1. The Boston Celtics seem to be developing a script during this three-game win streak. They play it close for the better part of three quarters, and then they explode and run away late. These games aren’t the wire-to-wire blowouts from early in the season, but they’re all still coming with the same end result.
As a part of that script, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are settling into a groove somewhat akin to a boxing match. Brown does the heavy lifting early with a flurry of body blows. Then Tatum spends the middle part of the game hitting the defense with jab after jab. With the opponent on wobbly legs, the two stars then spend the fourth quarter throwing haymakers for the knockout blow.
It’s a formula that works. Brown and Tatum play plenty well together, but the staggering by Joe Mazzulla (and in this game Damon Stoudamire, as Mazzulla was unavailable due to eye irritation) allows each star room for the offense to run through them. Both Tatum and Brown get about a six-minute stint in each half where they are running the show while the other one sits. Then, they come back together to form a closing duo that no other team can match.
2. This was part of Jaylen Brown’s solo-stretch in the third quarter. With the Rockets hanging around, Brown took over and pushed the Celtics to a double-digit lead.
Tari Eason is a fun rookie, but he has little chance here. The rookie is trusting his length, to give Brown a little cushion, but Brown attacks before Eason is ready and the result is an and-1:
Brown’s off-the-dribble three-point shooting has leveled way up over the years. He’s gotten really good at using screens to get into his shots, like he does here:
Being the best athlete on the floor at most times never hurts. This is a nice hesitation dribble to blow by the Rockets for the lefty hammer:
Finally, here’s Brown doing his part to land a knockout blow. Once again, he works behind a screen from Rob Williams for the triple:
3. Something changed this year for Jayson Tatum in transition. He’s going stronger to the basket than he ever has. There are times when Tatum catches the ball, looks ahead and just decides he’s getting all the way to the cup. This was one of those times:
This play was a nice example of Tatum’s improved strength and his skill. The fake to free himself is using his ability as a shooter to get free. Then he uses his handle to get to the paint, before absorbing the contact and swooping for the and-1:
On the next trip, to end the half, Jaylen Brown delivers a gorgeous pass to Tatum on the roll. Because the Rockets defense collapses, Tatum makes the smart kickout to Al Horford to beat the buzzer:
Brown’s three-pointer above had the Rockets wobbling, and Tatum sent them to the canvas with this windmill jam:
4. Six more assists against just one turnover for Marcus Smart. He continues to play an exemplary floor game. Smart helped get Jaylen Brown going early with this kickout pass:
When the stars move while Smart drives, good things happen:
Smart and Rob Williams wanted to get in on finishing off Houston. Brown stagged them; Tatum sent them down; Smart and Williams combined to get in one last blow before they hit the mat:
5. Let’s spend a bit more time with Robert Williams. He was questionable to even play in this game due to an illness. But Williams turned in his best effort of the season. He was all over the boards, grabbing 15 rebounds in just 21 minutes. Williams also lifts the Celtics defense to new heights too.
This isn’t as easy as it looks. It’s hard to get up to challenge a driving floater, land, turn and beat everyone to the rebound. Williams does it without even so much as breaking a sweat:
This was a mess of a possession, but Williams cleaned it all up in the end:
Welcome Malcolm Brogdon to the “Just throw it near the rim when Rob is around” Club:
Five of Williams’ boards were off the offensive glass. This is just awesome stuff. Williams knows where Marcus Smart and the defenders are, so he simply tips this rebound out to Smart for the wide-open three:
6. At points in the game, it seemed like Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green were unstoppable as drivers. As the game went along, it became obvious that Boston’s defensive gameplan was to chase the Rockets off the arc as much as possible. Or to close hard when Houston did take three-pointers.
Porter and Green both had stretches where they got to the rim repeatedly, but the Celtics avoided any kind of drastic three-point barrage. Houston got up 45 attempts from deep, but they connected on just 14 of them. And down the stretch, Porter and Green both seemed to run out of gas, as Boston ran away with the game.
This is an important note that NBA defenses can’t take everything away. At least not for very long. But executing a gameplan to eliminate one part of an opponent’s offense often has a carryover to the rest of the offense.
7. Earlier in the Takeaways, we highlighted Marcus Smart finding Jaylen Brown on a nice cut. Slowly, but surely, the Celtics stars are starting to do a bit more off-ball. Kevin Porter Jr. cheats here and Brown beats him backdoor, as Sam Hauser delivers the perfect pass:
On this play, Jayson Tatum takes similar advantage of Tari Eason. Eason tries to jump the passing lane, so Tatum back cuts him. Rob Williams drops the beautiful dime for the and-1:
A couple of times per game, we’re seeing Brown and Tatum work off-ball by cutting. It’s getting them layups or dunks, or it’s pulling the defense in so much that someone else is open. It would be great to see even more of this, especially when everyone on the Celtics can really pass the ball.
8. Speaking of passing the ball, Boston had it popping. On a night where shots weren’t always falling, the Celtics still tallied 32 assists on 43 baskets. There isn’t much a defense can do when the ball moves like this:
This is what multiple Celtics coaches have preached for years. Hit the paint, kick it out, do it again, open jumper:
9. Damon Stoudamire dipped into the Brad Stevens, Ime Udoka, Joe Mazzulla ATO bag in this one. Boston went 3-for-3 on ATO sets in this one, which is enough to let Stoudamire call the looks for at least the next couple of games!
First, it was this guard-guard opening, followed by the traditional guard-center pick-and-roll. The play is designed to get the corner man pinching in, depending on which way Malcolm Brogdon comes off the screen. He rejects it, draws the strongside corner and finds Marcus Smart for the triple:
Stoudamire keeps it simple here. Alperen Sengun has playing drop coverage the entire game. The Rockets young players tend to die on screens. Easy pullup three for Jayson Tatum:
This set to open the fourth quarter is going to give Derrick White three options. If no one picks him up, he waltzes to the rim. If they pick him up and the defenders react to Tatum popping out, Rob Williams is open for the dunk. The third option is what actually happens. The first defender drops to take away White’s drive, the young guard trails over the screen vs executing the double-switch or jump-switch and that leaves Tatum open at the arc:
10. The Celtics are back on track. They’ve won three straight games after a rocky patch. They close out the long homestand with a chance to finish on the right side at 4-3 when they host the LA Clippers on Thursday.
Boston owes LA a little payback after taking a beating on the road just a couple of weeks ago. It’s also another good test against a fellow title contender.
Finally, it’s important the Celtics get this one, because they won’t see much of Boston to open the new year. 10 of the first 13 games in 2023 are on the road, including four-, three- and three-game road trips.
Banking one for the road is the best possible way the Boston Celtics can close out a wildly successful 2022 with a bang.