#1 Jaylen Brown’s triple-double
After a tough showing against the Denver Nuggets over the weekend, Jaylen Brown reminded everybody of the progress he’s made this season. He was arguably the Boston Celtics best player against the Houston Rockets, notching his third career triple-double in the process.
There was a poise to the way Brown approached things on the offense end. He showed great deceleration around the rim, read the defense, and made decisions based on how things were unfolding around him. The below clip is a solid example of his overall reading of the game.
Brown gets the ball on the post, aims to either spin off or face up and draws three defenders. Rather than panicking or looking to force his shot, Brown looks for the open man, which happens to be Jayson Tatum on the perimeter. A quick pass leads to a lightly contested jumper.
It was also fun to see the Celtics actively looking to get Brown his triple-double. It wasn't until the final 13 seconds that he notched his 10th assist and completed the impressive feat. The fact Boston looked to put the ball in his hands and push the tempo despite holding a 10-point lead shows the comradery within the rotation.
Here’s a fun jump-stop floater in traffic. I really liked this move and wanted to share.
#2 Derrick White’s first half
Derrick White had himself an impressive night. However, his first-quarter performance was huge for the Celtics. With Jrue Holiday out of the rotation, it was White’s turn to assume a bigger offensive role.
The veteran guard had 16 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks in the first 24 minutes of play. His ability and willingness to pressure the rim consistently ensured the Celtics were creating collapses and rotations that they could exploit.
With so much spacing around the perimeter, White had the opportunity to drive the lane whenever he felt like it. When getting downhill, he is really talented at creating separation on contact or using his body to shield the ball away from defenders. He has a steadiness to his finishes inside the paint that oozes confidence.
In the above clip, you can see White seal his defender on his hip and keep the ball outstretched to limit the risk of being blocked or swiped. From there, the difficult part is getting the right amount of force on the release.
I think it’s widely accepted at this point that White is one of, if not the best shot blocking guard(s) in the league. The fact that he looked to get a block on a full-court heave with 2 seconds left on the game clock stood out to me as a shining example of his competitiveness.
It’s highly unlikely that a full-court heave is going to drop. Stranger things have happened, though. So, White pads his blocking numbers while erasing the minimal risk of a circus shot crushing Boston’s momentum.
#3 Sam Hauser doing things
In the absence of Holiday, Sam Hauser was inserted into the starting lineup. The sharpshooting forward has been impressive with his defense and willingness to drive closeouts.
Hauser struggled to get going on the perimeter. He did hit a couple of threes, including an impressive movement shot where he navigated over a stagger screen and sunk into the corner on a baseline out-of-bounds play, which you can see below.
However, with his shot out of sync, Hauser found other ways to leave his fingerprints on the game. He had 9 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block. For a player many (including myself) had pigeon-holed as a single-skill player, that’s a very healthy statline.
Still, the playmaking stood out. We know Hauser can knock down shots. We’ve learned that he can defend. And we know he is a presence on the defensive glass. 6 assists, though? We’ve seen flashes but that feels new-ish.
None of his dimes were otherworldly reads. Instead, they came within the flow of the offense and were courtesy of quick decision-making.
Hauser plays his role, moves the rock, and finds the open man in the corner. He also hit a couple of pitch-ahead passes to get the Celtics rolling in transition. So, on a night when he wasn’t electric from deep, he was still an important member of the rotation, chipping in with production elsewhere on the floor.
#4 Jayson Tatum’s struggles
Unlike Brown, Tatum didn’t bounce back from his game against the Nuggets. He struggled from the field and especially struggled shooting the three, going 1-of-6 from deep, which wasn’t much better than his 4-of-17 overall. Still, Tatum gave effort on the glass and chipped in with a couple of assists.
However, Tatum needs to rediscover the production he was providing at the turn of the year. The Dallas Mavericks are up next, and while their defense isn’t anything to write home about, they’re a good team. Boston needs their best player playing like one of their best players.
#5 Houston’s 3rd quarter run
At the end of the third, Houston had only shaved five points off the Celtics lead. It wasn’t an awful performance from Boston. However, there was a stretch of play where nothing seemed to be going right. The Rockets were on a run, the Celtics struggled to contain their athleticism and physicality around the paint, and things just looked to be increasingly difficult.
Runs like that are part of the game. No one is going to stand idly by and let you get points on every possession — well, unless they’re on the second night of a back-to-back, having played 5 games in 7 days, and travel on the back end of both back-to-backs in that stretch. I would argue that's the only time you can let people score at will.
Still, Houston’s run in that third is worth mentioning for two reasons.
1, because it’s a learning experience. The way the Rockets upped the tempo led to some easy buckets. Boston can go back and look at ways to counter that type of curveball moving forward.
2, because the team didn’t crumble.
Their heads didn’t drop. Instead, they kept chipping away with their offense, kept rotating on defense, and emerged out of the run with enough time to re-establish control of the game by the end of the quarter.
#6 Kristaps Porzingis: Scorer
There are games when Porzingis’ role is to create space on the perimeter, rebound and protect the rim. Those games are fleeting, though. For the most part, he has emerged as one of the Celtics' best offensive tools. His post-up game, ability from deep, and knack for getting to his spots in the mid-range have elevated the Celtic's potency this season.
Against the Rockets and a tough young big man in Alperen Sengun, Porzingis was once again one of the best players on the court. He hit 6 threes during the game, asserting the Celtics' dominance as a genuine five-out offense with threats at every position.
Here, the Celtics go to a stagger screen the screener action, allowing Porzingis to get the ball with little defensive coverage. He drains the shot with relative ease — his fifth three of the night.
What I liked about this play was it highlights how fluid Porzingis’ movements are despite his size. He’s quick on his feet and can do so many different things out of screening actions that it makes defending him a tough challenge. Credit to Tatum for the pin-in on the defenders, too.
That same size is a weapon when he has you in the mid-post, too. More often than not, Porzingis has the size advantage and can create a direct line-of-sight with the bucket. He has great footwork and knows how to play through contact.
When the Celtics have needed Porzingis to step up as a featured scorer this season, he’s rarely let them down. Solid game from the impressive big man, once again.
#7 Oshae Brissett flashes finishing improvement
One of my biggest issues with Oshae Brissett coming into the season was how much he appeared to struggle finishing around the rim through traffic. However, as this season has progressed, he looks much more comfortable going to Euro Steps to split the defense and get to the rack.
That little Euro Step in the above video helped freeze Dillon Brooks and split the help defender, who was slowly rotating over. Brissett isn’t going to be a high-usage option for Boston; we knew that coming into the season. However, having trust that he can find ways of finishing his interior opportunities gives us additional players to feel comfortable with when they’re stepping into a slightly bigger role.
#8 Some big rebounding performances
The Celtics didn’t dominate on the glass. They ended with 55 boards as a team. Houston had 49. However, everybody chipped in. Brown and White both got into double-digits with 11 boards a piece. Tatum and Hauser had 7 each. Luke Kornet came off the bench to grab 9 rebounds and flirt with a potential double-double. Porzingis had 6.
I like it when everybody chips in on the glass. It’s been a theme this season. It shows a connectedness on defense. Long may it continue.
#9 Sometimes, games are scrappy
Not every game is going to consist of beautiful basketball. The game against Houston is a great example of that. Both teams came out of the gates slowly. There were some tough stretches. However, the Celtics did what they needed to do: they found a way to win.
It’s games like this one, where you’re expected to win, but you find yourself far from your best, that show the true character of a team. Honestly, I like these wins more than I like blowouts because there’s always so much more to unpack on both sides of the floor.
#10 A show of depth
No Al Horford, no Jrue Holiday. In comes Hauser, and up steps Kornet. Both players made their presence felt. They impacted the game in multiple ways. There are still fair questions about the back end of the team’s bench. However, Kornet and Hauser are both proving to be valuable rotation players off the bench who are also capable of stepping into the starting lineup when needed.
The Celtics are back in action again tonight. They face the Dallas Mavericks and will get their first game against Grant Williams since he left the team during the summer. Dallas will be a good test for Boston, especially when it comes to trying to shut down their offensive firepower.
I’ll be back tomorrow. Catch you all then.