1. Against the New York Knicks, Jaylen Brown didn’t get it done and the Boston Celtics lost. Following that game, Brown expressed his love for the game. All of the game. The highs and the lows. And Brown promised he’d be better next time.
This around, Brown made the clutch free throw to help get the game to overtime. In the extra period, Brown carried the Celtics by scoring 11 of his 37 points.
NBA players say a lot of things about “being better” after disappointing losses. Heck, Brown has repeated that phrase somewhat regularly over the last few years. The important thing is that he means it and he almost always delivers.
2. Let’s run through some of Jaylen Brown’s best plays late in regulation and overtime. Rui Hachimura doesn’t stand a chance when left on an island like this against Brown. After getting to the paint, it’s nice patience by Brown to use the jump-stop to power up for the finish vs trying to explode off the initial drive:
First, you have to like the process here. Jayson Tatum makes the correct pass to Al Horford in the corner. Horford would probably like this one back, because he missed by a mile. But Brown was on it for the putback and-1:
After sinking the clutch free throw to tie it, Brown took over right away in overtime. He goes right through and over Dennis Schroder for this and-1:
Feeling good, Brown confidently stepped into this transition pullup triple:
This possession was a mess, but the ball was with the hot hand and Brown delivered to beat the clock:
You can’t get Thursday’s loss back. That’s over and done with. All you can do is be better moving forward. Jaylen Brown was better, and then some, on Saturday night.
3. It’s normally Jayson Tatum who steps up with Jaylen Brown, or vice versa, and Tatum had a big game, but the Jays got other help too. All season long, we’ve been talking about how Malcolm Brogdon is giving the Celtics what they were missing last season. Saturday was just another example.
Brogdon has a funky, old-school scoring game. Nothing is fancy, but he mixes in drives, pullups, step-backs and spot-ups at a great rate. This hesitation dribble got Brogdon all the way to the rim for the finish:
Late in the game, Brogdon was excellent. On this drive, he simply overpowered Patrick Beverley for the layup:
Troy Brown Jr. is clearly far more worried about Tatum slipping this screen, when he should be worried about Brogdon pulling up behind the screen:
Brogdon’s ability to get to his lefthand for the finish is far more impressive than remembered from his pre-Celtics days:
26 big points off the bench and Brogdon was the key part of Joe Mazzulla going to quirky defensive look that we’ll breakdown later.
4. It wasn’t a signature Jayson Tatum performance, but he still got to 30 points. It’s telling that Tatum can play “poorly” and still have a huge impact on the game.
Tatum did most of his best work getting Boston back in the game in the third period. After seeing one three go down on the prior possession, you have to love Tatum staring down LeBron James and pulling up in his face:
This was a tough catch. The best part is that Tatum didn’t dribble out and shoot a turnaround or fallaway. He had the smaller defender on his back and finished strong at the rim:
Boston got 22 fastbreak points on Saturday night, and they needed all of them. This was a good look up the floor by Tatum to drop the ball on Derrick White:
Russell Westbrook had made a layup right before this, but thought he was fouled and stayed down on the floor. In a 5-on-5 situation, somehow the Lakers managed to guard everyone but the Celtics All-Star starter:
30 points despite inefficient shooting night and some good defense is still a productive game. That’s leveling-up for Jayson Tatum.
5. We mentioned Joe Mazzulla got creative on defense in this one. With Rob Williams out, and Grant Williams starting, the Celtics big rotation was in a bit of flux. That was compounded some because the Lakers are currently bringing Anthony Davis off the bench to help manage his minutes. That left Boston in a tough spot on how to guard Davis.
Mazzulla chose to start a lot of possession with Malcolm Brogdon guarding Davis, while keeping some size (Grant Williams, Al Horford or Jayson Tatum) on LeBron James. Initially, it seemed like a pre-switch for James-Davis pick-and-roll actions. However, the Lakers chose to not run many Davis-for-James screens. That left Brogdon in a spot where he had to hold up 1-on-1 against the much bigger Davis.
Brogdon did a really nice job on those possessions. Instead of letting Davis get inside to use his size advantage, Brogdon pushed Davis off his spots. Brogdon used an old Marcus Smart standby of anchoring against Davis. Brogdon got one leg, or his torso, into Davis’ backside to prevent him from backing him down. Then, when Davis was just enough of his spot, Brogdon was able to turn and contest the shot, while still being in position to block out:
There were also multiple possessions where Davis never shot and simply kicked the ball back out. Brogdon holding up against the bigger player was huge for two reasons. The first is simple: He didn’t get overwhelmed 1-on-1. The second is a bit more complex: it took the Lakers out of their regular offense. Los Angeles wants to run James-Davis actions. They are two of the best players in the league, so it makes sense to spam those actions. The Celtics were regularly able to bait the Lakers into going directly at Brogdon. That took James out of the play and put the Lakers in a spot where they didn’t seem comfortable as a team on offense.
For those who think Joe Mazzulla just chomps gum and occasionally substitutes, this is an example of the coach and his staff having a gameplan and the players executing it. Outside of maybe getting a little cute with offense-defense subs with Derrick White and Luke Kornet late, Mazzulla coached one heck of a game. This defensive gameplan is one example, along with a few key timeouts and some great play-calls for baskets throughout the game.
6. Speaking of offensive concepts and sets: Boston is getting good mileage out of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown working actions together. Tatum screens for Brown here and the defenders become completely engaged, leaving Brown wide-open:
Late in regulation and in overtime, the Celtics rode some horns sets to the finish line. On this one, Tatum directed Brogdon to go to Brown to initiate the action, because he knew he had the backdoor spin and that Brown would find him:
Slowly, but surely, Boston is introducing more stuff where Brown and Tatum create looks together. That was key late last regular season and throughout the Finals run. Looks like what’s old is new again for the Celtics.
7. Nothing is more fun than a great ball-fake that completely fools the defense. Boston’s bigs were working the ball-fakes against LA.
First it was Grant Williams hitting the Lakers with a fake on the break:
Late in the game, Al Horford used a ball-fake to free himself up for a big three-pointer:
8. The last two takeaways are where we bring some of the balance that folks asked for recently in the comments.
Sam Hauser has become borderline unplayable lately. Yes, he generally holds up decently on defense, but Hauser has lost his shooting touch. And he’s not nearly a good enough defender to make up for that. In this game, that stood out drastically in the first half.
There might not be a worse player in NBA history to soft-double against than LeBron James. He’ll pick you apart if you do that. Hauser either needed to stick with Lonnie Walker on the cut here or go double James. He did neither:
Ball-you-man. That’s a fundamental of basketball defense. Somehow, Hauser lost sight of the soon-to-be all-time leading scorer in NBA history because he was overly focused on…Rui Hachimura:
Hauser can’t play if he’s not hitting shots AND making these kinds of defensive mistakes. Joe Mazzulla apparently agreed because he called a timeout shortly after that James basket and Hauser didn’t seen the floor again for the rest of the game.
9. Let’s address the end of the game, shall we? Jayson Tatum fouled LeBron James on the last drive of the game. It was pretty clear, and the officials blew it.
You can argue that the game never should have gotten to overtime. That’s totally fair and not even something that should be contested too vociferously from the other side.
But the game did go to overtime. And the Celtics took advantage once it got there.
Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you don’t. In a long season, it tends to average out. What really matters is taking advantage when fortune smiles upon you. After all: “Luck is what happens when hard work meets opportunity”.
10. The Celtics now have three days off. With the way NBA teams schedules generally work, they’ll get either Sunday or Monday as a true day off. And they look like they need it.
It also means that Joe Mazzulla and staff will get a real practice day or two in, as well. That’s huge, especially mid-season. It’s a chance for Mazzulla to address some things he’s seen that he doesn’t like, while also installing some new schemes or concepts.
The Celtics have eight games before the All-Star break. Six of those eight games are in Boston. There are also four games left before the trade deadline. While Mazzulla works on cleaning things up on the court, Brad Stevens and his staff can do some work on the roster.
This is a time when player’s thoughts can start to drift a bit. A vacation is looming for most of the roster, while others will be preparing to take part in All-Star festivities. But with the gap between Boston and other contenders having closed, they need to stay focused for about two-and-a-half more weeks before the break. That starts again on Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets.