1. If the Boston Celtics are going to run down the Milwaukee Bucks for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, unlikely as it may be, they can’t afford any bad losses. Losing to the Utah Jazz again would have been a bad loss, even if Boston was in a tough spot.
The Celtics plane reportedly didn’t land until 1:30 PM ET on Friday. Some players didn’t bother to go home, and instead went directly to the team facility for treatment before heading to TD Garden for pregame work.
It was also a back-to-back, coming off that win in Milwaukee. All told, if Boston had lost, it would have been a bad loss, but an understandable one.
But they didn’t lose. It wasn’t quite the blowout the Celtics had over the Bucks, but they were in control from late in the first half and throughout the second half. Being shorthanded required several Celtics to step up, and they did.
All in all, what could have been an ugly loss after a great win was avoided. That’s a good sign this late in the season, and for the still-alive chase for the one seed.
2. Jayson Tatum followed up his dominant performance in Milwaukee with another great game. Tatum was particularly effective in bailing out Boston in the second half, despite facing a barrage of double-teams.
This possession was a mess, and Jaylen Brown probably should have been called for three seconds, but Tatum bailed it out with a three:
One of the best ways to beat a double-team is to shoot before it gets there:
This one went almost as deep into the shot-clock as it could, but Tatum didn’t panic late-clock:
This was another late-clock shot and it clinched the win for Boston:
This was more than just a second straight great game for Tatum. He’s been outstanding in his last five games played. The Boston star has averaged 35.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists, while putting together 60/49/83 shooting splits, as the Celtics have gone 4-1.
3. Marcus Smart did a great job of setting the Celtics up all game long. He’s become a backdoor passing maestro as of late.
It wasn’t quite as clean of a finish as we’re used to, but Smart finds Jaylen Brown through the backdoor on a transition play at least once per game:
On this play, Juan Toscano-Anderson is top-locking Jayson Tatum, because he doesn’t want him to use the screen to get another three. With his defender leveraged and the ball in Smart’s hands, Tatum is off through the backdoor for a dunk:
And sometimes Smart sets up the defense to score himself. This was a really nifty ball-fake to get the wrong-footed layup:
4. Derrick White bounced back with a really nice game on both ends of the floor. He helped hold Talen Horton-Tucker in check, until same late-game free throws, and he was solid as a scorer too.
This is a nice pass by Jaylen Brown, as he draws the second defender, and a good pull from White:
White did a good job here of getting baseline on his man and absorbing the contact before dropping in the and-1 floater:
Sometimes hustling is enough to get yourself a basket:
5. A good measure of how Boston is playing is assists to baskets ratio. This one featured 27 dimes on 42 hoops. Another good measure is how those assists are coming. If it’s via the drive-and-kick game, then the Celtics are probably doing well.
This is a good cut by Blake Griffin, before taking a bounce in the lane and delivering the behind-the-head pass to Marcus Smart in the corner:
Malcolm Brogdon and Grant Williams have shown developing chemistry all season. This is a great kickout from Brogdon to Williams:
A little later, Brogdon did a good job of getting into the defense to help open up Williams again:
6. Speaking of guys like Blake Griffin, Malcolm Brogdon and Grant Williams: Boston’s bench really stepped up in this one. Jaylen Brown had an off-night shooting-wise, which was long overdue. Al Horford and Rob Williams got a rest day. That left a lot of minutes for the bench players, and they delivered. Even Sam Hauser, Luke Kornet and Mike Muscala ran some effective minutes, despite some lesser stat-lines.
7. Grant Williams seems to be rounding back into form after a lengthy midseason slump. That’s a very welcomed development for Boston.
Ideally, Williams just lays this in, but wary of the shot-blocker, he hit a nice little fallaway here:
On the next trip, Williams won the 50-50 ball and found Jayson Tatum for a dunk:
A bit later, when no one picks him up as he attempted to reset the offense, Williams called his own number:
This was a heads-up play to end the third quarter. Williams knows the Jazz are going to jump Sam Hauser on the handoff off the inbounds play. Williams fakes the handoff and takes it in for the dunk himself:
8. Malcolm Brogdon is very good as using transition screens. If the defense jumps him, he’s good about putting his head down and getting into the paint. If the defense lays back, as the Jazz do here, Brogdon is happy to pullup for the triple:
If the defender leans even slightly the wrong way, Brogdon is breaking him down to get to the rim:
9. Blake Griffin is getting his own Takeaway, because he’s had a remarkable season. Griffin doesn’t play all that regularly, but he’s pretty effective whenever Joe Mazzulla calls his number. In this one, Griffin scored six points, grabbed 12 rebounds (five offensive) and handed out five assists.
In a moment of accountability, your author will admit that I didn’t expect much from the Griffin signing. But he’s been a great presence in the locker room, and a productive player on the court. You can’t ask for anything more for a veteran minimum signing.
10. Because of the NBA’s quirk of scheduling very few games in competition with the NCAA Final Four, the Celtics have three consecutive days off. Saturday is a true day off. That’s the first one since the All-Star break. But Sunday and Monday will be an opportunity for some practice time. That’s great at this time of year.
With four games over the season’s final week, Boston still has a lot to play for. They’ve cut into Milwaukee’s lead. If the Bucks stumble, the Celtics can still catch them. With a 2.5-game lead over Philadelphia, and the tiebreaker, Boston just about has the two seed wrapped up. With a victory over the 76ers on Tuesday, Boston can really lock that down.
Four games left for seeding and rhythm. The playoffs are almost here.