1. No Al Horford. No Malcolm Brogdon. Second night of a back-to-back with travel (albeit short), after a game of heavy minutes on Sunday. Sloppy first half. Shaky officiating throughout the opening two quarters.
This team just keeps winning games. The stars do what they do. The role players play their roles perfectly. And, when necessary, someone unexpected always steps up.
This was one of the best wins of the season, and arguably the best one, because Boston overcame all that was listed above. They ground the Toronto Raptors down until they had nothing left. Toronto made a mini rally late, but Boston got this win by doing the stuff the Raptors do. They hit the offensive glass. They forced turnovers. And Boston did it their way by hitting timely shots and sharing the ball. The Celtics won by beating Toronto at their own game and by doing what the Celtics do too.
2. It wasn’t one of those super dominant offensive nights, but the Celtics still scored 116 points. Part of how they got there was they got back to their ball movement ways. Boston tallied 27 assists on 44 baskets. Here’s a sampling of some of the good ball and player movement.
Drive-and-kick and hitting the paint multiple times results in good stuff. Nice patience by Jaylen Brown to not over-drive this ball and to hit the simple floater:
Blake Griffin is a good passer. He knows exactly where he wants to go with this ball as soon as Jayson Tatum kicks it out to him. Derrick White’s confidence as a shooter is sky high, so he lets it fly right off the catch:
Griffin and Brown work some gravity here. It’s an improvised DHO into a roll for Griffin. Because Toronto had been putting two on the ball on screen actions, Fred VanVleet has to drop to take Griffin on the roll. Brown sees it and hits Marcus Smart for the triple:
NBA games often become ISO-based because defenses lock in and it’s about the best players making plays. Boston is at their best when the ball keeps moving. Drive-and-kick, followed by another drive-and-kick, followed by a quick swing pass. This is beautiful basketball late in the fourth quarter:
3. Al Horford is a wonderful player and a perfect fit for Boston on both ends of the floor. He’s not a rim runner though. Horford does most of his work on pick-and-pop plays these days. With Blake Griffin and Luke Kornet holding down the frontcourt with Horford resting and Rob Williams still out, the Celtics made a concerted effort to get the bigs involved at the basket.
If two are on the ball, someone is open. Fred VanVleet doesn’t want to leave Jaylen Brown open in the corner. Jayson Tatum puts the pass right on Griffin for the easy one at the rim:
Another pick-and-roll and this time it was Jaylen Brown setting up Griffin. This is a nice pass, nice catch and a tough finish:
The Raptors don’t switch this off-ball screen, but Thaddeus Young is clearly worried far more about Brown than he is Kornet. That left the backdoor open for Kornet to finish the alley-oop off a good read by Brown:
This one came off a stagger screen. It’s another nice pass by Brown to Kornet on the delayed roll:
Eight assists for Brown in this one. Even better? Back-to-back games with zero turnovers for Brown. That’s big-time stuff.
4. A little more from Blake Griffin, because he played a terrific game for Boston. He’s probably not jumping over any more Kias, but this is a very explosive finish by Griffin for the and-1:
Late in the game, the Celtics were searching for that one bucket to put the Raptors away. Griffin delivered with the tip-in:
13 points and eight rebounds in 32 minutes for Griffin in place of Al Horford. That’s the veteran depth showing up.
5. Luke Kornet also did a great job off the Celtics bench. He finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and a block. This is great positioning and hard work by Kornet to get the and-1 off the putback:
Kornet does a good job with the delayed or late roll/cut to the rim. This is a good pass by Derrick White to find him too:
In the second half, Boston only had two turnovers. One was late in the third quarter and the other was early in the fourth quarter. Considering the Raptors lead the NBA in forcing opponent’s turnovers and points off turnovers, that was a huge accomplishment for the Celtics.
7. The Celtics usually have four or five players on the floor who are a threat do something good with the ball in their hands. That helps their late-clock offense quite a bit, because almost everyone can make something happen.
The best of that bunch is Jayson Tatum. He pretty regularly gets to a good shot. Christian Koloko is 7-foot-1. Doesn’t matter for Tatum on this rise-and-fire step-back three:
8. We’ve written a lot about Grant Williams driving closeouts, and we’re going back to it again. This is a good job to split the defenders before using his body to protect the ball for the lefty finish at an awkward angle:
This is a similar type of move here. This time Williams gets to the middle, but he still uses his body to shield the ball for the lefty running hook:
9. Marcus Smart was back after a one-game absence, and he continues to make a positive difference for Boston. This is the DPOY making one of those “cobra strike” steals, while also being screened. From there, Smart is the first to the floor and somehow gets it ahead to Jayson Tatum to get a couple of free throws:
There’s walking the dog and then there is WALKING THE DOG:
And that resulted in this on the backend:
10. The Boston Celtics are 20-5.
The 2021-22 Celtics won their 20th game on January 10 to improve their record to 20-21 at the regular season halfway point.
This version of the Celtics is on a roll. They’ve won the first two games of their six-game road trip, by taking care of Atlantic Division rivals. Now, Boston heads west to face the Phoenix Suns, Golden State Warriors, LA Clipper and Los Angeles Lakers. Those are four tough games. If Boston could come out of that stretch 2-2, it’d be great.
But there’s no way these Celtics are thinking that way at all. It’s about going 1-0 at Phoenix on Wednesday. That’s it. Nothing more. One game, and one win, at a time.