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Role players step up in big win: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Hornets

Boston moved a season-best three games over .500 and is starting to make up ground in the playoff race

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

1. It was Josh Richardson’s night as the Boston Celtics got a huge win over the Charlotte Hornets. Richardson scored 23 points in 31 minutes off the bench. He was dialed in from distance, as he knocked down 6-of-8 three-pointers. That included this one from way behind the arc:

That was the third three in a row that Richardson hit to open the second quarter scoring.

Later in the game, Richardson knocked down this triple to snap a 10-0 Hornets run:

Throughout the game, whenever the Celtics needed a bucket, Richardson delivered. He’s up to 41.1% on three-pointers this season. Richardson is also heavily involved in trade rumors leading up to the deadline. It’s starting to become a bit of a “Trade him if you dare” situation for Brad Stevens.

2. As referenced above, this was a game of runs. Boston got out to an 11-point lead in the second quarter. Charlotte ripped off a 10-0 run to get back within one-point.

In the fourth quarter, the Celtics took another 11-point lead. A 16-5 Hornets run in less than four minutes tied the game at 107.

But this time, instead of wilting and falling apart, the Celtics executed in the game’s final minute. They got the ball to Jayson Tatum and he drew two free throws by attacking the basket vs settling for a jumper. Then Rob Williams came up with a huge block. Marcus Smart hit two more free throws. And then Williams sealed it with a dunk with less than five seconds to play.

It was good to see Boston take control at the end of the game and finish strong. Yet another sign this team might be turning the corner.

3. Speaking of late-game play…it wasn’t exactly a banner performance for Jaylen Brown. He had seven turnovers and struggled to hit shots for a lot of the game. But Brown grabbed six rebounds and handed out six assists. And he came up with some big buckets late in the game.

We don’t see Brown doing a lot of work on the offensive glass, but this is a strong rebound for a putback here:

With the shot-clock running out, and the Hornets in the midst of that big closing run, Boston needed a basket. Brown delivered:

4. Robert Williams is a passing savant. He sees stuff that only a handful of other big men see. He knows where Jayson Tatum is as soon as he starts this run to the rim. And the pass is perfectly delivered into Tatum’s shooting pocket:

This offensive rebound/tip-pass is harder than it looks to pull off. A lot harder actually. Williams makes it look simple:

5. Postgame, no less an authority than Marcus Smart praised Robert Williams’ defense. That’s notable because that praise came from the guy who did this in the first half:

Williams lived up to it by making a game-saving play in the game’s final seconds:

That was the ninth time this season Williams has blocked a three-pointer this year. That’s tied for second-most in the NBA. As a center. Impressive stuff.

6. Marcus Smart and Robert Williams chemistry goes beyond being a dynamic defensive duo. The two work great together on the offensive end too.

Williams got this bucket simply by being really active. And it’s a perfect pass by Smart over the top of the defense:

Williams has also learned that when Smart is working from a post-up, he just needs to relocate to the open spot around the rim:

7. Boston shot 51.2% from the floor. The Celtics held the Hornets to under 43% shooting. But turnovers kept Charlotte in the game.

Boston coughed it up 19 times. Many of those were live-ball turnovers. That led to Charlotte getting 28 points off turnovers, many of which came as part of 24 fastbreak points.

This time, the Celtics were able to play through the sloppiness. But it’s something to keep an eye on for sure.

8. Grant Williams has become so dependable off the bench. He’s always good defensively. Offensively, he’s up to 42.8% on three-pointers after a 3-for-6 night from downtown. This is commonplace now:

9. The above play was a good example of some solid passing. Despite the turnovers, Boston had 31 assists on 42 baskets. Over this month-long run of good play, they’ve really had the ball popping. Here’s several examples of good passes.

Having three bigs who can pass really opens up the Celtics offense. This is a great pass by Grant Williams to Josh Richardson on the backdoor cut:

Last game, Jayson Tatum made an outstanding hit-ahead pass to Jaylen Brown. Brown returned the favor here:

This first pass here from Tatum is a great cross-court find. Then, Brown turns it into a better look for Marcus Smart:

Cutting and off-ball movement are keys to a good offense. Move to the right places at the right times and the ball will find you. Gorgeous pass by Tatum to get Grant Williams an and-1:

This set opened up with Tennessee-to-Tennessee goodness and it closes with it too. Grant Williams making good reads off driving closeouts really opens things up for him and the Celtics:

10. Boston is a season-best three games above .500. That’s not worth celebrating, until you look back how challenging this season has been.

More important? The Celtics are just two games out of the sixth seed, which is the final assured playoff spot.

Maybe even more important? Boston is now only four games back of the third seed.

There are still a lot of teams to climb and ground to make up, but the Celtics are finally rounding into form. How that impacts next week’s trade deadline will be interesting to watch. The recent good play has given Brad Stevens some things to think about.

For now, Ime Udoka and the players will focus on getting wins over East bottom-dwellers Detroit and Orlando this weekend. It’s time to take care of your own business and let the rest sort itself out.