1. This is going to be a bit of a jumbo-sized version of the Takeaways. There was a lot of good stuff and when you hammer a good team for a fifth-straight win, leading into three days off, why not go big?
The Boston Celtics are playing incredible basketball right now. They are locked in on both ends of the floor. It’s almost hard to describe how well they are playing and how enjoyable they are to watch. You have to see it for yourself.
This win over the Utah Jazz was almost the inverse of Boston’s loss in Salt Lake City. The Celtics fought in that game, but the Jazz made everything. This time around, Boston shut down Utah from the jump and the Celtics were the ones making everything.
Simply put, this was as dominant a win as Boston has had lately. That’s saying quite a bit, because the guys in green are destroying everyone right now.
2. Jaylen Brown got off to another quick start. He’s become one of Boston’s best cutters. This is a good push in transition by Al Horford. That allows the Celtics to attack before Utah can set what is usually a pretty halfcourt defense. Brown reads Horford and by the time Donovan Mitchell realizes Brown is making the basket cut, it’s too late:
Pushing in transition also creates mismatches. The Jazz are all messed up here. And when Brown gets a smaller defender, he’s going right over the top now:
Generally, early-clock threes off the dribble aren’t great. But when you are feeling it, why not?
This one came much later in the game, but it’s a good example of Brown slowing the game down. He keeps his dribble alive for a couple of extra bounces and then patiently flips in the shot over the top of Rudy Gobert. No need to go fast and attack with power. Patience and poise win the moment here:
3. Marcus Smart set a career-high with 13 assists, including tying a Celtics record with nine dimes in the first quarter. Had the game not been such a blowout, Smart likely would have pushed for closer to 20 assists. As it was, he set the tone early and often.
Postgame, Smart talked about how sometimes you have to sacrifice your shot for a better one. But he said the Celtics are doing that, because they know someone will do it for them later in the game. This is a good example of Smart giving up a good shot to get Al Horford a great one:
As Tommy Heinsohn taught us: “You’re a good running team when you can run off made baskets.” Smart doesn’t hesitate to get the ball up and finds Jaylen Brown for the easy layup off the hit-ahead pass:
Patience and poise again win the moment. Smart attacks, backs it out, and attacks again before finding Rob Williams for the dunk:
4. In a game featuring Rudy Gobert, who many still see as the Defensive Player of the Year, it was Marcus Smart and Rob Williams who shined. Smart was mostly on Mike Conley and held him to 4-of-12 shooting. As for Williams, he was part of Boston’s triumvirate of shot-blockers holding down the paint.
Daniel Theis got early minutes when Grant Williams got himself into foul trouble. Theis delivered with 11 points. He also turned back Jordan Clarkson at the rim:
This was the loudest of Rob Williams’ four blocks, as he sent this one into the seats:
Al Horford wasn’t going to miss out on the fun. He blocked three shots himself, including this rejection on a driving Conley:
5. The rim protection was just part of Boston controlling the paint against Utah. The Celtics also scored 56 points in the paint. They did allow the Jazz to grab 16 offensive rebounds, but that was seemingly as much about Utah having so many misses, as it was about poor rebounding by Boston.
This wasn’t just one of those games where the Celtics caught fire from three, although they did that too. This was attacking, physical basketball on both ends. If TD Garden is the house you have to protect, the paint is the panic room where you make your stand. And Boston is holding their ground there night after night.
6. After referencing how the defense is playing well, Ime Udoka was quick to call out Boston sharing and moving the ball. Marcus Smart talked about sacrificing for the next guy. Jaylen Brown talked about playing together and getting great shots.
37 assists on 50 baskets is absurdly good. Smart had 13 of them, but four teammates had at least three assists. In all, 11 of the 14 Celtics who played had at least one assist.
Al Horford gets these mid-paint catches and he immediately knows he’s finding the other big cutting for a shot:
Get caught ball-watching, and someone is cutting backdoor. Great cut by Daniel Theis, great pass by Brown:
Jayson Tatum has made finding Rob Williams on the slip a thing of beauty:
If you double Tatum, Boston is getting a good shot. This was Smart’s career-high 13th assist and another example of passing up a good shot for a great one:
7. Yes, that was Derrick White hitting a triple in the above clip! He had another really solid game off the bench.
This play is a good one from White, but it’s also a good example of sacrifice from Jaylen Brown. Brown sprints the floor knowing he’s probably not getting the ball, but that opens up the lane for White:
Boston was so hot early on, that Utah tried to go zone. This is a shot White has to make when teams zone while he’s in the game:
The Dennis Schroder-Payton Pritchard backcourt combo never worked. They were too small to hold up defensively. The offense was also too slow with both of them to generate open looks. The White-Pritchard backcourt works because White handles the bigger guards and wings on defense. And White pushing the ball allows Pritchard to flare to the arc like this:
8. Speaking of Payton Pritchard, his confidence is overflowing right now. Rightly so too. He’s making everything. That’s why this pullup bomb is a good shot:
There’s a point in every game where you can tell the other team is beaten. Sometimes it happens early, sometimes it happens at the buzzer. This was that moment for the Celtics on Wednesday night. Pritchard just wants this more and the Jazz are done:
9. Part of what demoralized Utah was Boston’s stifling defense. The Jazz shot 39.8% for the game, including just 8-of-36 on three-pointers. They also committed 14 turnovers, with eight of them being live-ball steals for the Celtics. And Boston blocked 10 shots.
After a messy game to end the western swing, the Celtics got right back to their lockdown ways. Boston has held four of their last six opponents under 100 points. Denver needed a garbage time flurry to crack 100, or it would have been five of the last six.
The Celtics keep flip-flopping between first and second in the NBA in defensive rating. But since the start of 2022, they’ve been first by a mile. And every other metric you can pull will tell the same story.
It’s not an exaggeration to say this is the best Boston defense since the Kevin Garnett-led teams starting in 2007-08. And that’s saying something when Brad Stevens regularly put together solid defensive teams as the coach. But those groups were nothing like the one Stevens and Ime Udoka have assembled together this season.
10. The Celtics are now off for three days. That’s going to feel like a month. But rest at this time of the year is never a bad thing.
With eight games to play, Boston is in a virtual tie with Milwaukee and Philadelphia and they are all just 1.5 games behind Miami for the first seed.
For a few days, the Celtics can watch teams beat each other up and then get back to work on Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. And the Wolves are the focus. As everyone on the team continues to say: They’re just taking things one game at a time.