Something a little bit different today. I’ll be sticking with one larger takeaway rather than focusing on 10 aspects of the game.
There’s truth in the statement that you learn more from losing than you do from winning. High-level competitors want to trawl through the footage, find where gaps were being exposed, and improve their skillset and execution to avoid a similar situation in the future.
You also learn a lot from a close win. How did a team get on their run(s)? Where did their points come from? Why were you relying on clutch offense down the stretch? And how can you be in a position to control a game against the specific opponent moving forward? These are all fair questions. There are ones I try to look at within the scope of these takeaways.
Usually, I will look at individual performances. Defensive execution. Actions that created advantages. I need to do better with looking at the lessons within the game — that’s my developmental goal heading into the second half of the new season — I will be toying with some formats to help with that.
However, when you’re watching a total butt-kicking, like the one the Boston Celtics gave the Utah Jazz on Friday night, there’s not much to learn. What we witnessed was total domination. Start to finish. Only one team came to play.
The Celtics held a 15-point lead at the end of the first quarter. By halftime, that lead had grown to 31. Utah made it a game in the third, losing the quarter by just one point. Of course, that meant the incredible lead still stood heading into the fourth. Then, the bench stepped in. Yet somehow, the production kept coming.
That’s where this Celtics team is different than the ones from years past. They don’t let up. They don’t come into games thinking it's already won. They’re locked in from the opening tip to the final whistle.
Even more impressively, they’re learning not to take their foot off the gas. Big lead? Cool, let's keep chipping away and see how much of a gap we can create. Trailing the game? No problem, we’ll stick to our system, play our style, and see where the chips fall.
There’s nothing breathtaking about dismantling the Jazz. Will Hardy’s team came out of the gates flat, failed to make their shots, and couldn’t stop a yellow cab on a busy New York street. For a team that’s been impressive over the past 18 months, we saw the worst version of what Utah has to offer.
They, however, saw some of the best from Boston.
Jayson Tatum hit five of his eight threes, drew seven fouls, nailed 13-of-14 from the line, pulled down 9 rebounds, dished out 5 dimes, and got a steal and a block. And he did that without dominating the touches or taking over the game. He did it within the flow of the game.
It was a similar game for Kristaps Porzingis. 19 points, 6 attempts at the line totalling 12 attempts, of which he made 10. 5 rebounds. 2 assists. 57.1% from the floor. Oh, and don’t forget his block to round out his counting stats.
We could go down the line. Everyone had their share of success against a Jazz defense that folded before it even got set up.
Payton Pritchard, despite struggling on offense, was showcasing his defensive upside.
Take his defense on John Collins when cross-matched with the Jazz’s big man around the elbow. Pritchard sank onto his toes, lowered his center of gravity, and stayed connected to Collins, forcing a tough shot around the mid-block.
Yet, it wasn’t just individual defensive performances that stood out. In the clip below, we see an example of how the Celtics continued to close driving lanes around the elbow by pinching into the space to kill offensive drives and force ball-handlers to reset despite their lead.
Utah had run a wide pin-down for Lauri Markkanen, got him the ball on the curl, and was hoping he could get into the center of the defense and either create for himself or generate a rotation to take advantage of. Instead, Tatum and Jrue Holiday pinched in, and boom, Markkanen’s drive was dead before it ever posed a threat.
The Celtics were up by 28 at this point, which to me, made the defense more impressive.
Here’s another example, this time guarding a designed action from the Jazz.
Utah goes to a split action out of a horns set. They then run wide back screens on both sides of the floor. The Celtics navigate both sets of action without much trouble, switching and rotating to kill any advantage. Then, they force the turnover due to their ability to pressure ball-handlers on the perimeter.
You may wonder why I’m choosing to show defensive clips in a game where the offense deserves all the plaudits. The reason is simple: playing defense when holding a big lead is more indicative of a team’s mindset than continuing to run up the score.
Everybody loves putting the ball in the basket. Let’s be honest: it’s the best part about playing basketball, be it at the rec center, in the park, in an adult league, in AAU, or even in the pros. Defense, however, requires commitment, communication, energy, and effort. Still showing those things while you’re feeling good about how everything’s going on the other side of the floor tells you a lot about where this team is mentally.
Of course, there’s also the silver lining that Boston got to rest their core rotation for some of the third and the entire fourth quarter. With the second night of a back-to-back on the horizon and the opponent being an Indiana Pacers team that dropped 150 points against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, that rest could be exactly what the team needed.
I love a blowout as much as the next person, but for the sake of learning more about this team, I hope we see a more competitive game on Saturday. With that being said, I’ll catch you all tomorrow, when we will be back to a normal-ish version of the takeaways.