Redemption tastes good. The Boston Celtics secured a 119-111 win over the Miami Heat on Friday, October 27. This was the first game between the two teams since the Celtics were knocked out of the Eastern Conference Finals in game seven.
The Celtics hustled from start to finish. Big-time offensive boards, high-pressure defense, and an affinity for pressuring the rim all played a part in this impressive win. Jaylen Brown had a bounce-back game. Derrick White went nuclear in the second half. And, it's clear teams will struggle to contain Boston’s primary rotation.
Here are 10 takeaways from the Celtics/Heat game.
#1 Hustle Boards
The Celtics lost most of the hustle battles against the Miami Heat. Frankly, that’s something you expect to happen. It’s who Miami is. That’s their identity. Still, the Celtics found ways to generate momentum from their hustle, with a lot of opportunity coming from their offensive rebounds.
Scramble plays like the one above were synonymous with the Celtics' performance throughout the game. Multiple efforts on the glass led to an easy bucket to ensure there weren’t too many empty trips. Derrick White is the one who pops up with the tip-in here.
These types of second-chance opportunities began early in the fourth quarter. They were a staple of Boston’s offense throughout the game. The Celtics secured 16 offensive rebounds, creating 23 total second-chance points, per NBA Stats.
#2 Oshae Brissett: energy shifter
OK, I’m eating some humble pie this morning. I’ve been low on Oshae Brissett all summer. Nevertheless, I’ve gotta hand it to him; he changed the Celtics energy in the first half, bringing hustle to the rotation and swinging momentum with multiple big rebounds in short succession. The following two plays really got Boston’s rotation fired up.
When a player swings the momentum with plays like these, it’s hard for the other team to take back control. The Celtics began to rally and built a platform that carried them throughout the rest of the game.
Brissett also played some solid defense, notably on Bam Adebayo. Here’s a forced turnover courtesy of Brissett’s high-energy and physical defense.
#3 Jayson Tatum’s Rim Pressure
We’re only two games into the season, and I already feel like I’ve been beating this drum for months. Once again, Tatum looked toward rim pressure as his first offensive option. Where possible, Tatum drove the lane, flowed into post-ups, or simply ran the court with nothing but the rim in his sights. 12 of his 22 shot attempts came from the inside.
One play that stood out to me was a coast-to-coast effort that ended in a smooth lay-up in traffic.
This type of offensive aggression and single-minded scoring has been missing from Tatum’s game. Seeing him embrace a more bullish approach on offense, which utilizes his size and strength, is encouraging and a welcomed development.
We also saw him abuse mismatches, specifically when the Heat tried to send rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. onto him in the post. It was unfair at times. But I’m totally fine with that.
Tatum has looked like a different player in his first two games. His shot profile has undergone significant alterations. Now, his threes are coming in rhythm, or when a play is being run to create the separation he needs to pull up off the dribble.
Boston ran a nice double-down pin-in screen for him early in the first quarter that ended in a smooth three and is a good example of the type of actions his perimeter shots are coming from.
#4 Getting nerdy with it: Wedge actions
We were bound to see some wedge screens added to the Celtics offense. A wedge screen is a screen that’s set on an angle, with the screener’s back facing the offensive baseline. The concept of the screen is to allow the screen receiver to flow into the post-up or receive an entry pass.
Tatum is the beneficiary of the wedge screen from Jrue Holiday in this instance. He handles the double from Miami’s defense, re-composes himself, and ends up with the bucket. As ths season wears on, and Boston is tasked with breaking down more half-court defenses, wedge actions will likely become a core principle for their offense. Tatum, Holiday, Kristaps Porzingis, and Al Horford can all cause damage out of the post.
Take this Porzingis post-pass as an example of the diverse offense Boston can create from back-to-the-basket possessions.
#5 Derrick White’s big night
We need a petition. Under no circumstances should Derrick White have to go through the season not being listed as a top-100 player. Every outlet that made that mistake needs to issue a retraction. It’s only fair.
White had a big-time performance for the Celtics. He ended the game with 28 points, 6 boards, 3 dimes...and 3 blocks. He shot 71.4% from deep. That’s a top-100 performance. I loved his LeBron James-esque chase-down block on Jimmy Butler in the third quarter.
He also had a similar block earlier in the game. Give credit to Holiday for the deflection here, too. See, I love defelections.
White’s all-action performance on both sides of the court was a significant reason why the Celtics won their game against Miami. As the Heat turned up their intensity, White was there to deflate them, time and time again. Some big-time buckets in the fourth also gave the Celtics some separation when they needed it.
#6 This is Celtics basketball
If somebody asks you what Celtics basketball looks like, show them this clip. A hustle bucket followed by a second hustle bucket in under six seconds.
The first bucket comes off a well-timed 45-cut from Holiday. A 45-cut is an off-ball cut from the wing (named 45 due to the angle the player takes when cutting toward the bucket.) The seconds from a heads-up play where Brown steals the ball and gets the putback. Celtics basketball at its finest.
#7 Jaylen Brown’s bounce-back game
He needed it. A stinker against the New York Knicks wasn’t how Brown would have wanted his season to start. Still, he’s adjusting to a new role and is shaking off the rust from months of gym work and limited competitive basketball. Against Miami, Brown put his tough game against New York behind him. He hustled. Pressured the rim. And got to his spots in the mid-range.
This early self-created rim attempt was a sign of things to come for the Heat.
Brown brought the ball up-court, created a driving lane off the dribble, and then drove the rock straight to the rim. There definitely seems to be a shift in mentality from the Celtics as a whole when it comes to their offensive shot selection.
Of course, Brown was also getting to his spots around the elbows, where he’s become one of the most proficient mid-range jump shooters in the NBA.
Interestingly, Brown’s on-ball responsibilities were reduced against Miami. Tatum, Porzingis, White, and Holiday all had more touches than Brown, who ended the game with 48. It’s not that he had the ball less — he had the same amount of touches against New York. It’s that those around him found themselves initiating more of the offense
Nevertheless, Brown put in a big-time performance for his team and helped lead them past one of their conference rivals.
#8 Guarding up
The Celtics are fortunate to have some elite defensive guards. Holiday and White are two of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. However, they’re also exceptionally gifted at guarding up against bigger players. Holiday is strong with active hands. White plays the angles and has a knack for blocking shots.
Yet, Payton Pritchard also showed he was no slouch when guarding up, either. Pritchard spent multiple possessions switched onto Thomas Bryant and gave a good account of himself.
In the above clip, Pritchard is switched onto Bryant via a pick-and-roll. Pritchard quickly gets in front of his bigger opponent to tag the roll up high and stop him from getting into the paint. Bryant goes to a post-up, but Pritchard gets low and under his hips, removing some of the strength difference. The possession ends in Bryant being unable to get into the paint and kicking the rock out to a corner shot. All-in-all a solid defensive possession from Pritchard.
Above is an example of White guarding up. Here, he’s matched up with Adebayo around the nail. White gets low, absorbs the bump, and takes away the middle of the court. Adebayo attacks the lane and misses his contested layup from the side of the rim. Solid positional defense from White, who did a great job guarding a bigger, stronger opponent.
#9 Defensive pressure
In a recent piece for CelticsBlog, Jack Simone discussed Boston’s “controlled chaos” approach to defense. Simone’s wording was apt in their game against Miami. The Celtics shot around the court, closing out to shooters, pressuring the ball-handler and the passing lanes, and doing their best to make things as mucked up as possible.
Here’s a fun defensive possession where the Celtics trapped a pick-and-roll up high. Adebayo short-rolls and is instantly tagged by Holiday. Tyler Herro fires a pass toward Abdeayo to get himself out of trouble. Holiday is there to intercept it. The play ends in a foul, but the example of defensive pressure is a good one.
Above is an early-game example of Boston’s controlled chaos defense. Players flying out to shooters. Switching with precision and pace. And forcing the Heat to frantically try an find an opening. In this instance, Miami ends the possession with Al Horford blocking a three on the perimeter.
The Celtics have already shown an ability to change up their intensity on the fly. They’re utilizing a shock-and-awe approach to limit momentum shifts and force errors.
#10 Another solid Kristaps Porzingis game
He’s becoming a fan favorite already. Porzingis had himself another impressive night. Reliable when protecting the rim, versatile on offense, and never shying away from the game's physicality. If he continues performing at his current level, he will undoubtedly be a legitimate ceiling-raiser for this Celtics team.
As a drop defender, Porzingis is both a rim-protector and a shot deterrent. He had a well-timed block down the stretch as the Heat tried to keep pace with a rampant Celtics.
He also displayed his offensive versatility throughout the game. Below is a clip of Porzingis running an empty-corner slip screen action with Holiday, positing up, realizing the shot wasn’t there, kicking it back out, relocating, and knocking down a three.
And then, when an opportunity to score from the post presented itself, Porzingis was happy to take that, too.
Porzingis is a different type of big man from anything the Tatum/Brown era Celtics have had. He will be a ton of fun this season, and his presence will give opposing teams nightmares as they try to shut down so many three-level offensive scorers.
The Celtics have a couple of days off now. They’re not back in action until Monday, October 30. They will play the Washington Wizards. Two wins from two tough games is an encouraging start. However, the growth we witnessed from game one to game two is what’s most encouraging.
This year's team has a large amount of expectations on their shoulders. So far, they’re handling it well. However, we won’t know what they’re truly made of until they have to pick themselves up from a tough loss. Unfortunately, a loss like that is inevitable in the NBA.
But until then, I’m going to be enjoying the wins!