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Guards shine in big win: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Clippers

Marcus Smart and Derrick White stepped up to help Boston to a fourth straight victory

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

1. The Boston Celtics have won four straight games after that rocky patch where they dropped five of six. Sure, two of the wins were over struggling teams, but two were over title contenders. And in those victories, Boston showed every bit of why they are in the mix to head back to the NBA Finals.

The LA Clippers, when healthy, are one of the best teams in the NBA. They’ve also been one of the best defensive teams in the league. The Celtics dropped 116 points on them, and it could, and should, have been more. (More on that later!)

This game was a microcosm of Boston bouncing back. They were up double-digits in this one and threatening to pull away, when LA went on a run. Instead of falling apart, the Celtics figured things out, regained the lead and controlled things through the end. That mirrors the last few weeks of the season too. Things got rocky, but Boston has figured it out.

2. We generally start the Takeaways with plays from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. That’s twofold: They are the team’s best players, and they deliver the most highlights. Today, we’re giving love to the Celtics backcourt to open things up.

Marcus Smart is playing terrific basketball lately. Over his last eight games, Smart has averaged 7.7 assists against just 1.9 turnovers per game. That’s better than a 4:1 ratio, which is elite playmaking.

In this one, Boston wanted to speed up the Clippers and to force them to play faster. Smart got things started with his hard push before finding Derrick White for the layup:

This is just gorgeous stuff. Smart sees everything developing before it’s even happened. He drops the pass on Tatum so perfectly, that Tatum only has to finish the play:

There aren’t any other point guards who sit back in the help position at the rim, but this is why Smart is the reigning DPOY:

This play started with Marcus Smart boxing out Ivica Zubac. After that, it was another hard push to find Jaylen Brown for the dunk:

Not quite as hard of a push from Smart here, but it’s the same end result with a backdoor cut and dunk for Brown:

And, again, the DPOY makes DPOY plays:

3. Derrick White joined Marcus Smart in a big night for the Boston backcourt. White was impactful all game, but he did his best work late. When White catches on the move, good things seem to happen. This is a nice play to leave it for Rob Williams to finish:

Because White is a multi-threat player, Boston can do different things with him. This is a fake DHO, and White drives his man before hanging for the finish:

With the Clippers still threatening, this drive for the and-1 came against no less a defender than Kawhi Leonard:

White is also very good at the drive-and-kick game. This is the trust Boston puts in White and Grant Williams to make the right play when Boston needed a bucket:

In Smart and White, Boston has two of the better shot-blocking guards in the NBA. Smart got his early, White got his late:

4. It wasn’t a top-tier assist night for the Celtics. The Clippers defense is designed to force opponents into a lot of 1-on-1 play. For the most part, that worked out fine. The Celtics were able to get good looks, even out of isolation plays.

All of that said, there were moments of ball movement beauty for Boston.

This play started with Jaylen Brown driving and kicking it out to Sam Hauser. From there, it was swing, swing, swing, splash:

Trusting your teammates is a beautiful thing. After Grant Williams drives and kicks it out to Derrick White, it’s again swing, swing, splash:

5. The Clippers were doing a good job of loading to the ball against Jayson Tatum. The goal was to show Tatum a second defender, either directly through a double-team or by having someone waiting in help position. The hope is that it will force Tatum to give it up to a less-dangerous teammate. Tatum was more than willing to move the ball, and Boston got some good looks out of these spots because Tatum was willing to move the ball.

On this play, Ivica Zubac shows himself in help position. Tatum sees it and fires a pass by the primary defender and Zubac both to get Rob Williams a couple of free throws:

A little later, the Clippers put two directly on the ball. It’s important that Tatum has an outlet here. Grant Williams provides that outlet before making the extra pass to Derrick White for the corner triple:

In the second half, it was again a double against Tatum. This time, Sam Hauser is the outlet. Hauser then made a heads-up skip pass across the court to White before the trapper could recover back:

Teams are going to continue to mix up their looks against Tatum. His ability to willingly accept those doubles, because he has faith his teammates will deliver, will open up the offense both for the Celtics and Tatum himself.

6. The holidays often bring with them guests who overstay their welcome. You’ve had enough and you’re ready to see them go. This is true even when they’re an old friend.

Boston’s old friend Crappy Late-Game Offense made a holiday visit. And now we’re all ready to see him leave town.

The Celtics took a 112-102 lead with 3:36 to play. And then they just sort of stopped playing. Boston was able to get enough stops of their own, that they hung on, but they went into kill-the-clock mode way too early. All the ball and player movement dried up. They held the ball so long that there was only time left for a late-clock, 1-on-1 shot.

Let’s hope this visitor got the hint and stays away for a while. We all know we’re all too happy to check in over the occasional text vs having him show up on our doorstep again.

7. Earlier, we showed you the guard protecting the rim. They weren’t the only ones, as five different Celtics recorded at least one block.

This was quite the sequence here. Jayson Tatum blocked Norman Powell’s drive. Then, somehow, Robert Williams teleported through time and space to block Ivica Zubac’s putback, before contesting Powell’s follow-up and then grabbing the rebound:

You get the sense that Al Horford really enjoys reminding offensive players that he’s still got it on the defensive end. Blocking a Paul George pullup isn’t easy, but Horford makes it look so here:

To cap it, with the Clippers in last-gasp mode, Horford made sure there would be no miracle comeback:

8. You didn’t think we were really going to leave out Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown entire, did you? It wasn’t one of those nights, even if Tatum and Brown combined for 58 points. They shot 22-of-51 from the floor and just a combined 3-of-19 from behind the arc. But they made some sparkling plays too.

This three from Tatum opened up because Derrick White’s hard cut drew Paul George just enough to give Tatum a little bit of space:

With LA loading to the ball, it was cool to see Tatum take this no-dribble shot over the smaller defender before any help could come:

Tatum has been better than ever this year about getting downhill to draw and-1. He does it again here on this tricky finish through contact:

9. Damon Stoudamire (who picked up another win for the recovering Joe Mazzulla) called Jaylen Brown a “bully”. Brown laughed and used it as an opportunity to poke fun at his coach, but Stoudamire was pretty spot on. Brown has moments where he won’t be denied and acts the bully.

These plays all game in the same stretch of the game. Luke Kennard has no chance here as Brown gets right to his spot for the paint fallaway:

On the next trip, Brown makes a nice read to get it over the top to Rob Williams for the finish:

Nic Batum has done a wonderful job reinvigorating his career. He has no shot at stopping Jaylen Brown off the bounce though:

Drawing Kennard in isolation defense, combined with no shot-blocker is easy money for Boston’s bully:

10. The Celtics bounced back to finish the homestand with four straight wins. Those mid-December woes already seem to be but a wispy memory. It’s a good thing too, as the Celtics won’t be in Boston much in January.

The team heads to the middle of the country for a four-game road trip to kick off 2023. That’s part of a stretch where the Celtics will play 10-of-13 games away from TD Garden. It’s not make-or-break-the-season time or anything, but Boston will be tested in the new year.

We hope you enjoyed this overstuffed version of the Takeaways. All of us here at CelticsBlog wish you happy, healthy and safe New Year! Here’s to hoping for big things for you and the Celtics in 2023!

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