1. Back to the Eastern Conference Finals.
After a hard-fought seven-game battled against the defending champions, the Boston Celtics are back in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boston had to take down the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo to get there, but they did it.
The best part of this series win? Every win featured a different hero.
Game 2 was Jaylen Brown’s game.
Game 4 was Al Horford’s big night.
Game 6 was all Jayson Tatum.
Game 7 was Grant Williams’ shooting show.
And others contributed throughout as well. This Boston team is as cohesive and as deep as any of the other that have advanced to this point in the season. That should serve them will in the battles to come.
2. Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference second round against the Washington Wizards will forever be known as The Kelly Olynyk Game.
It now has company with The Grant Williams Game.
Williams went 7-for-18 from behind the arc, as he set an NBA record for three-point attempts in a Game 7. Williams said that despite a few early misses, his teammates and Ime Udoka said to “Let it fly” and boy did he ever listen.
Maybe we should have known after the first basket of the game:
Williams did most of his work from outside, but this was a good drive against Bobby Portis to get a layup:
He also did his thing as a defender. Most of that work came against Giannis Antetokounmpo, but Williams showed his versatility here as he blocked this Wesley Matthews three:
But…it really was all about the threes for Williams in Game 7! This one came off an ATO and from a terrific pass from Marcus Smart:
With Jayson Tatum on the bench in foul trouble in the third quarter, Williams was a big part of creating separation from the Bucks. This is a no-hesitation rip:
To open the fourth quarter, it was GR3NT again:
A career-high 27 points in the biggest game of his life. The Grant Williams Game indeed.
3. Jayson Tatum struggled through foul trouble for a lot of the second half. By the time he got back in the game in the fourth quarter, he focused on being a playmaker vs a scorer.
But Boston might have been sunk without Tatum dropping in 17 first-half points.
At no point in the series was Tatum shy about going against Giannis Antetokounmpo:
Milwaukee put a ton of pressure on Wesley Matthews to fight through screens to chase Tatum all series. Matthews seemed to wear down over the last few games. With him struggling to get around screens and the big in drop coverage, this is easy money:
Once Tatum is feeling it, it’s just him and the rim:
Early in the series, Tatum was focused on going through the Bucks. As it went along, Tatum realized it would be easier to just go around them sometimes:
4. Jaylen Brown did his thing with 19 points, along with some good board work with eight rebounds and some terrific defense.
With Boston’s offense scuffling early, Ime Udoka drew up this ATO to get Brown a look. The defense is focused on a Tatum-Horford action, that allows Brown to work on the backside of the play for the triple:
Brown did the best job throughout the series of getting into the body of Giannis Antetokounmpo on drives to the rim. This is a good, strong transition finish:
Brown goes so quickly here that the Bucks have no chance to react. That results in an and-1 opportunity:
All series long, if Brown or Jayson Tatum got out in transition or downhill off a screen, and they saw Grayson Allen between them and the rim, it was time to eat:
5. The story of this series was transition defense, especially off live-ball turnovers. The best way to keep that under control? Don’t turn the ball over.
In the first half, despite having the lead, Boston had nine turnovers. In the second half, Boston had just five turnovers, and one of those was an intentional shot-clock violation.
That’s how you correct things and get a comeback series victory.
6. Over a four-minute stretch of the fourth quarter, Payton Pritchard went off. He helped pushed Boston’s lead to 22 points and that basically put Milwaukee away.
This first shot was a nice job by Pritchard to elevate up to the wing. That made it enough easier for Jayson Tatum to pick him out with the pass. Bonus: Watch Robert Williams on the baseline as this ball is in the air and drops through the net. Pure joy here:
A little later, Pritchard did a good job to again lift up to get a clean look. Watch all the way to the end of the clip to see Pritchard yelling “That’s what I do!” at the Bucks:
Pritchard wasn’t done yet though. This is a deep step-back triple over Jrue Holiday:
When the Celtics traded Dennis Schroder, it was assumed Payton Pritchard would replace his backup point guard minutes. The bonus was Pritchard replacing Enes Kanter Freedom’s offensive rebounding too! In all seriousness, Pritchard has an outstanding nose for the ball on the offensive glass:
7. The Celtics ball movement was terrific. They racked up 29 assists on 37 baskets. Just about everyone got involved too.
Boston did a good job of breaking down Milwaukee’s defense to create good looks. There’s no better look than the drive-and-dish for a dunk:
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown had their connection working. This is a good drive-and-kick play to get Brown a three and to force a Bucks timeout:
Even though it wasn’t truly an ATO, Ime Udoka used the aforementioned Bucks timeout to draw up a set for Boston coming back down the floor on their next possession. And it worked perfectly:
Marcus Smart did a pretty good impression of the “floor general” stuff that some corners of the internet seem to think the Celtics lack. For whatever oddball reason that is. This looks a lot like a play a floor general would make:
8. Boston’s defense was locked in all series, but especially so in Game 7. Milwaukee shot just 36.7%. And that happened because the Celtics were everywhere.
This play starts with Daniel Theis holding his ground for a nice block on Giannis Antetokounmpo. It ends with a loud follow-dunk from Marcus Smart:
A little over a minute later, Theis stoned Jrue Holiday at the rim. While his minutes were limited, Theis’ impact over the last few games was not:
9. Late in the game, it was time for a little fun. When the triples are raining down, it’s only fair that The Threesmith gets involved:
Malik Fitts is a show in and of himself on the bench for Boston. He’s great for “the vibes”, as the kids say. Right before this play, it looked like Fitts got hurt trying to grab a rebound. He came away clutching his right shoulder. Seconds later, he seems to have made a miraculous recovery, just like the Celtics did:
10. Back the Eastern Conference Finals.
Fourth time in six years that the Boston Celtics are headed to the penultimate round of the playoffs.
This time around, things feel different. The 2017 team was full of heart and guts, but always seemed overmatched, especially without Isaiah Thomas.
The 2018 team was clearly a little ahead of their time with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum being babies in terms of NBA experience.
The 2020 team had everything thrown off-kilter by Gordon Hayward getting hurt, and even when he came back, he wasn’t himself. That group, including a banged up Kemba Walker, ran out of gas in the bubble.
But this feels different. This team plays better defense than any of those other groups. They have experience. And, knock on wood, they are relatively healthy.
But mostly, as Jaylen Brown said postgame, they believe things can be different this time around. As Brown said, this group has “the poise to get it done”.
The Miami Heat are no slouches. They’re a veteran group and they’ve been here before. Against these Celtics.
Well…maybe not these Celtics. Only time will tell, just how different things are for Boston this time around.
Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Miami Heat is on Tuesday, May 17 at 8:30 PM ET on ESPN.