The Celtics broke their losing streak last night in dramatic fashion, albeit against a fairly short-handed Pelicans squad. Let’s take a look at what happened:
Jayson Tatum wrecked the Pelicans.
Long before the game’s outcome was decided and he was basically scoring for record-breaking shits and giggles (before the Pelicans’ defense had dipped from “problematic but purposeful” to “barely trying,” which you can hardly blame them for when down 30), Tatum carved up the opposition almost as effortlessly.
New Orleans had no answer for Tatum’s combo of drives into soft-touch finger rolls/other layups, pull-up jumpers and threes. Brandon Ingram, his primary defender last night, is a growing into an excellent player on both ends, but Tatum has a small but notable size advantage and can elude double teams when Josh Hart, E’Twaun Moore or Lonzo Ball would try and bring help defense. (As for switching a big onto Jayson, I don’t think that would’ve worked, and often as not the Pels were running a man-to-man iteration of zone defense.)
But it wasn’t just Tatum—it was the versatility afforded by the Cs’ wing attack.
Jaylen Brown didn’t have anywhere near as good a scoring night as his running buddy (13 on 27% shooting), which may continue the recent whispers of him being in a slump. (Personally, I think slumps have to last for at least five games; Brown’s is currently at 3.) Nevertheless, the threat of Brown, in the minds of a younger and shorthanded team whose players aren’t yet adept at quick in-game adjustments to issues opponents are having, undoubtedly helped open things up for Tatum.
Meanwhile, Gordon Hayward bounced back from his stinker in Philadelphia to precisely hit 8 of 11 shots for 19 points, quite a few of them on well-assisted drives to the cup. With Hayward playing at full strength (or at least 90%) and the team fully engaged, the Boston wing onslaught is just too much for many teams even if one of the three isn’t as on fire as the other two. We’ve seen it before and saw it again last night.
NOLA’s loss was almost guaranteed, but totally disregarding this win seems foolish.
We’ve established how shorthanded the Pelicans were, and their major struggles this season are a matter of public record (although they’re certainly improving, just in time for Zion Williamson to make his season debut after months of injury rehab).
So yeah, it’d be nice for this blowout to have been against, like, the Bucks, or Philly, or one of the tougher teams out west (a group to which San Antonio doesn’t belong, for the record; that loss is more fluke than augury).
But it was how the Celtics won this game that matters. They did what they’ve done in their successes throughout much of the Brad Stevens era: motion offense anchored by precise, unselfish ball movement, the dismantling of opponents’ brute strength through cleverness and defensive synchronicity up and down the roster. Getting out of the rut and the bad habits that characterized the descent into it is what matters. We’ll be seeing the Bucks next Thursday (frustratingly, on the second night of a back to back…AGAIN), so hopefully there’ll be some more in the W column by the time we get there.
Scoring in the paint was the recipe for success.
The Celtics scored at least half of their 140 points in the paint, which effectively decimated a team lacking its strongest interior defender in Derrick Favors. There was only so much the rookie Jaxson Hayes could do when everyone on the roster from guards to power forwards was barreling into the restricted area. Jahlil Okafor couldn’t offer much help in his minutes at the center position, and that helped seal the Pelicans’ fate as much as Tatum’s dominance.
KanterWatch, the Final Installment: He is who we thought he is…and that’s fine.
Enes Kanter largely dismantled the centers he faced last night, both of whom lacked the experience or situational awareness to exploit his flaws. So pretty much all we saw were his strengths, to the tune of 22 points and 19 rebounds.
He’s probably going to keep screwing up on defense. (He did last night, being burned by Jaxson Hayes on at least a few occasions.) But if Daniel Theis can handle the primary defensive burdens, which he often can, and Rob Williams can augment that upon his return to the court, Enes can keep abusing second-unit centers and racking up points all he wants. It’s also worth noting Kanter’s best game as a Celtic was in the second Philly matchup of this season, which was a close loss. I’m going to refrain from bitching about him in these analysis posts until he has a game-devastating error. It’s what it is.