1. Considering the trouble the Boston Celtics have had with the Chicago Bulls over the last couple of seasons, this was a good win. It got a little shaky, as Chicago made a run late, but Boston took back control and closed out the victory.
It wasn’t always pretty, but this was the sort of grind-it-out win that this group has had quite a bit of over the years. And, for a change, the end-game execution was better. Instead of extreme kill-the-clock ISO ball, the Celtics kept running actions all the way until the end of the game.
It was also a solid all-around performance too. Four players hit double-figures in points, while three others added between six and eight points. Five different players had at least three assists. Five players combined for seven total blocks. And on a night when the threes weren’t falling, Boston got into the paint with regularity.
A good, solid win. That’s a great way to close out the first half of the regular season schedule.
2. Jayson Tatum has always been a good scorer. As a rookie, he did most of his damage as a spot-up guy or on the occasional drive to the rim. His next few years saw him become a feared off-the-dribble shooter. Last year, Tatum started to get to the basket more than ever. This season, he’s putting it all together.
Tatum clamored for Rob Williams to start, in part because Tatum and Williams have good chemistry in the screen game. This is a nice wide pin-down to get Tatum the midrange jumper:
On this play, Tatum uses his length and long stride to get the corner three before Patrick Williams can recover to him:
Tatum had to work a bit for this one. He passed off to Al Horford, then cut through before zigging back into a post-up. From there, it’s a one-dribble fallaway over Williams:
Here’s Rob Williams screening for Tatum again. This time, Tatum uses a hesitation dribble to freeze Nikola Vucevic before gliding and swooping to the rim for the lefty finish:
We’ll cover more from Al Horford in a bit, but look at him call out to Derrick White to post Tatum against Zach LaVine. The result is a fallaway for the and-1:
On the next trip, Tatum comes off the semi-screen and rocks LaVine to sleep with his dribble before sticking the jumper in his eye:
Six plays, six different kinds of scores. Jayson Tatum has evolved into one of the most dangerous scorers in the NBA. And he’s arguably the most versatile of all of the NBA’s top scorers right now.
3. With Marcus Smart sidelined, Joe Mazzulla went to Robert Williams in the starting group. Whether this is just because Smart was out, or if it’s really a return to starting for Williams, is unknown at this point. But Williams gave the opening group some juice they’ve lacked lately. It’s time for him to start again, even when Smart returns.
That wasn’t the only change Mazzulla made. Again, with Smart out, he had to switch up the rotation too. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both played longer-than-usual stints in the first and third quarters. Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet made spot appearances, and Sam Hauser’s run was shorter than usual too. It was basically a seven-man rotation for Mazzulla.
That’s fine here and there, and with Smart out, it makes even more sense. But the backups beyond Grant Williams and Malcolm Brogdon need to bring more to the table. If they can’t, Brad Stevens needs to think about swing a deal for a bench upgrade before the trade deadline. Otherwise, the team will again be out of gas come June.
4. Grant Williams came up big off the Boston bench. He was solid on defense, but really stood out offensively. Like Jayson Tatum, but on a lesser level, Williams has also rounded his game nicely.
This was a nice extra pass from Tatum and, as he has done well with all season, Williams drove the closeout for what should have been an and-1:
The start of this play was messy, but Williams’ ability to create something out of nothing got him the and-1 this time:
Over the last couple of weeks, Williams is looking to take smaller defenders down into the post. This is a good job of getting to his spot for the turnaround:
This play is fun. Williams is directing the initial action from the corner. Then he makes the sharp cut, gets the good pass from Al Horford and finishes with another and-1:
5. In the first few matchups, the Bulls dominated the Celtics on the glass. With Rob Williams back and an increased focus on blocking out, Boston held Chicago to just six offensive rebounds. No single Celtic had a huge individual rebounding night, but seven different players had at least five rebounds.
Even with Timelord in the fold again, Boston has to get it done through team rebounding. They’ve steadily improved this season and now sit fourth in the NBA in defensive rebounding rate. That’s how you complement a rock-solid defense and the league’s best offense.
6. In addition to the big scoring night, Jayson Tatum tallied seven assists in the game. That was the seventh time in the last 10 game that Tatum has dished out at least four assists.
Tatum really does like working the screen game with Rob Williams. This time, Tatum got wide with two defenders on the ball, while Williams delayed his roll just long enough for the traffic to clear:
Making passes out of pick-and-roll is great, as is the drive-and-kick to the shooter. But the drive-and-dish to a cutter is where the next level playmaking comes in for Tatum:
Tatum knows he’s going to see extra defenders late in games. He also probably knows Al Horford is money from the righthand corner this season. This is trusting your teammate to deliver when it’s what the defense gives you:
7. The above shot was the biggest of the game for Al Horford, but he was so solid all throughout. On one of the clips where Jayson Tatum hit a fallaway over Zach LaVine, we called out Horford running the offense by pointing out the mismatch. His role has become like an inverted point guard in many ways. Horford still mixes it up inside plenty, but he’s at his best as a “connector”. Whether it’s directly running a play, screening away from the ball or just keeping things moving, Horford keeps Boston’s offense on schedule.
Not many teams in the league can run a play where one big drives the closeout before lobbing to the other one for the dunk, but Boston can:
This is the connector doing his thing on the short roll by finding Grant Williams in his corner office:
There was also a moment in the first half that showed Horford’s value goes far beyond anything on the stat sheet. Jayson Tatum took a three-pointer and Nikola Vucevic clearly fouled Tatum. Official Zach Zarba missed the ball and when Tatum barked at him following a Bulls turnover, Zarba said “I missed it. I’m not gonna be right on every play.”
Tatum said something in response and Horford stepped in. He stood between Tatum and Zarba and told Tatum “Enough. Go.”, before pointing Tatum down the floor.
It was that Dad Horford energy, but that’s exactly what the Celtics need sometimes.
8. We called it out earlier, but Boston had seven blocks in this game. Obviously, Rob Williams is a highlight shot blocker, but the Celtics have a bunch of other guys who can protect the rim too.
It looks like Ayo Dosunmu has a clean layup here off this SLOB play. Timelord has other ideas:
Grant Williams is usually pretty ground bound as a defender. He does a nice job of taking the hit from Andre Drummond here before recovering to pin the shot attempt:
Another SLOB play where it looks like Dosunmu has a layup, but this time it’s Derrick White (the best shot-blocking guard in the NBA) who steps up and takes away the basket:
9. Speaking of Derrick White, he had another solid game. Sometimes you can see that Spurs schooling at play with White in such an obvious way. In this one, it was the look up the floor to hit it ahead to Jayson Tatum to cap off the win:
10. The Boston Celtics have hit the halfway point of the regular season at 29-12. That’s a long way from the 20-21 they were at last season’s halfway point.
It’s been bumpy at times, but a 58-win pace is pretty good in this parity-filled NBA season. With a string of tough games coming, and six of seven on the road after Wednesday, it’s important that the Celtics stay focused. They have a banged-up New Orleans Pelicans team coming into Boston for the next one. But, as we’ve seen, the Celtics can’t look past an injured opponent. They need to show up and play their game. Let’s see if they can hit the road again after Wednesday with a nice streak starting.