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Finding themselves again: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Pacers

Boston rolled over Indiana, as they Celtics are starting to look like the Celtics again

Indiana Pacers v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

1. This was another complete victory for the Boston Celtics. In their own words, they played the right way and did it all the way through the end of the game. Much like earlier this season, when the team went through a rough patch and bounced back with some really good basketball, it seems we’re seeing a redux now.

For a change, these Takeaways aren’t going to focus on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. That may seem an odd decision in a game there the two stars combined for 61 points, but that’s kind of what they do. And to be fully transparent, the Celtics stars essentially ran a layup line to the rim. While that’s awesome to see, and their individual shot profiles from this game are quite nice, a bunch of layups don’t make for overly interesting clips.

Instead, we’re going to give shine to some of the “other” Celtics. Tatum and Brown will show up, because a lot of stuff they did was created by others for them, or vice versa. But let’s show some love elsewhere for a change.

2. Derrick White has been indispensable this season. He’s arguably Boston’s most consistently effective two-way player. As Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s roles have grown on offense, they don’t always bring it 100% on defense. That’s not really a criticism, but a merely truthful observation, and one that’s true about every main offensive engine.

So, that leaves White as the guy who most often brings it on both ends, even if his offensive peaks aren’t as high as Tatum or Brown’s. Here’s an example right from the start of this game. This sequence helped set a tone for the Celtics. This clip starts with the aftermath of White getting one of his now-patented strip blocks. It then ends with White making a steal that led to a Tatum bucket:

Good things happen when White gets the ball in transition, because he understands pace better than anyone on the team:

White also has a great sense of where his defender is leaning. If the defender is too far one way or the other, White is putting him in the spin cycle:

This is a patient and terrific find by White to Brown, who delivers the really strong finish:

3. We said it after the last game, but Rob Williams raises the Celtics ceiling. Multiple players and Joe Mazzulla shouted out Williams being back as giving the team that extra juice they need to make their run. These are plays Williams makes for Boston that no one else does.

Need to clean up some messiness? Here’s Williams to block the shot with his forearm:

Derrick White knows what he wants here the whole way, as did Jaylen Brown on the initial drive. Eventually that patience pays off with everyone’s favorite lob to Rob:

Creating extra shots is one of Williams’ specialties. This is a good offensive rebound and a great pass to Grant Williams for the second-chance dunk:

Eight rebounds and three blocks are great from Williams. But what’s really eye-catching is that he had three steals. That means he’s active and quick and making things messy for the opponent. That’s the kind of game-wrecking force the Celtics need him to be to get back to the Finals.

4. Way back when, your intrepid author wrote about how the Celtics had cracked the code on three-point defense. For years, Boston ranked in the top-10 in three-point defense, which is usually a stat largely attributed to luck. But the Celtics were doing it differently from other teams.

Well, they’re back to it again this year too. After weeks of sitting in the middle of the pack, Boston has amped up their efforts at the arc. They held the Pacers, one of the league’s prolific three-point-bombing teams, to just 4-of-26 from deep. That effort moved Boston up to seventh in the NBA in opponent three-point percentage. That’s part of a steady climb and a sign that the Celtics are rounding into defensive form again.

5. Marcus Smart’s stat-line from this one is pretty understated. He had five assists and three steals, but only took three shots. But that’s in some ways, the perfect Smart game. He was active on defense, and did a nice job taking Tyrese Haliburton out of his game before Haliburton sat for the night.

And Smart made some stat plays too. This is good basketball. Jaylen Brown hits the paint, then Smart makes the extra pass to get Derrick White a great look:

This steal is mostly being in the right place at the right time, but Smart is always in the right place at the right time when he’s on his game. What’s really fun is the pass he loops to Jayson Tatum for the layup:

Smart and White are starting to develop some great chemistry now. Enough so, that you want to see them stay the starting backcourt for as long as things keep rolling along:

6. Al Horford is a treasure. He does so many things to help the Celtics win. One of those things is setting screens to get his teammates going.

This is a wide pin-down screen that frees Jaylen Brown up just enough for the triple:

Jayson Tatum has gotten really good at working behind a transition screen from Horford:

This late in a blowout, Horford doesn’t care about his own numbers. He could have popped out when the defense made no effort to trail him off a screen from Tatum. But instead, Horford flows direct into another screen, which allows Derrick White to dribble into a pullup three:

7. Of course, Al Horford makes many more direct plays as well. This is a good effort to get for the rebound, then it’s a perfect TD pass dropped on Jaylen Brown:

This is just Horford being smarter than the defense. He sets an unused screen in transition and when the defender stays with the cutter, Horford simply pops back for his own shot:

And, like the good Team Dad that he is, Horford is always there to clean up a mess:

8. Ok…so we lied…we are going to focus a Takeaway on Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. But it’s not about them scoring. It’s about them making things happen for others.

Brown could have shot this, but old pal Aaron Nesmith did a nice job chasing over the staggered screens. Brown instead drops it back to Al Horford for the better look:

Brown’s playmaking has hit a new level. That allows Boston to use actions where a lot is happening. Watch this set a couple of times to see all the player movement as the Celtics read and react to the defense:

More actions where Tatum and Brown screen for each other are creeping into the Celtics offense. This one is off-ball, which makes it even more fun. Look at how much Indiana overreacts to this, which leaves Tatum wide open:

When your stars are willing to set off-ball screens, everyone is willing to set off-ball screens:

9. This is just a quick, but subtle thing here. Grant Williams has been experimenting with a no-dip shot more and more recently. It’s something some of the best spot-up shooters use a lot, because it allows for getting a shot off against tighter contests. It takes time to perfect, but Williams seems to be getting it down:

10. The Celtics are finding themselves again. Even if late-February and early-March were frustrating, as it felt like Milwaukee and Philadelphia were going to roll into the playoffs, Boston is getting there now too. One could even make a case that the others might have peaked too early. We won’t, because the Bucks and 76ers are good teams and will be a handful in the playoffs.

But the main thing is the Celtics are looking a lot like the Celtics again. And the team seems to have adopted a very Patriots-like one-game-at-a-time approach. By focusing only on the next game, Boston can get locked in overall. That’s a playoff mindset at work.

The Celtics are back at it with an early 6:00 PM ET tip on Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs. We’ll see if the positive momentum can continue through the end of the weekend.

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