#1 Getting back on track
The Boston Celtics had two days to stew over their loss against the Los Angeles Lakers. That’s two days to watch film. Two days to sit with the underperformance and lack of effort. Some time to practice. And, most importantly, some time to rest and recover.
Coming in against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Celtics knew they faced a similar trap game. Memphis will be without its primary rotation for the remainder of the season. They’ve running deep bench and two-way guys as their starters and primary bench group.
That’s the type of trap game the Celtics would likely have preferred to avoid after their malaise against Los Angeles. However, Boston took care of business. They didn’t allow themselves to rest on their talent advantage. They played hard, dove for loose balls, competed on the glass, and got high-quality shots from their preferred locations.
It’s hard to make a statement win in these types of circumstances. You’re expected to win. If you do, no one celebrates due to the disparity in talent. Lose, and you’re going to have a rough few days. Fortunately, the Celtics won. They did what they were supposed to do. Now, they’re back on track and heading into another two days of rest before facing the Atlanta Hawks.
#2 Creating out of the post
Every game provides something a little different. Against the Grizzlies, it was how the Celtics looked to play a three-man game with the post-entry passer, post-up player, and off-ball pass receiver.
With so many players missing, the Grizzlies were at a significant disadvantage on both sides of the floor. However, it manifested primarily on the defensive end. By finding post-entry passes, Boston forced the Grizzlies to react to the scoring threat of Kristaps Porzingis (or however was in the post), allowing a cutter to move unimpeded toward the rim.
In the above play, you can see how the defense shifts over toward the strong side, and the low man slides to protect from a potential catch-and-drive from Jayson Tatum. That additional space allows Al Horford to saunter toward the rim, receive an easy pass (due to Porzingis’ height) and get the finish.
Here’s another example, this time coming from Jrue Holiday. Similar scenario, the Celtics get the entry pass, a touch pass back out to the perimeter forces the Grizzlies defense to plant their feet and change direction, leading to an open three.
Boston also used the high-low entry passes to create some quick offensive actions on lob-esque plays as they continued to punish Memphis’ lack of size.
But, my favorite example of the Celtics post creation was this corner pick-and-roll that got Derrick White heading toward the elbow before setting Porzingis free with the pass. While this might not be classified as low-post creation, the initial pick-and-roll action begins around the low-mid post and then unfolds as the defense scrambles, so I chose to include it here.
#3 Pressuring the rim
I’ve been hashing out this subject in recent weeks. Yes, the Celtics are still taking roughly 50% of their shots from the perimeter. I’m ok with that, although I would prefer it to be slightly less. However, it’s what they’re doing with their other 50% that has been standing out.
Against the Grizzlies, Boston pressured the rim. Off-ball slot drives were prevalent, as was having a secondary cutter when players when nashing their dribble under the rim. Guys attacked closeouts. They drove the lane. All of which puts the defense in rotation.
Here’s Porzingis attacking the space left by the defense, focusing on Tatum’s drive. The veteran big man slot drives into the paint, timing his movement. Tatum waits until he’s drawn the help defense, including the weakside helper and got three players committed to taking away his shot at the rim. By showing that level of patience, Porzingis has a fairly easy route toward the bucket, allowing him to build momentum on the cut and explode toward the bucket off the catch.
We also saw rim attempts coming courtesy of well-executed actions. In the above play, the Celtics go to something out of their “ram series” with Porzingis setting the second screen before rolling toward the bucket. Tatum takes one or two drag dribbles to engage both his and Porzingis’ defender and then sets the big man free down the middle of the court with the bounce pass.
And while we’re on the topic of rim pressure, there’s a clip of Horford recognizing Tatum was out of the play, seeing the space in the middle of the court, and taking the ball to the rack with physicality on his drive. Nothing special in the execution, it’s just impressive that Horford can still make these reads and finish these plays at such at late juncture in his career.
It feels like a lot’s been said about the Celtics rebounding throughout the final weeks of January. At times, the Celtics are one of the best defensive-rebounding rosters in the NBA. At others, they give up quick flurries of offensive boards and are forced to play off the back foot.
In the first quarter against the Grizzlies, we saw Boston’s defensive rebounding struggle as Memphis secured nine offense boards. However, as the game wore on, the rebounding disparity leveled out, and Boston ended up winning that battle. Still, there needs to be a re-focusing on the effort shown when attempting to command the glass.
Part of the issue may be a focus on leaking out to initiate early offense. Another factor is the unpredictability of the ball’s trajectory when it comes off the rim after a perimeter jumper. Still, crashing the glass, controlling the tempo, and limiting second-chance points have to be a focus of any team that desires to contend for a championship at the end of the season.
#5 Tatum takes care of business
It can’t be easy. Walking into a game as the clear-cut best player on the floor. Facing a team where everybody is fighting to prove they belong at the NBA level. Yet, Tatum came in and took care of business. He likely would have secured a triple-double if he had played into the fourth quarter.
Instead, he did what he needed to do over the first three quarters. Ending the game with 34 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists and a steal. There’s not much we can take away from the game in terms of what we learned, but we can confidently say that Tatum was looking to ensure his team won a game they had no business losing.
He looked fresh. He looked explosive. And his perimeter game appeared fluid — both off the catch and off the dribble. I’m not going to dive too deep here, but it was exciting to see Tatum looking
#6 Jordan Walsh got minutes
He’s still raw. He’s still a work in progress. But, we knew that when the Celtics selected him in the second round of the draft. Nevertheless, Jordan Walsh is a fun player to root for. He’s got great size and length. His wingspan is hard to fathom. And the upside as a potential three-and-d wing at the NBA level is exciting.
So, when he got some run in the fourth quarter, you could understand the crowd’s reaction and the excitement at getting a closer look at a player who we’ve seldom seen coming off Boston’s bench. Overall, the performance was good. Of course, he wasn’t facing high-level NBA talent, but you can only beat what’s in front of you.
We did get to see Walsh score his first NBA bucket.
JORDAN WALSH FIRST CAREER BUCKET pic.twitter.com/IuHOELFdqz— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 5, 2024
We also saw some flashes of what Walsh can bring in terms of on-ball defense. His hip flexibility allows him to change directions on the fly, while his wingspan makes him a nightmare in the passing lanes and when protecting your dribble — as showcased by the steal he secured.
Walsh didn't cause the turnover. But his wingspan acted like the tongue of a lizard, exploding toward its prey before pulling it into his body and taking control.
#7 Queta quick production
Should Neemias Queta get the final roster spot? Should he continue to develop on a two-way contract? These are questions for Brad Stevens and the front office. However, he made an impact when checking into the game in the fourth quarter. His size, physicality and athleticism gave him a clear advantage over the Grizzlies makeshift rotation.
As with Walsh, it’s hard to lean too heavily into Queta’s performance against a Grizzlies team that lacks genuine NBA talent. However, the dunk above illustrates the size and power Queta brings around the rim. Factor in his 8 rebounds in nine minutes and his developing timing when guarding shots, and he already looks like a dramatically better player than the one we saw to begin the season.
Regardless of what happens with his contract in the coming weeks, there should be a spot for him beyond this season.
#8 Luke Kornet will find his rhythm
Sticking with the big men for a moment. Kornet was playing his first game after missing the last three with a hamstring issue. Before his injury, he was showing why he was such a valuable third-string center. However, against the Grizzlies, he fell flat.
That’s to be expected, though. Kornet will find his rhythm again. He will get his legs back under him and continue to make an impact — he’s proven he can be a reliable bench big throughout the season; there’s no need to doubt that fact based on one game. Still, with each passing game, Queta is breathing down his neck. There’s also the trade and buyout markets to contend with.
If Kornet ever needed a reason to quickly get back to the level we saw in mid-January, he has three of them listed out above. I like Kornet. I like what he brings to the table. His absence was felt within the second unit. Hopefully, we won’t be waiting to long to see him back at his best.
#9 Pritchard is a rhythm player
Payton Pritchard is at his best when the games are coming thick and fast. He seems to thrive on being in rhythm and having some momentum behind him. Two days off feels like the worst thing possible when you’re looking for a big performance from him off the bench.
Against the Grizzlies, Pritchard’s shot seemed flat. His burst was inconsequential, and his passing was a beat too slow or too quick, depending on the possession. There was a play (which I don’t have the clip for) that really stood out to me. Pritchard is exceptional at Nashing his dribble and hitting a cutting big man with a well-timed and well-placed pass.
However, in this instance, his pass was slightly too early and was a few inches too low. It led to a scramble, which in turn put pressure on the Celtic's offense. Going 0-for-6 from deep doesn’t help.
Still, similarly to Kornet, Pritchard has proven he’s capable of thriving in his role off the bench. It just feels like he’s better when games are coming thick and fast rather than when they’re spaced out. I will admit this is just an observation, and I haven’t dove into the numbers to confirm or disprove this theory.
#10 The Marcus Smart tribute
Loved it. Love Marcus Smart. There was a time when I wasn’t on the hype train. Yet, over the years, he continued to grow on me. What he meant to this team can’t be overstated. As someone on the outside looking in, I cannot speak on, nor speculate on, what he meant to the city of Boston — all I know is everything I consume tells me the city loved him and always showed love back.
I’m sure we all would have enjoyed seeing Smart on the floor, throwing his body at loose balls and competing against his former teammates. That day will eventually come. For now, though, it was great to see him receive such a warm welcome, be honored by the franchise, and feel the love the team and its fanbase have for him.
Oh, and it was great that his team lost. Because, you know, the best way to honor a competitor is to play your best and show no mercy.
Shoutout to Oliver Fox for holding it down for me following the Lakers' loss. I had a family matter to attend to and couldn’t be here to produce the takeaways. I should be good moving forward — fingers crossed.
The next game comes on Wednesday when Boston faces the Atlanta Hawks. I’m hoping for a win. I’m expecting a win. I’ll be here to cook up some takeaways either way. Catch you all then.