1. Over the course of the NBA regular season there are some games where you just need to show up and take care of business. The Boston Celtics did that on Wednesday night against the undermanned New Orleans Pelicans. Boston was missing two starters, but New Orleans was down three starters, including two of their best players and their best defender.
Unlike in similar situations where the Celtics were embarrassed by the Oklahoma City Thunder and pushed hard by the San Antonio Spurs, Boston handled things this time. So much so that the benches were emptied with a few minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
It won’t stand out because it wasn’t a massive blowout, nor was it a full-strength, good opponent. But it is a sign of growth that the Celtics were able to cruise to victory in a spot where that’s been difficult for them in recent weeks.
2. Jaylen Brown was the star of this one. With the Celtics scuffling and the Pelicans threatening in the third quarter, Brown held them off. It was one of those stretches where he wasn’t going to be denied. But it was more than just getting downhill over and over. Brown showed off his whole scoring package throughout the night.
On this play, Brown used a hard dribble to get Dyson Daniels rocking backwards. That gave Brown all the space he needed to pull the three:
This was a strong offensive rebound and putback by Brown:
Following a nice strip, Brown pushed the ball up himself before splitting the defense with the spin for the and-1:
Brown went at the rookie Daniels a lot. This was a transition post-up for the easy turnaround:
When you’ve got it going, you can pull from anywhere. Even right in front of the logo:
One more time in transition…the defender drops off a half-step too far. That’s all the room Brown needs:
3. Al Horford helped get the Celtics off to a good start offensively with three early three-pointers. Horford got two of them on set plays where Jayson Tatum set good screens. Tatum being both a willing screener, and a good one, brings a lot of versatility to Boston’s offense.
The Celtics get a bunch of mileage out of this action. It looks like Horford is screening for Tatum, but it turns into Tatum setting the flare screen for Horford to pop out to the elbow:
A few plays later, it was the same look from Boston:
4. In more traditional sets, the Celtics know they’re getting a good screen from Al Horford. Malcolm Brogdon uses this wide DHO to get to his pullup:
Next time down the floor, Jayson Tatum takes the pitch and dribbles into a pullup with Jonas Valanciunas hanging back:
5. Boston didn’t dominate the paint, but they controlled things inside. The Celtics were outscored 54-44 on points in the paint, but Boston drew 20 free throws on plays in the paint. (Those should really count as points in the paint.) The guys in green recorded five blocks. Most impressively, the Celtics outrebounded New Orleans by a 50-33 margin, including 11-4 on the offensive glass.
6. When Grant Williams does cool stuff off the dribble, you can expect this space to highlight it. Here’s Williams ripping and running off the boards before finishing with the step-through for the floater:
Late in the game, Williams perfectly executed the fake DHO to get all the way to the rim for the layup:
7. With Marcus Smart out, it was up to Derrick White to run the show again. White is more than up to that task. This was a hard push by White before setting up Grant Williams for the transition three:
Great patience here from White. He sees Al Horford has the smaller defender pinned on his back. White waits for Horford to get to his spot before dropping the dime on him:
White does a nice job of seeing the entire floor when he’s in transition. That allowed him to find Tatum for this hammer:
8. Luke Kornet was the third big with Rob Williams sitting out the first half of the back-to-back. Presumably, Al Horford will sit out the second night of the back-to-back, which gives Kornet a shot at all real minutes for two games in a row. He delivered in the first half of the two-game set.
This was an excellent pass to Jayson Tatum on the back-cut:
On a set to open the second quarter, Tatum repaid his big man:
With Kornet fully engaged, he steps up and sends this shot from Jose Alvarado the other way:
9. Malcolm Brogdon is settled back into a nice rhythm. He had a slump in December, but he’s found his touch in January. Brogdon does a really nice job playing off Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, especially when the stars are doubled.
This is good stuff from Brogdon, Tatum and Derrick White. Tatum is patient and waits for the Pelicans to commit to the double-team. White makes a smart paint cut to drag his defender out of the help position. And Brogdon stays rooted to his spot to get the shot:
10. Four straight wins for the Celtics now. That’s allowed Boston to open up a two-game lead over the Nets before they travel to meet them in Brooklyn on the back-to-back on Thursday. That game lost a little luster with Kevin Durant out, but the Nets have more than enough talent to make it tough on the Celtics.
This is the first game of a three-game trip, as Boston will head to Charlotte for a mini-series over the holiday weekend. With six of the next seven games on the road, it was important for the Celtics to win their last two home games. They’re now tied for the third-best home record in the NBA.
We’ve hit the point of the schedule where we’re in the dog days leading up to the trade deadline and All-Star break. Boston can get up for the big games, but they’ve got to win the “take care of business” games too. Mission accomplished on Wednesday to extend the streak.