Be forewarned: This is a jumbo-sized edition of the Takeaways. This might have been the Celtics best win of the year, and there are two days off before the next game. So, grab a coffee, strap in, and enjoy!
1. There’s a new pattern emerging with the Boston Celtics. They kind of feel their way through the first half. Sometimes it’s sloppy (more on that in a bit), but other times it’s just sort of playing to get the break.
But the second half starts and it’s like a different team. Remember the third quarter woes of the final few Brad Stevens-coached teams? Those seem like forever ago now. Ime Udoka was asked what he says to the team at halftime and he jokingly said, “You have the Coach of the Month in there.”
While that was said with a laugh, the truth is Udoka is too humble to take the credit. He’s quick to call his players out, but quicker to call himself out. He’s also quick to praise his players, but reticent to ever take credit himself. But Ime Udoka is this team’s voice. It took a while for everything to fall into place, but it has, and the difference is stark.
2. Postgame, Marcus Smart said it best when he was asked about Al Horford: “Al is the OG. Everyone said he’s too old, but he’s still got it!” Still got it is right. Horford finished with 21 points, 15 rebounds (his most in more than three years), five assists and two blocks. It started early with this putback for an and-1:
Horford went 4-for-8 on three-pointers against the Grizzlies. Making shots like this is huge for the Celtics offense:
This was a fun play. The clip starts right after Horford had passed out of a double-team. But the Celtics stay patient and Jayson Tatum re-posts him against the mismatch. Easy money for Big Al:
But it’s plays like this, at age 35, that make Horford special. There are only a handful of big men in the NBA who can rip and run off a board like this and deliver a spot-on lob in transition:
3. That elusive 5x5 game is coming for Robert Williams. He was close in this one with 10 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks. And, of course, Williams made some eye-popping plays too.
Teams are going to leave him open when they can. Watching Williams calmly dribble into this jumper was like watching your kid drive for the first time. It was sort of terrifying, but you were so very proud in the end:
Challenge Rob at your own risk. The best part of this play? He blocks the shot with his left hand, which allowed him to avoid coming across the body and likely picking up a foul:
4. As goes Marcus Smart, go the Celtics. Smart took 10 shots in the first half, as he perhaps tried to make up for the absence of Jaylen Brown. He also had three of Boston’s comically bad 11 turnovers at the break. But Smart also had five of his 12 assists in the first half.
We’ve said it before, but when Smart is simply running the offense, good things happen. If you leave Grant Williams by himself in his corner office, Smart will find him:
We know Smart loves the lob to Rob, but he’s perfectly happy to lay it down for Daniel Theis to finish too:
This was kind of a mess, but it sure was fun!
This one is good, because it’s wrinkle off the traditional Smart/Rob pick-and-roll. Instead of rolling, Williams flips to screen for Tatum. The screen isn’t necessary, because two Grizzlies stuck with Smart when Williams stayed back. That opened up the lane for Tatum to cut sans screen for the easy layup:
5. This is the only negative, nitpicky thing we’re going to say in this version of the Takeaways: Enough with all the turnovers. Eventually, it’s going to catch the Celtics. So many of their giveaways in this game were unforced, live-ball turnovers. Boston might have been blowing Memphis out at the half, had they not given the Grizzlies so many easy buckets after throwing the ball away.
6. Grant Williams is extension eligible this summer. The Celtics’ preferred track has been to lock players up on extensions before they reach restricted free agency. Williams’ price keeps going up with every good game he has.
Williams is a key rotation player for Boston, but in this game, he was asked to play as a wing, as opposed to his normal third-big role. Aaron Nesmith got hurt early on, and with Jaylen Brown out, it fell to Williams to step up on the perimeter. And he did.
On this play, Williams kept Ja Morant in front of him. That’s no easy task and Williams excelled at it here:
If he’s going to be “Grant Williams – small forward”, he has to make plays like one. This is a great drive into the hook-pass to find Marcus Smart for three:
It’d be easy for Grant to stay rooted in the corner on this play He’s shooting approximately 87% on corner threes this season. But Williams makes the smart, perfectly timed cut and gets rewarded with a layup:
7. Derrick White’s game is sort of understated. He’s kind of herky-jerky with the dribble, but he’s quick and decisive. White also has that “personal pace” where he can slow himself down at exactly the right moment.
This play exemplifies all of the above. Getting a layup out of a missed free throw is not only hard, but virtually impossible. Yet, by pushing the ball, then sort of slowing down and hanging for a millisecond at the end, White makes it happen:
8. If this type of play doesn’t make you smile, you don’t like basketball very much:
Bonus: Peep Luke Kornet. He sees what’s going to happen as Al Horford turns to face the basket. Then, it’s just joy.
9. We saved the best for last. The birthday boy himself. Jayson Tatum is 24. Or 19 for the sixth time. Whichever you prefer. But our baby boy is all grown up now. He might be forever 19, but he plays like a seasoned vet now.
A couple of years ago, it felt like Tatum missed every one of these floaters in the lane. That practice has paid off:
It used to be a chore to watch Tatum off-ball. There was a lot of standing around. Not anymore. He moves with the best of them now:
Double, trap or show even a little extra help, and Tatum will beat you with the pass. He puts a little extra zip on the pass, which caught Ja Morant, who was leaning just slightly towards the paint and didn’t allow him to recover:
Seriously, keep doubling, if you dare:
But once a scorer, always a scorer. Eurostep into a floater? C’mon now!
You can’t really bump Tatum off his drive anymore. He’s too strong to let a little contact bother him now:
And then the capper. Happy Birthday Big Deuce! Happy Birthday indeed:
10. The Celtics now get two days off. And they are needed. Ime Udoka said Jaylen Brown might be able to play on Sunday, but that it would be a day-to-day thing with his sprained ankle. Udoka didn’t have any real update on Aaron Nesmith and his own sprained ankle, but said that the team was hopeful it wasn’t as bad as it looked.
With wings at a shortage, Boston signed Nik Stauskas to a two-year deal, fresh off Stauskas scoring 100 points over his last two G League games. My kingdom for a shooter, right?
Being shorthanded against a getting-healthier Brooklyn Nets team will be a challenge. However, this group has proven they’re up to it. Expect TD Garden to be raucous on Sunday afternoon, as the fans will have something ready for Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and the Nets. But mostly, it’s just fun to cheer on the guys in green again.