1. Friday night home game with a good Denver Nuggets squad in town. First night of a back-to-back set with travel for the second looming. Four-game win streak on the line.
This was the best win of the season for the Boston Celtics so far.
Boston improved to 9-3 on the season and stretched their winning streak out to five games. And the Celtics did it by pulling away late, enough so that the regulars finished the game by celebrating from the bench.
Six players scored in double-figures, the team racked up 30 assists again (this time against just seven turnovers) and Boston flashed some of that NBA-best defense that they became known for last season.
And all of that happened against a Western Conference contender who was coming in on their own hot streak. Yes, the best victory of the season thus far.
2. First Quarter Jaylen Brown is a thing. Brown shot 5-of-5 from the floor for 12 points in the opening period. And he also grabbed four rebounds and handed out three assists.
This shot was the best of the first quarter bunch for Brown. This is the sort of confidence that he’s playing with now. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is right on this shot. No matter, Brown drains it anyway:
A little later, Brown ran off a stretch where he got assists on three consecutive possessions for the Celtics. This first one was a perfect hit-ahead pass to Jayson Tatum to get TD Garden rocking:
On the next trip, Brown does a good job using his dribble to get the right angle before firing a bullet to Grant Williams for the layup:
This is just good stuff from Brown. He sees what’s developing on the weakside. Brown holds it for a beat to let Tatum clear the traffic before dropping the dime:
3. Jaylen Brown didn’t do all of his work in the first quarter though. He had a lot of say in Boston pulling away late too.
This is kind of an option play for Brown and Jayson Tatum. When Tatum chooses to cut, Brown pops out. This was a big shot, because the Celtics offense was really scuffling at this point in the game:
Brown’s patience as a passer showed up earlier and it showed up again here. This is a terrific high-low find to Marcus Smart in the post:
Then Brown had this really good crosscourt dish to Al Horford to basically put this game to bed:
4. With Malcolm Brogdon out due to hamstring soreness, Payton Pritchard got his opportunity. The third-year guard has to make the most of these chances, because he’s seen little playing time in the Celtics deep guard group.
Pritchard delivered. He got things started by hitting a late-clock, step-through leaner:
Then Pritchard did what he does best: he was a pest. This was a terrific heads-up play to steal a basket for Boston:
With his confidence flowing and Denver in a drop coverage, Pritchard drilled a pullup off a transition screen:
Rajon Rondo used to say: “It can be easy for me to get offensive rebounds, because no one ever thinks to block out the point guard.” Pritchard seems to have subscribed to that theory as well. This was his fourth offensive rebound of the game and a pretty nice tip-in for the point guard:
5. All too often, we’ve seen the Celtics unravel when another team makes a run or gets physical with them. They start complaining to the officials and get completely taken out of the game.
In this one, Boston stayed composed and played through the rough stretches. The Nuggets made a couple of runs, but each time the Celtics had an answer. And when Aaron Gordon ran over Grant Williams (Williams definitely baited him into the foul), no one lost composure or got overly upset. Williams simply took his free throws and Boston moved on.
This is the kind of growth we’ve been waiting for. Even in last season’s Finals run, the Celtics still lacked that sense of urgent calmness at times. Now, it seems like everyone is focused on moving on to the next play.
6. This was a great Al Horford game. Horford tied his career-high with six made threes. (Horford matched the six he made in Game 1 of the 2022 NBA Finals, while setting a regular-season career-high). Horford, along with Grant Williams, also did a good job of making Nikola Jokic work for his baskets around the rim.
On offense, Horford only made one two-point shot. It was this nice floater to beat the shot clock:
This sort of look was one Horford feasted on all game. It’s not a pure pick-and-pop, but it’s pretty close. Mostly, if the opposing big is going to lay back, Horford can punish them with his jumper:
7. The minutes behind Horford have been a mixed bag to open this season. Noah Vonleh got the chance early, while Blake Griffin has seen some time too. But Luke Kornet seems to have locked down that backup five role for now.
Kornet has been an underrated rim protector this season. He takes the hit from DeAndre Jordan here, but Kornet holds his ground to get the block:
Kornet used to be strictly a spot-up shooter, or a play finisher. He’s got a couple of moves now in his bag. This is a nice jump-hook off an improvised post-up:
And sometimes there is no explanation, and you have to let the play speak for itself:
8. Jayson Tatum usually gets a lot of love in the Takeaways, and deservedly so. He was casually great again this game. It felt like Tatum dropped in a quiet 34 points, which speaks to just how good he is now.
This was one of Tatum’s best plays. It used to be when he worked in the post that Tatum would force something at the rim, or he’d take a crappy fallaway. Now, Tatum can overpower smaller defenders to draw and-1 plays like this:
9. JD Davison made his NBA debut in this one. The rookie guard didn’t take any shots, but he did get his first NBA assists on this nice lob to Luke Kornet to put a capper on a Boston victory:
10. The Celtics get right back at it on a back-to-back against the Pistons in Detroit. Boston had their first blowout win of the year in a victory over Detroit on Wednesday.
Despite that recent runaway, the Celtics know the Pistons aren’t an easy team to play. They’ll have to bring a solid effort to extend the win streak to six on Saturday night.