1. In the five games since he returned from COVID, Marcus Smart has played some of the best basketball of his career. His defense has been outstanding, as he had a stretch of four games where he held opposing guards scoreless as their primary defender.
On the other end of the floor, Smart has really taken to the floor general role. He’s averaged 9.8 points on 51.4% shooting, including 38.1% from behind the arc. And he’s handing out assists at a high rate too, as Smart has averaged 6.8 helpers per game.
Against the Heat, he got it started early. Miami blows a coverage here and Smart sees it happening as he finds Robert Williams on the quick cut:
A little later, this is a gorgeous crosscourt find to Al Horford, who quietly shot 37.5% from behind the arc over the last two weeks of January. Also, take note of Jaylen Brown’s gravity as a roller. Three Heat players go to him, which allows Smart to find Horford:
2. For a while now, zone defenses have been the Boston Celtics kryptonite. Over the last month, they’ve shown signs of figuring out how to attack different sorts of zones. The good spacing here keeps each defender home in their part of the zone. That allowed Jaylen Brown to work the soft spot in the middle for a jumper:
This is a good read from Al Horford to find Josh Richardson cutting in behind the zone. Take note of Jayson Tatum staying high, which drew the corner defender up, as he thought he was handing Richardson off to the middle defender:
Tatum does a good job of working the soft spots here. He moves with the ball through the middle of the zone. Eventually, the ball finds Tatum for a short baseline jumper:
Another way to attack a zone is to drive the gaps. Richardson does a good job here of getting into the middle. Then Marcus Smart does a nice job of making the extra pass for Brown to drill the triple:
3. The above three-pointer helped salvage a messy second quarter. Miami went on an 18-3 run to open the period to tie the game at 32. After that shot from Jaylen Brown, the Heat didn’t get back within one possession for the rest of the game, and the Celtics cruised the rest of the way.
One issue during that stretch? Playing Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder together against Miami’s zone. Neither is a good enough shooter to help the other one against that sort of defense.
Schroder also seemed limited by the Achilles soreness he was dealing with pregame. He was slow on defense and died on several screens. Something to keep an eye on with the trade deadline looming.
4. Jayson Tatum is really rounding out his passing game. He had five assists in this game, and likely would have pushed for a triple-double, but he never saw the floor in the fourth quarter of the blowout.
In years past, Tatum would never have seen this pass because he would have taken off on the dribble. Instead, it’s rebound and up the floor in one motion. This one would have had Tommy Heinsohn out of his seat cackling with glee:
This read to drop it off to Robert Williams is so simple, but that’s what makes it special. Tatum doesn’t force the jumper. He had Bam Adebayo on skates, but instead of going for the highlight, he made the simple, smart, correct play:
5. Only the blowout nature of the game kept Jaylen Brown from a third 30-point game in his last four outings. Brown finished with 29 points and, most importantly, they came entirely within the flow of the game.
This was a nice move from Brown. He’s working the middle of the zone again, but this time Bam Adebayo is on the short jumper. Brown goes to the counter and the up-and-under for the layup:
The scoring draws the headlines, but Brown’s passing has improved as well. This is a nice transition play to draw the defender before finding Grant Williams in his money spot:
6. Speaking of transition, Boston blew Miami out of the gym by running. The box score shows 13 fastbreak points, but the Celtics easily had 40+ points in transition. They also made the Heat pay for turning the ball over, by scoring 24 points off turnovers.
For a team that can have major scoring droughts, stealing easy offense like this is so important.
7. The best way to describe Josh Richardson’s season is “solid”. He’s been really dependable off Boston’s bench. This lefty scoop-shot is a real weapon for Richardson:
8. Speaking of solid, Grant Williams was productive yet again. He’s bounced back very nicely from a messy sophomore season. Williams is at 42.5% from behind the arc, making him the Celtics most dependable three-point shooter.
And, lest you forget, Williams is more athletic than people think. He catches overmatched defenders like this on a somewhat regular basis now:
9. The song “We don’t talk about Bruno” from the film Encanto is all the rage right now. The Celtics very own Bruno put a capper on the game with this triple that got his teammates all sorts of fired up:
Hit a few more of those and everyone will talk about Bruno.
10. Boston finished January at an impressive 10-6. They closed the month two games above .500. It’s indicative of the season, that it’s the first time the Celtics have been that far above .500 since December 4.
After knocking off the East-leading Miami Heat, Boston is just 3.5 games out of the sixth and final assured playoff spot. They’ve also got the third-best net rating in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics welcome the Charlotte Hornets to Boston on Wednesday. That’s a big game, as the Hornets are one of the teams the Celtics are trying to pass in the standings. Win that one and then it’s games against bottom-dwellers Detroit and Orlando over the weekend.
Boston talked about catching teams sleeping with the trade deadline and All-Star break looming. It’s about building momentum now. And it’s about time for the Celtics to get going.