to-back than anything truly worrisome.

But Mazzulla took a long-term approach with more than just Horford to this one. Both Luke Kornet and Payton Pritchard made their season debuts. Grant Williams saw increased minutes, while Malcolm Brogdon’s minutes ticked down just a bit. And Blake Griffin played 10 minutes after a DNP in Miami.

Overall, Mazzulla is trying to win games, but he’s also trying to manage minutes as well. It’s a difficult balance, but the rookie head coach seems to be achieving it so far.

5. The Celtics ran some really good sets and had some excellent ball movement against the Magic. Boston had 24 assists on 42 baskets, against just eight turnovers.

This is an inverse set. Noah Vonleh does the initial ballhandling on the perimeter, while Jaylen Brown and Derrick White work off-ball. Then, Brown finishes the play with a terrific dime to the cutting White:

Drive, kick, swing, splash:

In a contract year, and with the way he’s shooting it, Grant Williams could take this shot. Instead, he makes the extra pass and White drills the corner triple:

Speaking of Grant Williams…he’s doing a lot of stuff off the dribble now. This is a really nice pass to Payton Pritchard in the opposite corner:

6. Malcolm Brogdon has already built really good chemistry with his shooters. He’s consistently delivering on-time passes right in the shooting pocket. Sam Hauser being automatic also helps Brogdon want to keep setting him up like this:

And Brogdon can get his own when he needs to, too. This is good ball movement and good patience by Marcus Smart to not shoot off the catch and to let Brogdon relocate for a better look:

7. Luke Kornet had to make his old teammate Daniel Theis smile after executing the Theis Seal perfectly here:

8. Not having Al Horford left room for other bigs to contribute. Noah Vonleh drew the start, but he battled foul trouble all game. But Vonleh was active and worked hard. And this was a pretty sweet putback:

Blake Griffin is all smiles on the Celtics bench so far. And when he’s gotten in games, he’s made some plays too. This hustle play had everyone on Boston fired up for the veteran big man:

9. Marcus Smart didn’t do much as a shooter or scorer, but he led Boston with eight assists. And this is the Defensive Player of the Year making a DPOY play when his team needed one:

10. The Celtics take their 3-0 record north to finish the three-game road trip at the Chicago Bulls on Monday night. Chicago has dropped two in a row, including a blowout loss on Saturday night, but Boston knows it’ll be a tough matchup. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine will try to keep pace with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. This one might come down to who makes more plays out of each team’s non-All-Star group.

Monday night also features a rare Boston-Chicago double dip. While the Celtics will be playing at the Bulls, the New England Patriots will be hosting the Chicago Bears. Monday is a two-TV night in Boston for sure.

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