1. After the loss to the Dallas Mavericks, we wrote that the Boston Celtics would do well with a 2-2 west coast trip. We said that a 3-1 trip would be gravy and 4-0 would be a dream.
Looks like we’re living in dreamland now.
The 4-0 trip has pulled Boston into a virtual tie for the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Three months ago, that would have been laughable, even to the most green-blooded Celtics fan.
Yet here we are. Nine games to play and closing in on homecourt advantage, and maybe more. Dreamland indeed.
2. Jayson Tatum was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the second time in March on Monday. Then he went out and proved why with 36 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block. It was another dominant performance in what is going to be an All-NBA season for Tatum.
These two plays demonstrate how there are times when Tatum is just too good to be stopped. This is a fairly simple play, but it shows how Tatum knows the Thunder have nothing for him:
On this play, Tatum is too big and too good for OKC to keep him from getting to the layup:
It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was perfect for what the Celtics needed. And Tatum has been playing that way for the better part of almost three months now.
3. With Robert Williams and Marcus Smart sitting out, Ime Udoka called on Grant Williams and Derrick White to step up, and they both delivered.
Grant Williams set career-highs with 20 points and 10 rebounds. He had it going so well, that beating the buzzer at the half was no surprise:
Williams has struggled a bit with defending ballhandlers in recent weeks. He did a fairly good job on switches in this one. This is a good example of staying in front of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and then giving a good contest on the jumper:
Batman saves the day, right? Well, the Celtics Batman helped save the day down the stretch when things got messy late:
That play basically clinched the win for Boston, as Williams drained both free throws to account for the final margin of victory.
4. Derrick White did a good job replicating what Marcus Smart does for the Celtics offense. He pushed pace and kept the ball moving. This is a good find to Grant Williams in transition for the big dunk and the and-1:
It’s been a struggle from deep for White, but this was a confident pull in a spot where Boston needed to break an OKC run:
This is a pretty decisive, strong drive by White. He’s got a pretty good floater that he’s able to get to in tough spots:
5. Ime Udoka admitted that he had hoped to get deeper into his bench. Sam Hauser played real minutes, but Udoka stuck with an eight-man rotation. When the Thunder rallied in the fourth quarter, Udoka had to abandon plans to work Aaron Nesmith (back from injury) and others into the lineup.
So, while Marcus Smart and Robert Williams more or less got a rest day, none of the other Celtics regulars were able to cruise in this one. That could be a bit of a missed opportunity.
6. Payton Pritchard is on fire right now. In his last five games, Pritchard is 18-of-31 from behind the arc. That’s a ridiculous 58.1%. And Pritchard isn’t just making spot-up threes set up by his teammates either.
This is a good shot by Pritchard on the catch while on the move:
Pritchard is also doing a good job getting to his step-back jumper against mismatches now too:
On the day that Jamal Crawford retired from basketball, Pritchard paid homage to the King of the Four-Point Play:
Pretty nice drive-and-kick from Grant Williams too.
7. The up-and-down, transition nature of the game didn’t lend itself to a high assist total, but Boston still got 22 dimes on 44 baskets. There were moments of ball movement beauty too. This was terrific, as the ball popped around before Jaylen Brown drained a three:
This was a nice drive-and-kick read by Brown to find Sam Hauser:
This was an outstanding pass by Jayson Tatum to Daniel Theis in the pick-and-roll for the and-1:
8. This game got messy for the Celtics at parts. The defense on Tre Mann in the first half was borderline atrocious. Boston let him dribble into jumper after jumper, as he dropped in 26 of his career-high 35 points before the break.
In the second half, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got whatever he wanted on the way to 31 points. Overall, the Thunder shot 51.6% for the game. This isn’t one the league’s best defense will hold up for highlights. But you better believe Ime Udoka and his staff will use it as a teaching point for how the Celtics don’t want to defend.
Maybe it was the mindset of “We already won the trip” creeping in. Maybe everyone is just ready to get home. In the end, a win is a win, but this one was a little messier than anticipated.
9. To the above point, it was nice to see Jaylen Brown sort of say “Enough” and try to put the game away here:
Much like Jayson Tatum, there are moments when Brown reminds everyone that he’s too good to be stopped.
10. The Celtics head back to Boston for five of their next six games. Those are the final five home games of the regular season. That stretch starts with the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.
Following that game, Boston has a rare three-day stretch without games. They’ll likely get a true off-day in there, followed by a couple of practices. That’s huge at this point in the season. Both the rest and to get in the gym and work on some things.
Of the final nine games, seven are against playoff teams. But if the Celtics are who we think they are now, they’ll take this challenge head-on to close out the regular season.