1. The Boston Celtics have played some tough games against the Chicago Bulls over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, a few of those tough ones have finished with the Bulls beating the Celtics after a Boston collapse.
No collapse this time. Instead, the Celtics closed the game out with a series of winning plays.
It’s early-November, so there aren’t necessarily “big” wins just yet. But this one felt sort of big. Boston was coming off a loss and the signs were there of blowing another double-digit lead to Chicago. But the Celtics held off the Bulls and got back into the win column.
2. Jayson Tatum was terrific in this game. He made a series of MVP plays throughout the night. Tatum forced his way to the free throw line for a career-high 20 free throw attempts. The Celtics star is now shooting 8.6 free throws per game. If that continues, he’s a near-lock to average 30 points per game.
Plays like this are great to see from Tatum. He’s on the attack against an overmatched defender in Nikola Vucevic here. The result is a Eurostep for the and-1:
Winning MVP is going to take doing more than just scoring. The MVP has to make plays for others too, and this hit-ahead from Tatum to Marcus Smart was gorgeous stuff:
But scoring surely helps. This is great recognition from Tatum. He sees the double-team is coming, so he uses the escape dribble to get away from it to knock down the fallaway:
MVPs make winning plays on defense too. This was just the latest in what is becoming a long list for Tatum this season. To be clear, we’re talking about the strip, not the goofy turnover at the end of the clip:
All-around dominance from Tatum on the night, as he finished with 36 points, 12 rebounds, six assists, a steal and a block, and only one turnover on the night.
3. Malcolm Brogdon became the first Celtics guard in the three-point era to score at least 25 points while hitting 90% of his shots from the field. No Bulls guard could keep Brogdon from getting where he wanted to go all night long.
Alex Caruso is a very good defender, but Brogdon was able to get right through him for an and-1 here:
It wasn’t a big assist night for Brogdon, but he still had four helpers. This is almost an inverted DHO to open up Jayson Tatum for the three:
On one of the rare occasions where Chicago kept Brogdon from getting to the rim, he buried a baseline pullup:
And, to top it off, Brogdon did a nice job defending Zach LaVine at times too. This was a great recovery block by Brogdon:
4. Joe Mazzulla used some timeouts! Twice Mazzulla took timeouts when the Bulls were on runs. And once he took one when there was a long stretch without a whistle and the Celtics were looking pretty ragged. Progress!
Mazzulla is also showing he has some chops drawing up set plays after a break. This was a good-looking set to get Sam Hauser a three-pointer to open the second quarter. Good on- and off-ball actions here, finished with Hauser working off the DHO:
ATOs matter most when it’s late in the game though. The spacing here is terrific. There’s nowhere the Bulls can send help from as Malcolm Brogdon and Al Horford work a handoff to get an and-1:
5. It was an uneven game for Jaylen Brown. He looked rushed at times (but not when it mattered most. More on that in a bit!), and ran into some sloppy missed shots and turnovers.
But Brown brought the game’s biggest and loudest highlight when he sent Nikola Vucevic into oblivion:
Also, this is example umpteen of Brown making sharp, smart cuts off the ball to get layups and dunks.
6. The Celtics offense has been pretty good this season so far. It’s clearly ahead of the defense to start the year. But the offense still has moments where it hits lulls. When that happens, one of the ways to break out of it should be to get Marcus Smart working in the post. Good stuff always comes from those plays.
Remember what we said above about Brown cutting? This is a good cut off a Smart post-up and a good pass by Smart:
Smart is also strong enough that he can overpower most opposing guards to get easy shots around the rim. Alex Caruso is a good defender, but he’s not strong enough to keep Smart from getting middle for the turnaround:
7. Al Horford is playing too many minutes. It’s probably necessary with Rob Williams out, but 31.4 minutes per game is too high for Horford this early in the year. Mazzulla might have to ride Grant Williams and Luke Kornet a little more, and maybe Blake Griffin and Noah Vonleh too, just to get Horford’s minutes down.
That said, Horford still has it. If he catches the opposing center leaning, Horford is off to the rim:
8. A staple lineup under Brad Stevens was Jayson Tatum plus four reserves. Stevens regularly used these groups to bridge the first and second quarters and the third and fourth quarters. Joe Mazzulla went to that look to great success in this game too. Look for more of that, especially as the Celtics look manage minutes.
In order for those groupings to work, the reserves have to defend. Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet showed they can hold their own. Hauser did a really nice job against Zach LaVine to force a miss here:
Later in the second quarter, Kornet had a nice contest against Patrick Williams on a drive:
Nothing flashy by either Hauser or Kornet, and there’s not even a box score stat. Just solid defense, and that’s what will keep both of them in the rotation.
9. Derrick White was part of the closing lineup and he delivered. First, White used an Al Horford screen, combined with a hesitation dribble to get all the way to the rim:
We said earlier that Jaylen Brown was rushed for a lot of the game, with one notable patient play. This was that patient play. Brown drove and got cut off. Instead of forcing up a look, Brown pivoted and found White for a huge triple:
10. The Celtics now head just a bit south for the back-to-back against the New York Knicks. Both teams are coming in off a game, as the Knicks had a come-from-behind victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.
This is a nice measuring stick for Boston. The Celtics are better than the Knicks, but it’s a road game on a back-to-back. If the guys in green lock in and take care of business, we can start to feel a lot better about the early-season bumpiness. If it’s a sloppy mess, then the uneven start to the year will continue on.
Look for a somewhat expanded rotation on Saturday night in New York. Joe Mazzulla said Al Horford was “TBD” as far as playing in the back-to-back. That could mean some expanded minutes for the other bigs. And to keep minutes down for the guards, maybe Payton Pritchard sees some minutes. It’s a good opportunity for Mazzulla to run some different looks to manage minutes on the back-to-back.