1. Through most of the first three quarters, no one would have blamed Celtics fans for saying “Here we go again.” The team was scuffling along once again, but they were hanging in there.
Boston started off well enough, but Minnesota hit them with a big run. The Celtics punched back, but the Wolves hit them with another big run. Back and forth in a display of the old “it’s a game of runs”.
But then, at the start of the fourth quarter, Boston took over. By the midpoint of the final period, the Celtics were having fun, TD Garden was on their feet and everyone was ready for Christmas.
Just as we’ve all been wondering how this team went sideways so quickly, they showed they can turn it around just as quickly. No, one game against a middling team doesn’t mean much…until it does.
2. No less an authority than Jaylen Brown himself said the first three quarters were some of the worst basketball he had played. He looked disconnected defensively and his offense was a complete mess.
But Brown figured it out in a big way in the fourth quarter. With Boston needing a win, Brown led them there. He scored 23 of his 36 points in the final frame to help the Celtics get over the hump.
Sometimes you just need to see one go down. With Naz Reid hesitant to close out, Brown hit this three-pointer to get himself going:
After dropping in a layup, Brown hit this one-dribble pullup and you had the sense it was on:
This was an outstanding hit-ahead pass from Marcus Smart and Brown hammered it home:
When you’re feeling it, there’s no hesitation in rising and firing:
Brown taking this original shot is fine. He’s on fire and the Celtics were looking for the knockout punch. What’s really great is that he makes the right play after the offensive rebound and swings it to Al Horford to land that knockout blow:
3. In a couple of the above clips, you see Marcus Smart involved in a few of them. While Brown will draw the highlights from the huge fourth quarter, and Jayson Tatum will get kudos for another big all-around night, Smart’s fingerprints were all over this win for Boston.
This is a quintessential Smart play. The steal and the save to get Tatum a runout dunk:
Later in the game, Smart did the playmaking himself. This is a delayed swing after the fake. The somewhat exaggerated fake pass worked to hold both D’Angelo Russell and Rudy Gobert long enough to give Al Horford all the time he needed:
A lot has been made of Tatum doing more work as a screener this season. Smart does a nice job finding Tatum when he slips screens like this:
This is just beautiful basketball from a point guard that is dialed in:
This pass is great, but how fired up Smart is after the play is even better:
Having Marcus Smart is always better than not having Marcus Smart. Let that not be forgotten.
4. Derrick White got the fresh cut. Sometimes just feeling better can get you going, and White was terrific. He scored 18 points and got most of them from being on the attack all game. This was nice use of the hesitation dribble to get Rudy Gobert to drop off a bit to open up the pullup:
White is probably the best at pushing pace of all of the Celtics guards. He also knows the golden rule that if no one stops the ball, you go all the way to the rim:
D’Angelo Russell had given Boston trouble through three quarters. In the fourth quarter, White was his primary defender and Russell scored just three points. This block is a good example of how White shut down almost anything Russell tried to get:
5. With Rob Williams sitting out due to an illness, Al Horford needed to be the rim protector again for Boston. He delivered.
Horford isn’t worried about where Rudy Gobert is on this play, because he knows Gobert is out at the arc. Horford also knows White will slide down and take away the corner. That allows him to provide the weakside help and the block:
Naz Reid gets Horford with the dribble move here, but Horford stays in the play and erases the shot at the rim:
The veteran big man did more than just block some shots. Horford scored 17 points and hit 5-of-10 from downtown. This buzzer beater gave Boston some confidence heading into the final period:
6. The Celtics aren’t a great offensive rebounding team. That’ll pick up some with Rob Williams back, but Boston has ranged from the middle of the pack to the lower-third as far as getting on the offensive glass.
With the team struggling to connect from distance, they’re at least creating extra looks the last couple of games. Against the Pacers, the Celtics grabbed 25 of their own misses. In this game, Boston hit the offensive boards for 20 more.
It takes a lot of misses to create that many offensive rebounds, but it’s a sign guys are still getting after it on the glass.
7. Without Rob Williams, Luke Kornet had to step up and he did. Against the big Wolves frontline, Kornet gave the Celtics 10 solid minutes off the bench. This is a great play to break up the lob to Rudy Gobert:
A little later, Kornet did some of that offensive glass work by beating Minnesota to the rebound for the putback:
8. Despite Luke Kornet’s good minutes, the Celtics bench is going through it a bit right now. Malcolm Brogdon and Grant Williams are both in slumps. Sam Hauser hasn’t found the range again.
The struggles caused Joe Mazzulla to ride his starters a touch more. And that’s fine. This was the game for that. Mazzulla found a group that worked, and he ran with it. That was a nice adjustment from the sideline.
9. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combined to take 21 free throws with Brown getting 10 and Tatum getting 11. That’s a good sign that neither guy was settling for just taking jumpers. A few were drawn on jumpers, and a couple were from technical fouls, but Tatum and Brown were good about attacking inside when their outside shots weren’t falling.
10. Despite the recent struggles, the Celtics head into the Christmas Day matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks back in first place. This is the first time the two teams will meet since their seven-game playoff series last spring.
Nothing will be decided by who wins on Christmas, but it’s a big game nonetheless. The Celtics have a chance to show the Eastern Conference still runs through Boston. And maybe it’s some holiday optimism, but it feels like the Celtics are due for one of those games where they make everything.
Bonus: Let all of us here at CelticsBlog to be the among the first to wish all those who celebrate a very Merry Christmas. Stay warm and safe and enjoy the basketball on Christmas Day!