1. It wasn’t exactly a perfect performance from the Boston Celtics on offense, but it was an encouraging one. Neither Jayson Tatum nor Jaylen Brown (combined 3-for-17 from three) were cruising as scorers, but the Celtics still rolled over the Orlando Magic. And they did it by running solid offense that didn’t have to revolve around their stars making every shot.
That doesn’t mean Tatum and Brown weren’t involved though, because they were. Tatum played the role of playmaker throughout the game, as he finished with a game-high seven assists.
This is a good example of Tatum being a playmaker vs just a scorer. He could have shot the jumper, but he drove the closeout. He could have forced a look in the paint, but Tatum kicked it out to Al Horford for the open jumper:
Regularly on sets like this, Tatum comes off the double-screen and pulls up for the three. This time he gets downhill before finding Grant Williams at the arc:
Orlando went to a zone in the second half. That’s been Boston’s kryptonite until the last month or so. Part of the Celtics improvement against zone defenses is recognizing them quickly. Another part is putting a playmaker in the middle of the zone. Against the Magic, that was Tatum.
This is perfect spacing and a nice job by Tatum to work the middle before finding Dennis Schroder:
This isn’t a zone defense, but the Magic are super small at this point. Robert Williams hangs around the dunker spot on the weakside. Josh Richardson holds his position on the weakside corner. That doesn’t allow Terrence Ross to fully help on Williams. And Tatum doesn’t settle for a jumper either:
2. Jaylen Brown did his work as a scorer inside the arc. Boston played through him in the post again and he delivered some baskets against smaller Magic defenders.
And Brown did this against the biggest Magic defender of them all:
Pretty great pass by Marcus Smart too.
3. Al Horford is playing really well. A big part of it is that Boston has reinvolved him in the offense. Horford had been spending long stretches of games spotting up at the arc for a ball that would only sporadically come his way.
Now, the Celtics are letting Horford do work in the post. And he’s bullying opposing defenders a couple of times per game. This one comes off a drive from the high post:
Horford opened the second quarter scoring by again powering through Moe Wagner:
4. When Horford is engaged as a scorer, the defense has to lock in on him. That opens up offense for the Celtics using Horford as a passer. This is a terrific find to Jaylen Brown on the quick duck-in:
This isn’t a set, but it’s another great read by Horford to find Jayson Tatum on the basket cut:
5. In the above clip, you saw Robert Williams tip an offensive rebound out to Al Horford. That was one of 16 offensive boards for Boston on the night. Williams, Horford and Jayson Tatum had four offensive rebounds apiece.
On a night where the three-pointer wasn’t falling, Boston created 21 second chance points off the offensive glass. That was part of 58 points in the paint for the game.
6. Dennis Schroder played one of his best games in a while. He was quick and decisive throughout the game. That led to baskets like this one to end the first quarter:
On this play, Schroder put Gary Harris in the spin cycle for an and-1:
Following the game, Schroder said he tries not to pay attention to trade rumors. He said that in his ninth year in the NBA, he’s been a part of many rumors. He said he loves being in Boston, the organization and his teammates, and that he hopes to stay. Games like this one are why the Celtics have to take at least a little pause before they consider moving Schroder.
7. Most of the time this year Grant Williams has shown up in the Takeaways as a shooter. That’s fair, because Williams is shooting 42.8% from behind the arc this season. But Williams is more than just a shooter.
Williams is big and skilled enough to work in the post against like-sized or smaller players. Here, he overpowers Chuma Okeke for a layup:
8. Last game, Ime Udoka turned to the kids and it almost became a disaster in Detroit. This time around, they extended the lead as Boston ran it up late.
Romeo Langford got the most extended run. This was a good pull from behind a screen:
It’s good to see Langford playing with enough confidence to take off-the-dribble three-pointers. Without knowing what Thursday’s trade deadline will bring, there could still be a big role for Langford this season.
9. Payton Pritchard also did well in his limited minutes. He put a capper on the game with the first dunk of his NBA career:
10. Five straight wins for Boston now. They’re firmly in the mix to climb out of the Play-In and into the Playoffs. The Celtics are virtually tied with the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets for the 6-8 seeds. And Boston is only three-to-four games behind the Eastern Conference’s top seeds. On top of that, the Celtics have one of the easier remaining schedules in the NBA.
There’s one game left before the trade deadline and it’s a big one in Brooklyn on Tuesday night. The Nets will be without Kevin Durant (injury) and Kyrie Irving (can’t play games in Brooklyn), and who knows what the story will be with James Harden? That’s potentially good news for the Celtics in an important game.
Then it’s a couple of days off leading up to Thursday’s 3:00 PM ET trade deadline. This next one could be the last game for this group as we know it. Maybe a tax-avoidance trade is coming. Maybe Brad Stevens and Boston ownership believe enough in this group to add a player or two. Either way, the Celtics play over the last month-plus has them in a position where good questions need to be asked, as opposed to ones about rebuilding the team.