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Rolling along with a blowout: 10 Takeaways from Celtics-Spurs

Boston handed San Antonio their worst loss of the Pop era

San Antonio Spurs v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

1. Whenever Jayson Tatum is out, there’s at least a momentary worry about how the Boston Celtics will play without him. Those worries lasted until about midway through the second quarter against the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.

Boston pulled away for a double-digit lead by the time halftime hit. In the third quarter and start of the fourth quarter, the Celtics poured it on so much that that the game was a runaway.

Jaylen Brown led the way for Boston, but he wasn’t left to do it himself. Malcolm Brogdon turned in a great night off the bench, as did Rob Williams. Derrick White did his always-solid Derrick White thing. Marcus Smart was effective, before getting tossed early. And Al Horford turned in a very good 22 minutes himself.

The Celtics have strung together a bunch of good wins in a row. This was the most dominant of the bunch. Sure, the Spurs are rebuilding and one of the worst teams in the league. But Boston destroyed San Antonio. The Celtics handed the Spurs their worst loss of the Gregg Popovich era. That’s not something that can just be brushed off as “Well, the Spurs stink.” To win in this fashion, without Tatum, is notable.

2. Jaylen Brown got things started early. When he overpowered Devin Vassell this easily, we could have guessed it was going to be one of those nights for Brown:

The remainder of the first half featured Brown regularly getting to the rim at will. What was really exciting was a stretch in the third quarter where Brown showed off a little bit of everything he can do.

Team can’t pull smaller defenders on Brown anymore. He’s too good with his handle now (isn’t that a heck of a thing?) for them to disrupt his attacks. And he’ll just spin off them and power over when he gets to his spot:

Brown’s game used to be all power and speed. He’s got so much craft to his game now. This is a gorgeous fadeaway on the baseline:

Just when the defense thinks they’ve slowed Brown down in transition, he hits them with the spin move for the layup:

As great and fun as the other stuff is, this is a playoff shot. This is the one that will help Brown get buckets when Boston needs them in the postseason:

3. The Celtics kind of out-Spursed the Spurs by playing great in transition in this game. Boston was on the attack almost from the jump. As to be expected, Derrick White was right in the middle of the run-and-gun approach:

It’s great to see Jaylen Brown vary his pace here. Brown picks it up as he approaches the arc. That gets the defense thinking there is a drive coming, and Brown zips it to Marcus Smart in the corner:

Playing in transition affords the opportunities for highlights, posters and GIFs:

While it’s not quite the Tom Brady-era Patriots going for the double score before halftime and opening the second half, but the NBA has it’s version where a team can double-score at the end of the first or third quarter and come back with another hoop to open the second or fourth quarter. Boston pulled it off by Malcolm Brogdon going hard after a Rob Williams block to end the third quarter:

To open a quarter, most teams will walk it up and run a set play. Here, Brown pushed it right at the Spurs and seemed to catch them off-guard before kicking it out to White:

That double-score stretch pushed a 17-point lead to 22 points in the span of about 11 seconds of game-time. That was effectively game over.

4. Malcolm Brogdon was added to give the Celtics steady scoring when things get tough on the offense. He was also brought in to help Boston avoid a drop-off when a star is out. Mission accomplished on both fronts.

Brogdon has been such a good scorer, that it’s sometimes easy to forget he’s still a point guard at heart. Passes like this are a nice reminder:

The Smart-to-Brown transition backdoor is a great look for Boston. Here, the Spurs react, or better said: overreact, to it. Great pass from Brown to the wide-open Brogdon:

Playoff defenses try to guard the arc and take away the rim. Scoring in the middle of the floor becomes huge. We talked about it with Brown above, and this is a playoff-type of shot from Brogdon too:

5. Boston was locked in defensively in this one. In the first quarter, they gave up a few too many open looks, but they tightened that up as the game went along. A big part of their success on defense was blocking shots, and they got those blocks in all kinds of ways.

It’s pretty rare to see Doug McDermott get his jumper blocked, but Grant Williams got him here:

Zach Collins had no chance against Al Horford on this play:

Marcus Smart won’t be the DPOY this year, but he’s still making DPOY plays sometimes:

6. We shouted out Derrick White’s work in transition, but he was quite good all game long. This was a terrific find to Sam Hauser, as White sort of passed Hauser to the spot here:

This possession was a mess before White rescued it with a late-clock pullup:

Ideally, Rob Williams turns and puts in this short shot himself. But we’re never going to pass up a chance to give some good ball movement some shine, as White buries the middle of what was three consecutive triples:

7. Speaking of Rob…he looked like ROB in this one. This stretch showed just what a difference maker Williams is for Boston.

This kind of up-quick offensive rebound and putback for the and-1 is a dimension Rob brings that no other Celtic does:

Even if Williams might have traveled here (he probably did), it was nice to see him finish a play with a little move. He’s usually a catch-and-straight-up-with-it guy:

And speaking of catching…this is a pretty ridiculous catch of the tipped pass and finish by Williams:

8. Al Horford is doing more and more shooting on the move. It’s a whole other aspect to the Celtics offense for opponents to have to plan for, as opposed to the standard spot-up and pick-and-pop stuff.

Horford functions as a trailer here. Marcus Smart goes wide with the ball, while Derrick White walks into a natural screen. Horford catches and pulls from a couple of steps behind the arc:

Pin-downs and flare screens are usually set by a big for a guard or a wing. When a small screens off the big, it puts the opponent in a tricky spot and often results in the big man being open for the shot. When that big man is Horford, it’s money for Boston:

9. Many people in the league will tell you there’s no such thing as garbage time in the NBA. Not for the end-of-the-bench guys who need development minutes in a competitive environment. That’s why things like The Elam Ending are fine for, and should be used in, exhibition games, but never in real games.

For example, this is a shot late in a blowout, but it’s something real to file away for JD Davison. The knock on him out of college was that he was a uber-athlete but couldn’t shoot. Seeing Davison confidently step into this shot and bury it is a great thing for him:

Pending what happens with Payton Pritchard this offseason, the Celtics could be in the market for point guard depth. Davison could be that guy with a strong summer of work.

10. The Celtics are taking it one game at a time. Yes, the Milwaukee Bucks are looming on Thursday, but there’s a game against the Washington Wizards to get through first on Tuesday. Boston’s next-one approach is serving them well, as they try to run down the Bucks atop the conference.

The Celtics go for four in a row on Tuesday, and they need them all, as the regular season winds to its conclusion.

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