The Celtics have a lot of positives to glean from tonight’s win, in spite of the putrid offense that dominated much of their game. The fresh new season brings with it a lot of learning moments and tonight we learned three new things: 1) Sophomore Year Jaylen Brown is human, 2) the Celtics can hold the Greek Freak under 30 points, and 3) it’s possible for this team to win when their bench scores under 20 points, even if it’s definitely not advisable. Eventually the 1,2 punch of Horford-Irving outweighed the efforts of the solo Greek Freak, though, as Boston’s pair combined for over half of their team points. Final Score: 96-89.
The Game Flow
If you missed last week’s loss against the Bucks, let me fill you in on a little something: (you can read the recap here) Giannis Antentokounpo FEASTED on the Celtics. Head Coach Brad Stevens ensured that tonight’s game would look a lot different by doubling him whenever the Greek Freak touched the ball in the post to begin the game. Daniel Theis also received his first start of the season due to what Stevens deemed “match-ups”, and the combination of Theis and Horford proved to be the right choice, right away: the pair combined to deny any attempted entry pass near the paint to begin the game (Giannis scored just 11 of his 28 in the 1st half). As a result, the Bucks shot the ball from deep more often than their game plan calls for and the 11k fans that packed into the MECCA for throwback night didn’t have much to cheer for during that first quarter.
The Celtics, conversely, got to the rim more frequently than they shot the 3 to begin. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford led the team early and often, and a quick 11-0 run fueled by them gave the Celtics a healthy lead. The game took a turn once it became more physical, particularly when the Bucks’ Liggins blocked Rozier then proceeded to stare at him as he laid on the hardwood. This reversed a transition 3 for the Bucks as they had instead received a technical foul, but Giannis quickly answered Liggins call to physicality. On the very next play, the Greek Freak showcased his athleticism with a manly-man’s drive and attempt at a dunk over Aron Baynes. That’s right, folks. Giannis picked maybe the one and only dude on the Celtics roster that could hope to stop such length (sorry Smart) due to his weight and sheer ferocity with which he defends the paint. Giannis missed the dunk and Celtics fans rejoiced, but he woke everyone on the Bucks up in the process.
Milwaukee then forced 9 straight bricks from the field for the Celtics, and it became clear that Boston’s squad needed a boost; but from who? The Celtics bench didn’t score a point during the first half, save for our Australian friend Mr. Baynes who chipped in 8. Nobody but Horford (11) or Irving (16) seemed to have any kind of offensive consistency through Q2. Jayson Tatum looked like your average “just good” rookie, notching just 6 points; hell, our golden boy Jaylen Brown was the coldest of anyone, after he started 0-8 from the field. The team entered halftime having shot just 4/16 from deep and were searching for answers.
The Celtics also needed to improve their execution during end-of-clock situations in general. Don’t get me wrong, it’s truly a joy to watch Kyrie go to work, and he even put Brogdon in the spin cycle during such a situation tonight (video posted below). The problem arises when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. Boston once over-passed the ball until Tatum was called with the shot clock violation late in the 1st, and then gave away another crucial possession when the buzzer sounded at the end of the half before they were able to find their shot. In each situation the boys (young men, really, but remember these guys average just over 24 years old) seemed afraid to take the shot and instead opted to swing the ball around the arc. The Celtics nursed a 44-43 deficit into the half.
But Brad Stevens must give one hell of a halftime speech, because these guys turned it around to start the 2nd half as Stevens’ teams so often do. Although the “defend Giannis at all costs” strategy took a bit of a hit when the team surrendered 11 points to him in Q3, Boston had their own big man catching fire themselves. Mr. Al Horford turned it ALL THE WAY ON as he came out from half and scored 13 of his 27 points during the third quarter alone.
The stat that best illustrates the extent to which Kyrie and Al carried the C’s tonight? Glad you asked: Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, and Jaylen Brown shot just 2-20 from the field through three quarters, but the Celtics still somehow led by 3, 72-69, going into the final frame.
Jaylen Brown did manage to chip into the C’s “Big 2” offensive effort with a couple of deep balls in Q3, then it became Marcus Smart’s turn to step up to the plate in crunch time. He emerged from his slump and made his first FG of the game in timely fashion with a 3 to put the C’s up 79-72 with just 9:21 left to play. Then for a brief moment, the team began to resemble its old self again; Marcus Smart had been laying down textbook picks to free his teammates on offense, and Horford was anchoring the defense on the other side.
Even more impressively, the Horford-Irving connection had never looked better than it did in the final quarter of tonight’s game. Kyrie found the big man for a few 3’s, including one that left even Bucks fans stunned. For those that can’t watch the video (posted below), Kyrie drove baseline until he jumped under the hoop, at which point he threw the ball to Al Horford all alone at the top of the key. That was the dagger, but nobody told Giannis that. The Greek Freak hit a couple of late 3’s that made Celtics fans give pause until the final few seconds until Boston ultimately went home a winner.
Your final two takeaways: Boston fans can officially rest assured that the Celtics bench doesn’t have to play otherworldly every night in order for this team to win. Boston’s stars are still, in fact, stars that are capable of carrying this team at times. Final Score: 96-89
The Hot (And Not)
Hot: Al Horford deserves it for the starters, and Aron Baynes as the bench player. Horford had an unbelievable game in which he dropped 27 points, 9 rebs, and 4 assists; while Baynes was essentially the only offensive threat off of the bench tonight and dropped 12 points of his own to go along with 7 rebounds. Oh yeah, and he defended that damn rim when Giannis came knocking. If that doesn’t make you respect the man and look past his man bun, I don’t know what will.
Not: Terry Rozier was a non-factor in tonight’s game and finished with just 4 points (8 rebounds though!) in 21 minutes on 2/9 shooting. It was an off night for mostly everyone, it seemed. It just hit Tito the hardest. He’ll bounce back.
The aforementioned beautiful baseline dish out to Horford from Irving? *Kisses Fingers*
Kyrie continues to impress with his passing ability, but he’s still got that famous iso game we all know and love him for, too… This is probably my favorite play of the night just because of how pretty it is.
Bonus Highlight: Semi Ojeleye reminding everyone that he’s an NBA-caliber defender already.