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Flying high: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Hornets

Boston won their fourth straight to improve to 4-0 on the six-game homestand

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

1. Make no mistake, the Charlotte Hornets are a bad team. That being said, the Boston Celtics completely demolished them. This game was never close. On a night where Boston was without Jaylen Brown and Al Horford for maintenance/rest days and on a back-to-back, the only question was how many points the Celtics were going put on the board and how much they would win by.

Boston is now within a hair of shooting 50% from the field (49.6%) and 40% on three-pointers (40.3%) for the season. That’s never been done before in NBA history. The Celtics offensive rating is 121.5. That’s 4.4 points better than the second place Phoenix Suns. For reference, that is as large a difference as there is between Phoenix and the 10th place Indiana Pacers.

Malcolm Brogdon said it’s “a treat” to play with this Boston Celtics team. They’ve been a treat to watch, as well. Every night it seems to get a little better from an offensive standpoint. And the defense is showing plenty of signs of being able to lock in when they need to.

A treat, indeed.

2. Jayson Tatum took a rare night off on Sunday. He was back it and it looked good right from the jump in this one. Tatum scored 16 points in the first eight minutes of the game, and he did it mostly by getting downhill.

If there’s anything to nitpick with Tatum’s game this season, it’s that he’s at a career-low 34.7% from behind the arc. But that’s been more than offset by a career-best 80.7% at the rim and a career-high 8.5 free throw attempts per game. History tells us the jumper will come around eventually, which makes the improved inside game that much more exciting.

Tatum has finally put together the full package of using his size, length, strength and skill to finish at the cup. This play starts with Tatum fronting the post. After the steal, he sprints the floor before pinning and overpowering Theo Maledon for the layup:

Pretty regularly now, Tatum is just bigger and better than the guys trying to defend him:

The skill is there too. For a certain subset of CelticsBlog readers that complain Tatum has no lefthand, how’s this switch-hands finish work for you?

Charlotte was on a 9-0 run at this point in the game. They weren’t threatening, but had the run continued, the game could have gotten a little interesting. Tatum was having none of it. This play loudly finished off the Hornets:

3. In the preseason, it was evident that Malcolm Brogdon was going to give the Celtics exactly what they had missed during the run to the Finals last season. “Steady” is the best adjective to describe Brogdon’s play thus far. And that’s exactly what Boston needed off the bench.

This is good stuff from Brogdon, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum. Brogdon does a good job getting spaced to the opposite wing, Tatum makes a smart cut into just enough of a screen and Smart is on-time with the pass:

Brogdon has also better at attacking the paint than many thought. This is a good example of his patience on the drive, before using the step-through for the layup:

4. You’ll see throughout the clips that Marcus Smart piled up assists last night. A career-high 15 of them. Smart also hit 6-of-9 three-pointers, making him the first Celtic to hit six triples in the same game where he handed out 15 assists.

Smart is in complete control of the offense. He gets a little wild and fancy at times, but he’s picking and choosing when to take those chances. More often, he’s just getting to his spots to make plays as a passer or scorer, like this lefty finish off the long stride:

This pocket pass out of pick-and-roll was the prettiest dime of the night from Smart:

After much consternation, even the most ardent Smart Haters have to begrudgingly admit he’s playing great. If they can’t, there’s no hope left for them. Marcus Smart is to be loved and trusted.

5. With Jaylen Brown and Al Horford sitting, there were available minutes for some other guys. Once again, Boston’s bench stepped up.

The reserves combined for 51 points, with Malcolm Brogdon, Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet providing 41 of them. It was another night for the Celtics to show they’ve got solid depth, and they delivered.

6. Easily the biggest surprise out of the backups was Blake Griffin. He got the call to start with Al Horford resting, and Griffin showed he’s still got something left in the tank.

The veteran big man opened the scoring with a jumper, as Horford so often does:

Later in the first half, Griffin threw it back to his highflying Dunk Contest champion days:

To end the first half, Griffin powered another one through off a nice drop-off from Malcolm Brogdon:

Beyond the highlights, Griffin won the Boston crowd with his all-out effort plays. He took two charges and dove on the floor for loose balls on a few different occasions. Celtics fans will cheer skill and scoring, but they love effort and heart. Griffin put it all on display on Monday night.

7. Luke Kornet again saw big minutes and he was productive again. He finished with nine points, eight rebounds and a block. The Korntest also worked on a couple of possessions too.

This was a good play, because Kornet read it and simply beat everyone else to the ball for the big follow:

This whole play is an example of how fun the Celtics are right now. Grant Williams gets on the floor for the steal, Jayson Tatum makes the quick outlet, and Marcus Smart lobs it to Kornet for the alley-oop finish:

Stick to the end of the clip to see Kornet’s homage to Stromile Swift too!

8. Drive-and-kick is the name of the game for the Celtics. They love to get the defense in rotation before finding a shooter. Everyone keeps waiting for the three-point shooting to drop off, but when the looks are this good, that might not happen.

Boston loves to run this set with a fake screen into a reverse pin-down where Jayson Tatum screens for the big man to pop out. It’s usually run for Al Horford, but here it’s Grant Williams. When the defender closes hard, Williams drives the closeout before kicking to Derrick White for the corner three:

A little later in the first quarter, because White runs the floor hard as the trailer in transition, the defense collapse to him. That leaves Tatum wide-open at the arc:

It’s very simple, but highly effective basketball and it’s beautiful to watch.

9. We always highlight when a new Celtic gets their first hoop while wearing the green. Mfiondu Kabengele made his Celtics debut and came up with a highlight finish for his first Boston bucket:

10. The Celtics are streaking again. They’ve won four straight, as they’ve picked up victories in each game to open this six-game homestand. Next up is a mini-series as the Miami Heat head to Boston for two games.

This is a good test for the Celtics, as the Heat are finally getting healthy. And Miami has caused Boston all sorts of trouble over the years. But these aren’t the same Celtics. They’re playing with a different level of confidence and skill than we’ve seen before. We’ll see if that carries over to Wednesday.

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