Did you watch last night’s game? It’s cool if you didn’t. I have heard tell there was some other thing going on involving the *reads from notes* Now Angland Patritos? No, that can’t be right.
But without further ado, my biggest takeaways from the Celtics’ close victory over the Bulls, with one more than usual because why not:
Tatum’s epic performance redeemed Friday’s troubled one.
Everything Jayson Tatum did against the Chicago Bulls was an infuriated repudiation of his poor performance against the Atlanta Hawks the previous night.
That win-guaranteeing dagger was the pinnacle of a consistent evening that put his stinker in Atlanta far in the rearview—28 points, 7 boards and 2 assists, steals and blocks on 80% shooting as opposed to 13 points, 9 boards and 3 dimes on (yeeeeesh) 12.5% shooting. Tatum could’ve done a bit more on defense, one might reasonably argue, but his hands were extremely full on the offensive end, and that side of his game is what won this contest.
Marcus Smart is playing like himself again.
These are the kind of plays the Celtics were missing so much when Smart was out:
By pure numbers, Smart did much better in the Atlanta game than this one—the reverse of Tatum’s situation. But in the sort of super-close matches that these back-to-back games were, the value of his presence is hard to overstate, and despite being kinda woozy in his return from injury (the fiasco vs. Toronto), Smart has otherwise looked like himself.
Turnovers are becoming sort of a problem.
The Celtics started this season as one of the NBA’s best ball-handling teams, allowing fewer turnovers than most (and, at times, any) other clubs for quite some time. (I’ve pointed out their prime position in that metric for previous Rapid Recaps and Thoughts.) Now they’re in eighth, with 19 turnovers coming in this game.
Turnovers are a tricky stat to quantify, especially since the Celtics are winning most of their recent games with high turnovers while forcing the seventh-most turnovers in the NBA. But consider how close some of the Celtics’ wins have been, especially against good teams. Not to mention how close the losses have been; out of the eight Ls, only two have been blowouts (Philly on opening night and Toronto’s post-Christmas revenge game). Consider how much wider the margin of victory—or chance of it, in the losses—might’ve been if the turnover slippage went back down to its early-season levels.
Hayward had one of his best games of the season.
There’s no doubt Gordon Hayward has proved me—and many other, far higher-profile doubters—wrong this year. He’s currently shooting above 50%, albeit in less games than other key Celtics, but it’s impressive nonetheless, and he excels as a cutter, driver and tertiary playmaker.
He had his work cut out for him last night, having to shoot more in Kemba Walker’s absence and defend, at various points, every key Chicago player except Wendell Carter. The gamer responded with 24 points on 64% shooting and a team-high +15.
Brown is still shooting over 50%.
It’s quaint remembering the pre-draft rap on Jaylen Brown. The initial Boston fan reaction to Danny Ainge taking him at #3. Chatter that he was a defensive specialist picked well ahead of his “correct” draft slot.
Four years later, he;s easily one of the Eastern Conference’s best two-way players: a furious driver and dunker, an ace spot-up shooter (just above 52% as of today, and about 41% from deep) and relentless defender. Brown can’t always create his own shot like Kemba, Tatum and Hayward can (especially the first two on that list), but Celtics offensive sets typically unfold so that he doesn’t have to. Plus, he’s shown signs that he could develop that skill in the not-too-distant future.
KanterWatch: Agony-ecstasy dynamic was in full effect.
As he does so often, the Riffs Man partially predicted some of what might occur:
There’s no way not to bring up Enes Kanter, seeing as his performance encapsulated everything people admire and hate about him.
He had 17 and 12, half of those rebounds coming on the offensive glass and occasionally leading to valuable second-chance points. And he was a big part of the Cs strong third-quarter performance. He also shot 7-17 (41%), and caused plenty of the defensive problems that brought the Bulls back into the game during Q4, and Daniel Theis had to rotate in to bring more dependability to Boston’s interior defense. Kanter will remain a polarizing member of the Celtics roster until he gets his shit together more on that end of the floor.