1. The Boston Celtics are rolling. A full-on wagon, as the kids say. After flipping the switch on Saturday night to run away from the Charlotte Hornets, the Celtics played with their food a little bit during an MLK Day matinee. But in the end, it was another double-digit victory.
This was Boston’s seventh consecutive win. The average margin of victory during this streak is 13.1 points. That’s dominating basketball.
Not only are the Celtics winning, but their competitors atop the Eastern Conference have been sliding. Boston has opened up a 4.5-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks and a five-game lead over the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics are cruising and starting to create some real separation from the rest of the conference as the trade deadline and All-Star break loom next month.
2. It would be completely disingenuous to start with anyone but Jayson Tatum. He was so good on Monday afternoon. Tatum scored 51 points and barely appeared to break a sweat. He was 15-of-23 from the floor, including 7-of-12 on three-pointers. Tatum also went 14-of-14 from the free throw line. Simply put, there was no one even close to his level on the floor, and no one from Charlotte had a prayer of stopping him.
Look at how quick this crossover is to get Tatum by Mason Plumlee and to the rim for the layup:
Bryce McGowens is a nice enough player for a Two-Way guy. But he’s not going to stop Tatum:
There’s a lot of craft to Tatum’s game. He and Rob Williams expertly work the two-man game here:
This is a fun play. Derrick White puts the ball on the spot for Tatum as he rolls. Tatum then fakes the behind the back pass to shed the defender as he goes in for the layup:
This is great basketball from Tatum and Marcus Smart. At this point in the game, the Hornets are putting two on the ball whenever they can. Tatum sets the ghost screen and slips out to the wing. Smart goes really wide coming off that action, so that Tatum’s defender can’t cheat back. LaMelo Ball is a little late and doesn’t get a hand up:
Dennis Smith Jr. is a great athlete, but look at him backing up as Tatum goes through his dribble series here. Tatum has at least six or seven inches, so Smith has no chance to even remotely bother this shot as Tatum rises:
Tatum is so good at using screens when he’s off-ball. Charlotte goes under, so he pops wide for the jumpers. If Jalen McDaniels went over, Tatum would have cut to the paint. When he’s making his jumper, there’s no good way of defending this:
Tatum said Jamal Crawford told him to go for a 50-spot whenever he has a chance. Tatum listened. He gets McDaniels rocked back before hitting Ball with the fake. 51 in the books:
3. We just showed you a snippet of Jayson Tatum’s incredible scoring package. He also had five assists. This wasn’t one of them, but this is the best example yet of how much Tatum has leveled up as a playmaker:
4. Jayson Tatum is seeing more and more double-teams. The way to beat them, and eventually slow down the rate of them, is for the rest of the Celtics to win when playing 4-on-3. Boston is doing a good job of making defenses pay for doubling Tatum.
Sometimes it’s directly off the double, like this quick pull from Marcus Smart:
Sometimes it’s Tatum drawing the attention of the entire defense to open up his teammates, like Malcolm Brogdon here:
Other times it’s quick attacks in those advantage situations. Tatum draws two and Derrick White gets downhill to draw the corner man to set up Brogdon:
Two on Tatum again to start this clip. He hits White with the skip pass and White drives the scrambled defense to set up Al Horford:
5. It was Jayson Tatum’s afternoon in Charlotte. There’s no denying that. But the rest of the Celtics contributed again. That’s been a theme lately, especially with Jaylen Brown out of the lineup. Guys have stepped up when needed.
Malcolm Brogdon, Marcus Smart and Derrick White all scored in double-figures. Al Horford, Grant Williams and Rob Williams were one bucket away. Six players had at least three assists.
With Brown out, it can’t be all Tatum, even he’ll do his fair share of the heavy lifting. Boston is getting a whole crew of guys lifting their play each game to keep the team rolling.
6. When you watch every game, you get a real sense for how teams like to open games. For Boston, it’s generally an action involving one of the stars. Either they are getting the shot, or they are the decoy to open up someone else.
Joe Mazzulla had a wrinkle ready for Game 2 of the mini-series. How about an alley-oop to Marcus Smart on the loop?
Bonus: Look at Luke Kornet. He really, really enjoyed this opener from the Celtics.
7. The Celtics know they are at their best when they set up Rob Williams. Jayson Tatum got it started early by hitting Williams on the runout. Not very many centers in the NBA are the first down the floor on a play where they didn’t contest a three:
This is good interior passing by both Marcus Smart and Derrick White to get Williams an easy layup:
This space loves a big-to-big alley-oop:
Tatum mishandles the ball on this drive, but he knows all he has to do is lob it in the general vicinity of the rim and Williams will take care of the rest:
8. Rob Williams is plenty happy to repay the favors of being set up. He’s a wonderful passer for a big man. Remember what we said about going over on Jayson Tatum? Good cut by Tatum and a perfect pass from Williams in the high post:
This is just good basketball. Tatum draws two. Williams slips to the elbow, while Derrick White comes off a screen from Al Horford. That’s how you work the advantage by using your big man as a facilitator:
9. Speaking of big men facilitating…Grant Williams set a career-high with six assists. Here’s a sampling of those dimes.
Williams stays patient off the offensive rebound and finds Derrick White open in the corner:
This is another play where Boston attacked the advantage after a Tatum double. Williams does a great job picking out Malcolm Brogdon while on the short roll:
Teams now fear Williams in the corner. He does a great job driving those closeouts. This one results in a lob to Luke Kornet:
Williams wants to shoot this. And he should, because he’s a 40% three-point shooter. But he makes the smart, unselfish play to get it to Brogdon for a better look:
10. The Celtics head back home now. It’s only one game before another three-game road trip. But that one game is a big one. On Thursday, Boston will host the Golden State Warriors. The first Finals rematch didn’t go well, as the Warriors ran away from the Celtics in a blowout win.
Golden State will come into this one mostly healthy. We don’t know yet if Jaylen Brown will be able to go or not. Joe Mazzulla said Brown would miss a week or two. This would be right in the middle of that timeline.
No matter what, this is a measuring stick of sorts for the Celtics. Can they get past the champs? If so, it’ll be eight in a row headed into another week on the road. Thursday night is a big one and the NBA world will be watching to see just how far Boston has come in the last month.