1. Given that the Boston Celtics lost their last game before the All-Star break in disappointing fashion, there was some concern about how they’d start this post-break stretch run. Consider those concerns dissipated.
Boston once again led wire-to-wire in a dominating road victory. Yes, the Brooklyn Nets were undermanned, but the Celtics destroyed them. Again. This game was never really in danger at any point.
It looks like Boston got bit by that pesky pre-break bug. That loss to the Detroit Pistons was one where the team didn’t seem overly focused. We’ll cut them some slack, as it seems like an aberration vs a return to the inconsistency that plagued this team in the first half of the schedule.
2. Al Horford was asked about what’s changed for the team during this period of success. Among a handful of things, Horford mentioned pushing the ball and playing with better pace. That started on the Celtics first basket of the night, when Marcus Smart found Horford for a transition dunk:
Derrick White has helped drive the Celtics new up-tempo philosophy and this was a nice pullup in a 2-for-1 transition opportunity:
Horford is driving the quicker pace himself by utilizing one of his best skills: ripping and running off the boards. This is a good push and a heads-up pass to find Jaylen Brown with only Seth Curry in front of him:
3. One other thing Al Horford called out was how important it is to have Marcus Smart running the offense and controlling the tempo of the game. Smart played a perfectly in-control game, as he made 5-of-6 three-pointers, picked up six assists and had the Celtics offense humming.
You saw the dime to Horford in transition, but Smart’s favorite target this year has been Robert Williams. When Smart can add a little spice to those lobs, so much the better:
2-for-1 opportunities have been pretty bad for the Celtics in recent years. They often seem to botch the first chance. Derrick White executed one earlier in the Takeaways at the end of the first quarter and here’s Smart taking advantage to end the second period:
This is a good fastbreak. Horford outlets to Smart to get them running. Then, Smart slows things up just enough to let Grant Williams fill the lane, while also drawing the defender to him. That opened up the no-look pass and the layup:
4. Postgame, Ime Udoka called out the Celtics defense first, but had a lot of praise for the team’s ball movement. Boston had 28 assists on 46 baskets. That’s a really good number in a game that featured heavy garbage time, which tends to be a lot of ISO ball.
This play is nice because it features patience and good spacing. No forced passes here, as Marcus Smart ends up with an open three:
Udoka also said the Celtics are regularly “passing up good shots for great shots”. This play is a good example of that. It starts with Grant Williams driving a closeout, which is a regular occurrence now. He kicks to Jaylen Brown and Brown passes up a good look to swing it to Al Horford for a great look:
Good ball movement doesn’t always have to result in an open jumper. This is a nice pass by Jayson Tatum to find Brown. Brown then passes up a drive or short shot to hit Horford for the easy layup:
5. As mentioned above, the Celtics defense is locked in right now. They are connected and switching on a string. Robert Williams acting as this roaming, free safety type has given the defense a new dimension, and it’s why sticking with the two-big starting group works. Al Horford defends the center, while Ime Udoka puts Williams on the weakest shooter. That works because Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum can defend whoever else is out there 1-4 without much worry.
The Nets shot just 37.8% in the first three quarters of this game. Boston’s perimeter defenders made life tough on the Brooklyn shooters, while the bigs held things down inside.
This grouping works. So, for the rest of this season, let’s lay off the “Double bigs again?” griping. It’s become comically misplaced and is complaining for complaining’s sake.
6. Another way Ime Udoka has Boston clicking is with after timeout (ATO) plays. Boston has regularly been at, or near, the top of the NBA all season in points scored on ATOs.
Udoka tends to do it by keeping things fairly simple. And sometimes that results in something spectacular like this hammer from Jayson Tatum:
(Apologies for the lack of a straight spliced-in clip, but the NBA has this played flagged as a different one for some reason!)
7. We’ve talked a lot in this space about Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith (and our dearly departed Romeo Langford) not taking advantages of their opportunities enough. After the trade deadline, Derrick White has taken on all of the Josh Richardson minutes, and some of the Dennis Schroder minutes, as Ime Udoka has largely stuck with his eight-man rotation.
The guy who has seen additional time, eating up the remaining Schroder minutes, is Pritchard. And he’s been effective. Hitting shots like this no-hesitation pullup off a screen goes a long way towards keeping Pritchard in the rotation:
This one is good stuff, because Pritchard takes an extra, hard dribble at the big to get him to back up before he sticks the pullup triple:
8. There’s no real analysis here, but basketball is really fun sometimes:
9. Jaylen Brown played a really under control floor game in this one. He didn’t have any of the head-down rushes into the defense without a plan. He let the game come to him and took what was there. This is a good example of Brown keeping his head up to make a play. Brown reads that James Johnson kind of sticks in no-man’s land as Rob Williams rolled into the paint. Good spacing keeps the other defenders home and Brown delivers a good pass to get Williams an easy dunk:
10. It’s too early to know if this is the start of a new long win streak, but you can’t go on a streak without getting the first one!
Boston is now off to Detroit then Indiana for the rare weekend matinee, late afternoon back-to-back. Those are two winnable games for the Celtics. But they aren’t looking past what’s next or thinking about anything bigger. When asked if the Celtics want revenge on the Pistons, Jayson Tatum said “I don’t know about revenge. As Brad Stevens would say ‘They all count for one game’.”
So, it’s on to Detroit. Nothing more than that for the moment. And that mentality has served the Celtics well in 2022.