The 2022 Boston Celtics got punched in the mouth, wiped the blood off their face, and got to work.
There’s a lot of talk of “flipping the switch” with NBA teams these days, but that doesn’t really apply here. The Celtics were a little low-energy to start Game 2, but it was more of an oddity than the seemingly uncaring group from 2021. Boston was just sort off their game in the first half.
In the second half, they couldn’t have been more on their game. After throwing haymakers and looking for knockout punches early, the Celtics left themselves exposed and took the Nets best punches. Then, after a break to regroup, Boston started jabbing Brooklyn over and over. And then, when they had the Nets against the ropes, the Celtics landed a few uppercuts for the knockout.
Was it pretty? Outside of the fourth quarter, not really. Even then, it was only pretty if you enjoy a gritty, grimy, defense-first battle, supplemented by enough offense to keep it moving.
That’s the kind of team Boston embraces. It doesn’t have to be pretty to be beautiful. The beauty comes in wearing an opponent down, seeing them grab their shorts, their shoulders slump after yet another miss, then ultimately watching them give up and accept their fate. That’s 2022 Boston Celtics basketball.
2. The Celtics defense was unreal in the fourth quarter, but they don’t win if Jaylen Brown doesn’t take over and get the offense moving.
This play was actually at the end of the third quarter, but Brown set the tone for the fourth with his strong finish through contact:
By the time this play rolled around, Brown was feeling it. He goes right by Kyrie Irving here and then finishes through the hit from Andre Drummond at the rim:
Once Brown has it going, he’s tough to stop. You can’t be late to get up to the level of the ball when Brown is in a zone:
Bonus: Look at the intensity on Brown’s face at the end of the above clip. That’s a man who is dialed in.
3. Following the game, both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum called it a team win, but they also both called out Grant Williams and Payton Pritchard for stepping up when the Celtics needed a lift.
Williams had a stretch in the first half that kept Boston in the game. This is Williams working from the corner office off good ball movement:
Next trip, Williams executed this catch-and-shoot like prime Ray Allen. Catch, get square, release:
Shooting is great, but you need some defense too. Williams provided it to end the first quarter:
Then it was more Williams to open the second period. Notice the little screen from Marcus Smart to keep Kyrie Irving from recovering to Williams:
Williams made all of his shots to finish with 17 big points, along with six rebounds and two blocks. Batman helped saved the day.
4. As for Payton Pritchard, he saved his heroics for late in the game. With Derrick White in foul trouble and having a mostly ineffective game, Pritchard saw his minutes bump. He delivered so well, that Ime Udoka turned to Pritchard to close the game in a small-ball lineup after Al Horford fouled out.
This shot gave Boston their first lead:
This one almost put the Nets away:
This one did put the game away:
This space said that Pritchard and Grant Williams had to be better in Game 2. 27 points on a combined 9-of-11 shooting, along with some really good defense fits the bill.
5. It was a weird first half for Jayson Tatum. He wasn’t as engaged defensively as he was in Game 1. And Tatum couldn’t find his shot at all. He was doing a good job keeping the ball moving, but Boston needed more.
Tatum delivered it in the second half.
After Boston took the lead, Tatum had a personal 7-0 run to keep Brooklyn at bay. He hit two free throws first, then followed with this really tough floater to beat the clock:
If you switch onto Tatum, especially late in the game, you better do it with size. Otherwise, it’s rise-and-fire time:
Bonus: Like the Jaylen Brown clip earlier, look at Tatum’s face at the end of the clip. He’s 100% locked in.
6. You don’t need a big comeback if some things don’t go sideways first. The Celtics offense was scuffling, but the defense really wasn’t up their normal standards in the first half. They forced some turnovers, but beyond that, Boston had some uncharacteristic moments.
Kevin Durant isn’t going to drive the ball all the way to the rim unless the path is clear. You just don’t need to protect this much against that threat. Playing drop coverage like this isn’t going to work very often against Durant:
The good news? That was gone in the second half. Boston started pressing up and playing right at the level of the ball.
The Celtics transition defense is usually pretty good, but it wasn’t for a stretch of Game 2. This is a really bad, no-chance gamble by Jayson Tatum here:
Early in the third quarter, this may have been Boston’s last truly bad defensive sequence. Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown miscommunicate the assignment in transition and it ended up costing Daniel Theis a foul:
7. But defensive lapses are the exception rather than the rule for the Celtics. The second half featured enough masterpieces to fill the vacant spaces at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
This is a great example of how Boston has made life difficult for Kevin Durant. Jaylen Brown digs down on the spin for the steal and he’s off the other way for the and-1:
Daniel Theis has been a little maligned in this series, but he hasn’t been as bad as some are making it to be. This is great defense on Durant, from the arc to the mid-range:
It wasn’t Derrick White’s best game, but he did an outstanding job here of containing Kyrie Irving off the bounce:
It’s a little hard to verify, but word around the internet is that only Giannis Antetokounmpo has ever blocked a Durant jumper in back-to-back games. Well, until last night at least:
That above play is two-way superstar stuff from Jayson Tatum. He takes Durant 1-on-1 with no help and cleanly stuffs his pullup. This just isn’t a thing happens to Durant.
8. As Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum said, this was a team win. Because of that, it’s time to show a little love to Al Horford and Daniel Theis. They both made big plays throughout the game.
The extra time off has clearly done Horford wonders. He’s quick and bouncy. And when Horford is talking to the crowd, you know he’s feeling good:
This is a nice finish by Theis after Tatum drew a crowd:
The Celtics do still miss Robert Williams, but Theis is a pretty good passer off the short-roll too:
Here’s the two bigs hooking up, as Horford fools everyone with this pass:
9. Marcus Smart is always going to find a way to have a signature Marcus Smart play. This was it from Game 2:
10. The Celtics and Nets will again have two days off before Game 3. Again, it’s probably needed. While the minutes weren’t quite at the Game 1 levels, Ime Udoka’s short eight-man rotation is being tested.
The Nets will surely make some adjustments as the series shifts to Brooklyn. And they’ll probably coming out flying. Boston is going to have to match their energy. The Nets know this is do-or-die time. Expect their best effort.
But the Celtics will be ready to take some punches. They’ve proven they can do that, before they set up to land a few knockout blows of their own.
Game 3 is on Saturday, April 23 at 7:30 PM ET.