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Bringing the defense in Big D: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Mavericks

Boston locked up Dallas and Jayson Tatum shined with a triple-double in a needed victory

Boston Celtics v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

1. After the last game, this space challenged the Boston Celtics to stop talking about being better and to actually be better. Now, there are no pretenses that anyone from the Celtics cares about what’s written in the Takeaways. But it is nice to see that a similar message circulated around the team anyway.

Joe Mazzulla called out the role players for not doing enough to support Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s great play. Brown and Tatum told guys they were there for them, while also encouraging them to pick up their play.

Tatum and Brown put a lot of pressure on themselves, and more often than not, they deliver. Whether the Celtics make it back to the Finals and win Banner 18 will be driven by the two stars. But they can’t do it all. That message seemed to take hold in a big way, as the Boston destroyed the Dallas Mavericks behind some great play from the entire roster.

2. Part of the way the stars get help from their teammates is to trust them to deliver that help. Jayson Tatum did that by not forcing the issue as a scorer. Tatum has leveled up as a playmaker this season, and this win over the Mavs was the greatest example yet. Tatum finished with the second triple-double of his career with 29 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists. Here’s a sampling of those helpers from the Celtics star.

The very first possession was a good omen of things to come. The ball was moving, the players were moving, and Tatum found Marcus Smart for the opening three:

If you show Tatum two defenders, you better be able to recover, or he’s finding the right pass now:

The whole Dallas defense is focused on Tatum here. He still gets into the lane before leaving it for Al Horford:

This is a fun little action. Tatum and Horford know Luka Doncic isn’t going to put a ton of effort to help and recover. They use that to their advantage on the DHO which flexes into a drive-and-kick:

Drive-and-kick plays are awesome. Boston’s offense is cruising when they have a lot of them. But to be an elite playmaker, you need the interior drive-and-dish plays. Tatum is figuring that out too:

It’s always fun when Tatum and Jaylen Brown do it together. Peep the sweet behind-the-back dribble to get Tatum loose in the open court before the lob. Two Jays are better than one:

3. During the TNT broadcast, it was reported that Grant Williams sent the Celtics a group text after the Oklahoma City loss. Williams reportedly challenged his teammates to be better and to stick together.

If a role player is going to take on that level of leadership, he has to deliver himself. Mission accomplished for Williams, as he played one of his best all-around games.

Throughout the season, Williams has been showing he’s more than a spot-up shooter. Williams has done a nice job driving closeouts all year, but taking a similarly sized player into the post for some bully ball is fun stuff:

After struggling some with the Thunder zone last game, it was great to see everyone recognize the Mavs zone here. Williams flashes middle before kicking it to Sam Hauser in the corner:

This play is a mess. Williams takes advantage of the chaos by staying poised and driving for the easy floater:

This might be the best off-the-dribble play Williams has made in the NBA. Terrific stuff here:

4. The Celtics had the ball popping all night. They finished with 29 assists on 41 baskets. If not for some extensive garbage time, which always features 1-on-1 play, they’d have topped 30 dimes for sure.

This one came off an ATO (even when struggling, the Celtics ATOs have been great his year), with Al Horford making the extra pass to get Grant Williams a triple:

Marcus Smart could have shot this. But he made a good a shot a great one by skipping it to Derrick White in the corner:

On the next trip, White benefitted again from some unselfishness:

Having bigs, like Horford, who can process and pass, is a huge advantage for Boston:

5. This was one of the best defensive games the Celtics have played all season. They were connected. The switches, doubles and rotations were on point. The effort level was high.

Joe Mazzulla knows that if you show Luka Doncic the same look over and over, he’ll eat it up. Boston varied their coverages against Doncic very effectively. In the first half, the Celtics showed him no less then 10 different coverages/players. During one stretch, Boston went from doubling Doncic when he hit halfcourt, to showing a second defender (but not doubling), to doubling off screens, to pre-switching by putting Sam Hauser on Doncic to start possessions. When Doncic eschewed the screens (he’s a heavy screen-user) to attack Hauser directly, Mazzulla switched it back to showing him a better defender and hiding Hauser on a third or fourth player in actions.

Overall, it helped add up to Doncic shooting just 7-of-23 from the floor and the Mavs hitting only 37.8% as a team. When Doncic gave the ball up, Boston was right there on the next pass. Dallas saw very little daylight. When they did, it was generally late in the clock, leading to a rushed shot.

To put it simply, this was 2022 Celtics defense. We’ve rarely seen it this season, but this was it. Hopefully it’s a long-term resident vs a short-term visitor.

6. Part of that defense is having rim protection available when things do breakdown on the perimeter. This is the Williamses linking up to get Christian Wood. Grant takes the initial hit and Rob cleans it up with the block:

Spencer Dinwiddie thought he had Derrick White beaten here and he cocked it back. White was still around though and sent the dunk attempt back to sender in some Buff-on-Buff crime:

7. When the Celtics cut, good things happen. The ball can move, but the players have to move, otherwise it’s just a bunch of perimeter passing that might not lead to anything.

This was an outstanding cut by Malcolm Brogdon (who played a really nice game) and terrific find by Grant Williams for the and-1:

Super simple stuff here, but executed at a high level. Jayson Tatum had been doing most of the playmaking by this point, but Boston puts it in Jaylen Brown’s hands. The bigs hold to the corners, while Marcus Smart dumps it off and clears down the left side of the lane. Tatum comes up to screen, but slips it. Brown hits Tatum, and with no bigs or help in the picture, it’s an easy layup:

8. The Celtics have been crashing the offensive glass a lot lately. Some of that is because they’ve been shooting poorly. But in this one, Boston was hitting shots and still got nine second chances in the first half. Rob Williams is obviously having an impact on that, but everyone is getting involved.

Slowly, but surely, Boston is evolving into a very good rebounding team. They are up to sixth in the NBA in defensive rebound rate, which is a great sign for a team without a dominant individual rebounder.

9. The Celtics traded Noah Vonleh to the San Antonio Spurs yesterday. Some wondered if this was Brad Stevens sending the team a message. That’s highly unlikely. Unlike Moneyball (great movie!), where Billy Beane trades a bunch of Oakland A’s players to send a series of messages, that doesn’t really happen very often in real life.

The Vonleh trade was about a contract deadline, opening up a roster spot and saving a lot of money in luxury taxes. No message was being sent. But if one was received anyway? So much the better.

10. Boston travels to San Antonio to complete this four-game trip on Saturday. The Spurs are going through it right now, with one of the worst records in the NBA. They also just lost one of their best players in Devin Vassell for a while.

But the Celtics should be extremely aware that playing a bad team without one of their best players is far from a guaranteed victory. It was awesome to see Boston beat Dallas. It would be really great to see them remain focused and to handle a lesser opponent, as opposed to playing down to them. We’ll see if they’ve learned their lesson on Saturday.

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