1. The Boston Celtics needed a win. More than that, the Celtics needed a complete, dominating win. They got all of that by beating the Portland Trail Blazers before heading on a six-game east-to-west road trip.
This was probably the Celtics best defensive effort of the year. Even banged up, the Blazers are one of the NBA’s better offensive teams. Boston completely shut them down. The effort, execution and communication were all good all game long. There weren’t any real lulls either, which was just as important.
We’re not going to proclaim everything is fixed and we should start planning a parade. But the Celtics needed to play a game like this to remind everyone, but also to remind themselves, that they are still that team. And they did.
2. Al Horford had it going right from the start. He got the first points of the game on a rare off-the-dribble pullup against a closeout:
Portland plays a lot of drop coverage. Boston used that against them time and time again. This one was Drew Eubanks too far back and Horford letting it fly from a step or two behind the arc:
After hitting a couple of jumpers, the closeout came harder against Horford. That opens up drives and finishes like this. Also, look at the spacing. Horford has a lot of options before choosing the simple one to dunk the ball:
3. We’ve talked a lot about how Jaylen Brown slowing down allows him to actually play quicker. The head-down, 100 MPH drives into multiple defenders are largely a thing of the past. This is head-up and controlling the pace before hitting the defense with the transition crossover:
This another good example of Brown’s personal pace. He goes quickly off the catch here, but doesn’t over-drive the ball directly into contact. Instead, he slows down and overpowers the defender for the layup:
This is all speed and explosion to finish, but it comes off Brown having the patience to let the spacing develop before he uses the screen to get downhill:
4. This was one of those ruthlessly efficient games from Jayson Tatum. Jerami Grant is about a half-step too far away here and that’s the space Tatum needs:
This is a good example of Tatum’s improved handle. He hits Grant with a nice crossover, before using the hesitation dribble to split the defense for the layup:
This isn’t a traditional on-the-block post-up, but it works the same way. Tatum feels the defender leaning and spins off him for the swoop and score:
5. One thing all of the above clips have in common: They were all from the first half. Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Smart and Jayson Tatum played minimal minutes in the second half. Smart and Tatum went the whole third quarter, while Brown and Horford played the first 8:11 after the break. None of them made even so much as a cameo appearance in the fourth quarter.
The reserves holding, and even extending, the lead was big for the team as a whole. That allowed Joe Mazzulla steal some in-game rest for guys who have seen their minutes pile up over recent weeks. At this point in the season, that’s huge.
6. The Celtics ball movement was good in this one, as they tallied 26 assists on 42 baskets. When Boston has a possession like this early in a game, with good ball and player movement, it opens up the offense:
On this play, the ball and player movement got the Blazers scrambled. Drew Eubanks instinct is to drop to the paint. The quick swing to Jayson Tatum allowed him to step right into his jumper:
It’s also important to note what happens when the ball hits the paint. It causes the defense to get in rotation. Boston has the passers to take advantage of that almost every time:
7. Sticking with passing, the Celtics have begun to incorporate more actions designed to get their players passing off the short roll. These plays generally involve a play like this with Al Horford finding Marcus Smart for the layup:
Or Blake Griffin catching and kicking to Sam Hauser in the corner:
But what sets Boston apart, is that they’ll use their wings and guards as the roller too. The Celtics love to have their guards screen for Jayson Tatum. If the defense puts two on the ball, Tatum is willing to give it up and it’s to a good decision-maker. Here, Derrick White has all kinds of options, but he chooses to dump it off to Horford for the easy one:
8. Grant Williams had a tough couple of days. He also didn’t play until this game was fairly deep in. It’s been reported that Williams has been dealing with an elbow injury for a while now too. But it was good to see Williams confidently step right into his first shot and drill it:
The Celtics are going to need Williams to be the guy he was during the Finals run from last season. Hopefully things will start moving back in that direction here shortly.
9. Some of it was the blowout nature of the game, but Boston had great balance throughout this game. Then again, maybe that balance also helped influence the blowout nature of the game. Chicken or the egg, right?
The Celtics had seven players take between eight and 17 shots. Six players scored in double figures. And that was with Malcolm Brogdon having a very off shooting night.
That sort of balance makes Boston hard to beat.
10. The Celtics got a win they desperately needed. Now, they leave Boston for the next week-and-a-half. Over a 10-day period, the Celtics will play games in Atlanta, Houston, Minnesota, Portland, Utah and Sacramento.
That’s not a killer road trip in terms of opponents, but it’s over 5,000 miles of travel. And the Portland-Utah leg is a weird west-back-to-mountain back-to-back. The goal is always to go .500 on a long trip like this. Getting four wins would be a good trip. Five wins would be a great trip.
By the time the Celtics get back to Boston, they’ll have only nine games left in the season. Six of those will be in TD Garden. Even though they’re on the road for a while, it’s time for the guys in green to start stacking some wins heading into the stretch run.