After a deflating loss on Monday night to the Chicago Bulls, the Boston Celtics returned home to lick their wounds before welcoming the Dallas Mavericks to town. With MVP candidate Luka Doncic leading the charge for Dallas, it was expected to be an excellent matchup, especially with Jayson Tatum cleared to play.
The Celtics bounced back in a big way, and the duo of Tatum and Brown paced the Celtics with a combined 68 points on their way to a 125-112 win over the Mavs. Jayson Tatum furthered his MVP case as he dueled against Luka, and while Doncic still led Dallas with 42 points, Tatum won the one-on-one battle and torched Doncic when defended by him, scoring 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
Jayson Tatum when defended by Luka Doncic:— Chris Forsberg (@ChrisForsberg_) November 24, 2022
15 PTS, 5-8 FG, 1:57 matchup time
Luka when defended by Tatum:
2 PTS, 1-2 FG, 2 TO, 1 BLK, 1:12
Defensive data is imperfect. But NBA tracking had Celtics scoring 31 points on 12-19 FG vs Luka. Tatum allowed 6 points on 3-5 FG, 2 BLK
“That loss (vs. Chicago) left a bad taste in our mouth,” said Marcus Smart when asked about the team’s change in approach. “Just for the simple reason because we understood we kind of lollygagged in that game...I’m saying we can’t have that and use that excuse to let it domino effect into the next game, and the next game after that. So coming into this game, we just wanted to make sure we didn’t let that happen again.” Smart was a team-high +21 on the night, dropping 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, 3-of-4 from range, two rebounds and a team-high 9 assists.
While the narrative around Jayson Tatum for MVP has continued to escalate, Smart acknowledged that Jaylen Brown has been worthy of consideration when he’s played his best ball. “The things that he’s doing, when he’s at his best, it’s the same thing JT is doing,” said Smart. “JT has been in the talks for that MVP race and when JB’s playing the way he’s playing at his highest peak, he’s in that race, too.” While Tatum had 37 points on 11-of-24 with 13 rebounds and 5 assists, Brown had a stellar night as well with 31 points on an efficient 13-of-18 from the field along with four rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
With the star duo of Tatum and Brown’s performance last night, they tied Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen for the third most 30-point games by teammates with 16 games. It’s been the tried and true measure stick of the Celtics’ success, and when those two stars are playing at that level, it’s incredibly difficult for teams to try to stop them. It turns into a game of “pick your poison,” especially when the two are pressuring the rim and cutting to the paint consistently.
“They’re unstoppable,” said Smart, “They’re going to draw so much attention. So by them cutting, you know Al’s going to get wide open shots, Derrick White, me, Malcolm, Sam, we’re all going to get open shots because of those guys are cutting and everybody’s gonna sink in the paint on them. It’s up to them to just continue to make the right play. If it’s for themselves, finish it, if not find the right play. Find the right guy who’s open, and they’ve been doing a tremendous job at that and that’s why our offense has been clicking the way it’s clicking. They’re not only...when they get into those one-on-one possessions, you know they’re great at, we all know that they can do that, but they’re making it easier for themselves by getting easier baskets by cutting and opening up the floor for everybody else.”
Marcus Smart hit the nail on the head with his analysis of Boston’s two stars, and the Celtics offense has changed drastically this season under Joe Mazzulla’s guidance. The end product has ultimately been unselfish and just plain old fun basketball. Here’s hoping we continue to see it as the team prepares for a matchup with the Sacramento Kings on Friday night, 8 pm EST tipoff.