1. It’s Championship Week in the NCAA, as college teams compete in conference tournaments hoping for a berth in the NCAA Tournament. For the Boston Celtics, this was statement week.
And the Celtics let the rest of the NBA know they have arrived.
Boston’s last three wins have all come over teams that are currently in the postseason picture. The Celtics beat the Atlanta Hawks behind a huge second half. They pulled away from the Memphis Grizzlies late in a major win on Thursday. And Sunday, behind Jayson Tatum’s monster afternoon, Boston beat the Brooklyn Nets.
That last one felt like a statement win in a statement week, given all the history between the Celtics and Nets. After getting run out of last season’s playoffs without much trouble, Boston let Brooklyn know that this isn’t last season anymore. These are the new Celtics, and they are here to fight.
2. Jayson Tatum tied Larry Bird’s franchise record for single-game points with 60 in a win over the San Antonio Spurs last season. On Sunday, Tatum tied Larry Bird’s franchise record for games with 50 or more points, with his fourth such effort. And this 54-point outing may have been even better than the 60-point game last year.
Oddly enough, the day started with Tatum running one of Boston’s favorite opening sets to get Robert Williams going:
You could tell Tatum might be in for big scoring game when this putback was followed by so much emotion:
We’ll get back to some more scoring in a bit, but Tatum brought it on both ends. Yes, Kevin Durant had 37 points. But he’s KD. You just want to make him work. That’s what Tatum does here. In the middle of the clip, when Durant walks it back, look at Tatum spread his arms to his full wingspan. He’s like a pterodactyl spreading its wings:
Back to offense…Tatum uses his strength, quickness and length for this finish here:
It can’t be emphasized enough how well Tatum is seeing the floor. He reads that he’s drawn two defenders here. Andre Drummond has to cheat middle to keep Robert Williams from getting the clean roll to the rim. That half-step and split second is all Tatum needs to deliver an incredibly difficult pass to Al Horford:
Hitting long jumpers over Kyrie Irving just feels better than hitting them over anyone else:
This is Tatum pretty deep in his bag here for this herky-jerky dribble-drive for the layup:
This was Tatum’s best finish of the night. It looks like Tatum is going to split the defenders, but he crosses over to go by them, then it’s straight power and strength for the layup:
54 points on 16-of-30 shooting, including 8-of-15 from behind the arc. And 14-of-17 from the free throw line. In a game featuring Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum was the best player on the floor on Sunday afternoon.
3. It can’t get lost in Jayson Tatum’s great day that Jaylen Brown was really good too. Multiple times throughout the game, Brown made sure to get Tatum the ball, when Brown probably could have taken it himself. But when Brown did take himself, the results were pretty good too!
This is a nice play, because Brown doesn’t settle for the three-pointer. He drives it hard and explodes for the finish:
Brown misses his initial shot here, but sticks with it and gets Marcus Smart a four-point play:
This is a great play by Brown to keep his head up and not force the drive. That allowed him to find Robert Williams for the dunk:
While Tatum carried the scoring load, Brown made the biggest shot of the game. This is tremendous poise with the shot-clock running down:
4. Al Horford’s return to Boston couldn’t possibly be going any better. He’s been big for the Celtics all year long on both ends of the floor. Multiple times in this game, Horford picked up Brooklyn guards on switches, including Kyrie Irving, and held his own against them. And his passing ability for a big man remains top-tier stuff:
5. The Nets shot over 50% in this game. That’s not great, but they are one of the most dynamic offenses in the league, when they have both Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. That’s not as worrisome as Boston’s rebounding was.
Allowing 12 offensive boards to a team that shot over 50% is concerning. Brooklyn is also only a middle-of-the-pack offensive rebounding team. Just something to keep an eye on moving forward.
6. Marcus Smart spent his birthday controlling the pace of the game for the Celtics. He had nine assists and continually created good looks for his teammates.
If the big creeps up even a little bit too far, Smart is going over the top with the lob:
This hook pass to the opposite corner on the drive-and-kick is one all good point guards have to have:
When it’s your birthday, why not put a little extra on it?
But forever, what will define Marcus Smart is his hustle. Quickest the ball almost always wins:
7. 25 assists on 40 baskets tells us the Celtics again had the ball moving really well. Even though Jayson Tatum had it going, he still makes the extra pass here to get Marcus Smart a triple:
Drive, kick, swing, splash:
8. Goran Dragic is high on the list of all-time Celtics Killers. He’s tormented Boston for years. But this is why you trade for Derrick White. This is outstanding transition defense against one of the craftier finishers in the NBA:
9. Ime Udoka made a little tweak on Sunday. He went with a nine-man rotation, as opposed to the eight-man group he’s run for months now. Grant Williams, Derrick White and Payton Pritchard all got their normal run, but Daniel Theis was in for 10 minutes, as well. That might have been driven by Al Horford picking up two early fouls, but Theis earned his time. He was active on both ends. Despite not recording a single field goal attempt, Theis took eight free throws.
Free throws in general were a big part of the story. Tatum was excellent, drawing 17 freebies himself. But Boston had Brooklyn in foul trouble early in each quarter. That helped lead to 38 free throw attempts as a team. That’s stealing easy offense in a game where you needed a lot of points to win.
10. The schedule is fairly light over the next two weeks, as Boston plays just five times over the next 11 days. The Celtics have three more home games between now and Sunday afternoon, then it’s off to the west coast for a four-game trip.
Given that Ime Udoka has played a relatively short rotation in 2022, the extra rest is welcomed. Boston also has several new faces on the team that have rarely gotten in a full practice. That will give them time to work those players in, while cleaning up and tweaking some things before the stretch run.