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Defense steps up: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Nets

Boston turned in one of their best defensive nights to get a road win in Brooklyn

NBA: Boston Celtics at Brooklyn Nets Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

1. The Boston Celtics had their latest win streak snapped at five when the lost at home in overtime to the Miami Heat. The question when a streak is snapped is: Does a new streak start the other way?

The Celtics did a good job at the Brooklyn Nets of making sure they got back on track. It was one of Boston’s worst offensive efforts of the season, but it came on a night when the team really locked in on the defensive end.

The Nets shot just 40.5%, while Boston also forced 15 turnovers. That offset some sloppy offense and shooting from the Celtics, including some weird troubles at the rim.

The ability to bounce back and beat a good team is good. But what’s really good is seeing the Celtics still have the ability to shut a team down. Boston has been a bit uneven on defense, but the ability is still there, and this was without their two best defenders too. Definitely a good sign of things to come.

2. Jaylen Brown in the first quarter is a truly wild thing. He’s gotten Boston off to countless great starts over the last two years. This game was no different.

Brown had already hit a couple of threes before this deep pull:

This was a fake DHO to get Brown working in space on an ATO. He does a great job of creating separation from Kevin Durant for this finish:

Even though he was scorching hot, Brown did a good job of not forcing shots. He draws two defenders here and makes the smart kickout pass to Malcolm Brogdon:

Brown’s 20-point first quarter was just a part of an overall great game. He finished with 34 points on 10-of-20 shooting, including 5-of-9 from behind the arc and 9-of-11 at the free throw line. But Brown also grabbed 10 rebounds, blocked a career-high four shots (more on that in a bit). The best number of all? Zero turnovers.

3. The third quarter was the worst quarter of basketball Boston has played this year. The Celtics scored 13 points on 4-of-16 shooting out of the break. They also had eight turnovers (six regular giveaways and two shot-clock violations). That’s 20 empty possessions out of 24 overall possessions in the period.

The good news? The Nets weren’t much better. Brooklyn hit 8-of-20 shots and turned it over three times themselves. That allowed the Nets to only cut six points off the Celtics 12-point halftime lead.

4. Part of the reason Boston acquired Malcolm Brogdon was in hopes he’d steady things when everything was going sideways. Brogdon did exactly that late in the third quarter and early fourth quarter. The Celtics couldn’t find offense and Brogdon came in and got them going.

This is an element Brogdon brings that Boston was missing last season. He gets downhill, draws multiple defenders and finds Grant Williams in his corner office:

A little later, it’s a similar setup. Brogdon knows Joe Harris can’t guard him off the bounce. Because Grant Williams just hit a triple, Kevin Durant can’t come off him to help. The result is an and-1 at the rim for Brogdon:

Early in the fourth quarter, Brogdon does a nice job of again drawing the defense, this time to find Sam Hauser in the same left-side corner:

If it keeps working, why do anything different? This time around Brogdon sets up Al Horford for the triple:

13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 32 minutes for Brogdon as he delivered exactly what Boston needed.

5. Jayson Tatum took a while to find his rhythm in this one. He eventually got it going late in the first half. Then, when it was winning time, Boston went to their closer.

Tatum is getting a lot of mileage of running slip-screens to get to the rim. He has good chemistry with Derrick White on these plays. Tatum does a nice job of sealing Kyrie Irving on his back before drop-stepping and slipping to the rim:

This is a slip out of a flare screen. When Kevin Durant goes over Tatum’s off-ball screen, Tatum gets Royce O’Neal on his back. Malcolm Brogdon is on time with the pass for the layup:

The Celtics did a good job keeping Durant off-balance. This is straight one-on-one coverage and Tatum picks Durant’s pocket for the dunk:

On the next trip, Tatum effectively finished off the Nets. The fun thing is the play starts with him going to set a screen for Jaylen Brown. Brown gives Tatum the “You got it” motion. When Brown cuts, Durant drops to bump him off his path and that’s all the room Tatum needs to rise and fire:

In his own words, Tatum called his nine turnovers “ridiculous”. He wasn’t happy about that aspect of his night. There wasn’t a lot to complain about with the rest of his game though.

6. Let’s pause on the turnovers for a minute. The Miami Heat played Boston very physically on Friday night. The Nets tried to replicate that, but they don’t really have the same personnel to pull it off.

Still, it’s something to keep in mind. In the playoffs, the physicality amps way up. Boston doesn’t wilt against that pressure, but they do have a tendency to get sloppy. It’s something to keep an eye on, especially on Monday night against another long, physical opponent.

7. With Marcus Smart sitting out due to a sore hip, Payton Pritchard got his shot. He provided Boston with a spark off the bench.

Pritchard is better at creating space for his shot than he gets credit for. He showed that in two different ways against the Nets. He does a nice job here of using his dribble to get to a spot for the late-clock fallaway:

A couple of plays later, after a nice steal by Jayson Tatum, notice the little shoulder bump Pritchard gives Joe Harris to get to the layup:

On a night where Joe Mazzulla mostly ran an eight-man rotation, Pritchard saw 16 minutes off the bench. In order to play, he has to hold up defensively, especially on switches. This is great defense to keep T.J. Warren from getting to his spot, then contesting the jumper:

8. Boston held a block party in Brooklyn. Even without Rob Williams, the Celtics totaled nine blocks, led by a career-high four from Jaylen Brown and three from Al Horford. Here’s a sampling of the rim protection.

The Celtics transition defense is good because they make a real effort to get back. But doing something when you get back counts too, and Brown did that here:

Harris was a frequent victim. He thinks he has Horford beat, but Horford sends the shot into the seats:

This is a great two-man effort in transition defense. Payton Pritchard slows down T.J. Warren on the runout, then Sam Hauser cleans it up with the monster block:

Another great effort by Brown here on the chasedown:

This time it’s Royce O’Neale who thinks he has Horford beaten off the bounce. Nope:

9. Boston did a good job varying their coverages against Kevin Durant, as we called out above. They mixed up double-teams with one-one-one coverage. And they sent the doubles from different places too. Durant shot well, but he turned it over eight times. This is a good example of sending a dig-down double to force a Durant turnover:

The Celtics also did a nice job of loading to the ball against Kyrie Irving, especially late in the clock. Boston would send a second defender at Irving to block out passing lanes, knowing he’d take the contested jumper. Irving shot just 7-of-21 on the night and never really got in rhythm.

10. It’s right back to work for the Celtics, as they travel north to face the Toronto Raptors on a back-to-back. That game will be followed by an immediate flight to the west coast to start a four-game Western Conference swing.

If any game this year has screamed schedule loss, it’s this Raptors matchup. Al Horford will likely sit, and it’s unknown if Marcus Smart will be able to go or not. In addition, the rotation regulars all played heavy minutes against the Nets.

But Boston has been good in these spots. So, maybe this win over the Nets was the start of another new win streak. It’d be good timing as the Celtics head west.

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