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Late-game execution for the win: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Pacers

Boston shook off their crunch-time issues in a win over Indiana

Indiana Pacers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

1. While the Boston Celtics had some defensive issues in their win over the Indiana Pacers, it was good to see the offense continue to roll. And it was especially good to see some outstanding offensive execution late in the game.

The late-game issues seemed to crop back up against Miami, which was concerning. As several members of the team called out, that was essentially a playoff game. While Indiana isn’t a playoff team, they are playing free and easy with nothing to lose. The Celtics executing well against them was a good sign that the improvements made over the last few months weren’t all for naught.

2. Jaylen Brown was a huge part of the good play at the end of the game. After a strong start, which is becoming very commonplace for Brown, he also put together a really strong finish.

This drive is key because of how patient Brown stayed. Instead of barreling head-down into the defense and throwing up a wild attempt, as he did against the Heat, Brown gets to his spot under control. From there, it’s a fake to draw contact for the and-1:

This one is good activity by Brown and Al Horford. Jayson Tatum is doubled, and that means someone else has to make the play. Horford frees up for the pass, but Brown stays active to take the handoff. Again, Brown is patient and lets the play develop before dropping it off to Horford for the dunk:

Brown abused Goga Bitadze on switches all night long. Boston does a good job with their initial spacing, which doesn’t allow Tatum to get doubled. But Tatum still gets the ball moving. As Brown comes off the action, he’s got Bitadze again and backs him up to get to the pullup:

3. Al Horford is often the Celtics bellwether. If he’s playing well, the team is usually playing well. With Robert Williams out, Boston is going to need Horford even more.

On this play, Horford is initially just a safety valve after Derrick White got cut off. But Horford, being the veteran that he is, doesn’t panic and finds Jayson Tatum for the very loud finish:

4. Jayson Tatum made the big dunk on the play above, and he made several plays before that as well. This one came late in the third quarter. You have to get your switches and rotations right against Tatum or he’ll go right to the rim like this:

In the fourth quarter, the Pacers mixed things up against Tatum. They doubled, they showed and recovered, they trapped, and they switched. The last one didn’t work so great. Tatum will either blow by bigs on a switch, or he’ll pull up and shoot against them, like he does here:

And sometimes Tatum is simply too strong, like he was here:

5. With Rob Williams out, Ime Udoka is probably going to go small to close games more often. That means Derrick White has to be a big part of things. White never really gets sped up or slowed down. He goes at the pace he wants to go at.

On this play, White goes about as quick as he’ll ever go, but he’s still under control. And he does an excellent job of creating and taking the contact to create that little extra space for the game-clinching shot:

6. Postgame, Ime Udoka and Marcus Smart both talked about how Boston has had some defensive issues, especially with communication and switching. While the team acknowledges not having Rob Williams changes how they need to defend to some extent, they aren’t letting anyone off the hook for lapses due to poor communication.

This play is a great example of a breakdown in how the Celtics want to defend. The Pacers spacing here is exceptional. Payton Pritchard is dragged away to the weakside corner, removing him from the play entirely. That leaves Grant Williams and Derrick White to defend this play by themselves. Al Horford can’t help off the strongside corner and Jaylen Brown can’t help when he’s one pass away.

If you turn your sound on, it sounds like Williams is yelling “Wide! Wide! Wide!” to White as Haliburton makes his move. Williams recognizes that Isaiah Jackson isn’t really screening, but that he’s slipping. That means Williams can’t easily straight switch, or Jackson will have a free run to the rim.

Because of that, Williams is telling White to go wide around the screen to stick on Haliburton, or to stay wide and slide with Jackson on the slip. But the communication and execution are poor. White pauses ever so slightly, as if anticipating the screen and that leaves Williams all alone in no-man’s land:

This play is just one example of several pick-and-roll coverage breakdowns over the last few games. You could excuse the game in Toronto, as it was a bunch of guys playing in lineups that had logged very little time together. The Miami game was a disappointment, as was this one.

As Ime Udoka said: The Celtics have four more games to get it right.

7. Daniel Theis got the start because Ime Udoka said he wanted to see more minutes with Theis alongside Al Horford up front. Theis delivered with 10 points and eight rebounds.

This is a set Boston runs regularly with Rob Williams. It develops differently, as Williams tends to slip more than screen, so Tatum gets downhill and then lobs to Williams.

Theis screens more than slips, so Tatum stays a little flatter, and finds Theis with the bounce-pass. Same end result on the same set, but different execution:

Now this play from Theis was same look and execution as Williams would have delivered:

Picking up Daniel Theis for three players who weren’t going to be parts of the rotation after the Derrick White acquisition looked like a good depth move at the time. Now, it’s an enormously important trade, given Williams’ injury.

8. The Celtics had 29 assists on 45 baskets. Boston is very willing to make the extra pass now. Mostly because everyone is doing it for everyone else.

Jayson Tatum could have taken this pullup. He’s done it a million times. But instead, he gets Jaylen Brown an even better look:

Marcus Smart could have taken a midrange pullup or driven to the rim. Instead, he’s patient as Al Horford makes the delayed roll:

This is outstanding off the BLOB play. Brown could have shot, but dumped inside to Derrick White. White could have shot, but dropped it out to Horford. Horford could have shot, but found Brown on the relocation:

The ball finds energy. Move and share it and it will find its way back to you.

9. With all the assists are going to come some turnovers. This was another high-turnover game for Boston. The ones that are getting to be too much are the live-ball turnovers resulting in buckets the other way.

In the first period alone, the Celtics had three straight turnovers from Marcus Smart, which all led to Indiana baskets. Then Theis fumbled a pass out of bounds. And two trips later Brown threw it away.

Five turnovers in six possessions is sloppy basketball to the highest order. Especially the live-ball ones that resulted in baskets and fouls going the other way. And this wasn’t against a particularly good defense either.

Much like the switching, there are four games to fix it.

10. Boston wraps up their regular season home schedule on Sunday afternoon by taking on the visiting Washington Wizards. Much like the Pacers, the Wizards have been eliminated from the playoffs and have nothing to play for. But they’ve been frisky lately and just demolished the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night.

This is a good opportunity for the Celtics to work on some things and to get stuff cleaned up before heading on the road for their final three games, all against playoff teams.

It’s also a great chance to thank the fans for sticking with the team during what was a really tough start to the season. Expect a loud crowd and, hopefully, a Celtics effort that matches that enthusiasm.