1. It’s rare, but sometimes you can assign a win to a single player. The Boston Celtics won their sixth straight game by beating the Detroit Pistons on the road. Many players contributed, but it feels like this was Jayson Tatum’s victory.
With Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Malcolm Brogdon all joining Rob Williams on the sideline, Tatum carried Boston. The Celtics superstar scored 15 points in the first half, before matching that total in the third quarter. Tatum then added 13 more points in the fourth quarter, as the Celtics held off the Pistons.
Others will get their love in this space today, but we’re starting with Jayson Tatum. It would be disingenuous to start anywhere else.
2. Unfortunately, we couldn’t splice these two clips together, but it was another one of those MVP sequences from Jayson Tatum. First, he takes on Saddiq Bey 1-on-1 in isolation. Tatum is up to the task and blocks the shot:
After the block, Tatum uses a hesitation dribble in transition and he’s off the rim for the and-1 opportunity:
Tatum has always had the spin move, but this year it feels like he’s put everything together with that one. He’s using his skill, quickness, length and soft touch for at least a couple of finishes like this every game:
We’re going to start calling this the “Rock the Baby” jumper. Tatum just slowly rocks Bojan Bogdanovic to sleep with a series of controlled crossovers and then he drills the jumper in his eye:
Sometimes Tatum doesn’t even need the dribble. Jalen Duren is huge and he’s all over this shot. But it doesn’t matter:
3. Because the Celtics needed him to score, it wasn’t a high-assist night for Jayson Tatum. But he still had some really good passes throughout the game. This was a lefty beauty in transition to get the Celtics a 2-for-1 opportunity:
A year ago, Tatum looked off Grant Williams for a lob play. Everyone got a laugh out of it when Tatum said “I ain’t throwing no lob to no Grant. Rob and JB. That’s who I’ll throw lobs too.” Well, with Rob Williams and Jaylen Brown out, Tatum had no choice and Grant Williams delivered. Great steal by Marcus Smart to start this play too:
4. Let’s stick with Grant Williams. He’s been terrific this season. Williams is giving Boston whatever they need that given night. Sometimes he’s a shooter, sometimes he focuses on moving the ball and screening, other times he locks in on defense. With 19 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in this one, Williams did a little bit of everything.
Williams’ confidence is so high right now that he’s taking and making buzzer-beating shots like this somewhat regularly:
Teams are starting to catch onto the Celtics “walk the dog” play where they let the ball roll to conserve the shot-clock. When teams press up the floor to stop it, Boston is turning it into an improvised transition opportunity. This is made possible because the team trusts Grant Williams to make the right decision with the ball in his hands:
5. Marcus Smart is in full control of the Celtics offense right now. He hit the 10-assist mark for the fourth time in the last five games. And Smart is making it happen without being in a ball-dominant, pick-and-roll-heavy role.
This offensive rebound flows right into an assist to Blake Griffin in one motion:
This is the Smart combo. Steal followed by a gorgeous dime to Jayson Tatum:
The DPOY still stands tall as the best short rim protector in the NBA:
The Celtics cutting has gone up a couple of levels this season. Turn your head and it’s a bucket:
If your defense is out of position or late with help, Smart is going to pick you apart:
And the “cobra strike” is still alive and well, along with that magical lefthand:
6. With Al Horford out, Joe Mazzulla went to Blake Griffin in the starting group. That was likely to keep Luke Kornet in the reserve role, where Kornet has grown comfortable. Griffin delivered 22 good minutes, but Kornet had some struggles with the Pistons speed and physicality.
Mazzulla made a change and went to Noah Vonleh in place of Kornet, and Vonleh came through. In 20 minutes, the veteran big man had seven rebounds and played some really good defense. Vonleh was a better fit against Detroit’s rugged style.
The Celtics depth behind Horford, Grant Williams and Rob Williams isn’t amazing. But it’s functional and just versatile enough to get by.
7. With Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon out, Derrick White had to give Boston quality minutes. He did his thing with 12 points, three rebounds, four assists and two blocks. White is a crafty shooter. This little bump to get the defender off him opened the scoring for the Celtics:
Despite being 0-for-4 from behind the arc at this point in the game, White delivered the dagger to Detroit:
8. Boston is starting to take better care of the ball. Very quietly, they are committing the second-fewest turnovers in the NBA at 12.8 giveaways per game. In terms of turnover rate (which is adjusted for possessions), Boston is fourth-best in the league.
The shooting will probably eventually cool off some, but taking care of the ball will make the Celtics very hard to beat. Opponents are going to have to hope for a high-turnover or cold-shooting game, or maybe both, to get wins.
9. In line with the turnovers going down is the ball movement hitting new levels. Even on a night when they weren’t making everything, the Celtics tallied 27 assists on 39 baskets.
Good extra passes like this one from Marcus Smart to Grant Williams are commonplace now:
Noah Vonleh doesn’t get to shoot very much (and he took a bad shot later in the game from this same spot), but he doesn’t get selfish here. Extra pass equals Payton Pritchard splash:
Grant Williams loves to work from the corner office. The nice thing about this play is that the ball finds energy when it moves the right way. Kick, swing, swing back, extra pass and cash it in from the corner:
10. Boston now travels back home for a Monday night matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Celtics are riding high on a six-game win streak, while the Thunder will be on a back-to-back. Fortunately for OKC, they are playing a matinee in New York prior to heading up to Boston vs the usual back-to-back type of set.
Much like the Pistons game, this is the sort of game the Celtics should win. Regularly, Boston is showing the growth from the second half of last season has carried over. The effort is there every night and the team’s mindset of team-ball and playing together has taken them to a new level offensively. The defense is starting to show signs of coming around too.
With games at the Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Pelicans later in the week, getting things started off well against the Thunder is important. We’ll see if the Celtics can stretch the win streak to seven on Monday.