1. Jayson Tatum scored 13-for-13 on two-point shots for the Boston Celtics against the New Orleans Pelicans. That made Tatum just the 15thste player in NBA history to hit as many shots without a miss from inside the arc. He started early by breaking down the Fur defense with ease:
This game begins with an excellent block by Grant Williams, followed by an excellent pass from Al Horford. Tatum makes sure no one challenges this shot by hammering it through:
This is a great example of Tatum working off the ball. He makes a good cut to get the pass. In conclusion, Tatum does something we do not see him do often enough: He uses his size and power to move up and down a smaller opponent. No finesse here, just strength:
2. The Celtics ball movement was outstanding all night. They had 31 assists on 43 baskets. Marcus Smart tested it with 12 assists (more on his passing within a minute), but all five starters had at least three assists.
Here, Jayson Tatum does a great job of pulling the defense towards him in the midfield area. After a kick-out pass, Josh Richardson made the quick swing to Jaylen Brown for the open triple:
This play begins with Tatum slipping a wonderful pass into Marcus Smart at the nail. While Smart was spinning, he could have shot, but he saw Robert Williams peek at the edge for easy finishing:
3. Jaylen Brown is going to appear quite in these tracks because he scored 31 points. It was a pretty effective night for Brown as he scored at all levels. There were not many highlights, but that’s ok. To kill an opponent gently with efficiency is still to kill an opponent.
4. After the match, Marcus Smart was spotted rubbing and bending his right hand. When asked if his hand hurt, Smart revealed that he still has glass in his hand since hitting a picture frame in 2018. Smart also said he sometimes has trouble getting feeling in hand because of the glass. This makes his night of 12 assistance even so much more remarkable.
It’s a great pass from Smart to Al Horford. Notice how he throws it at Horford’s outside shoulder, which leads him right into the lap where the defender can not challenge him:
In transition, Smart is in full control. He holds this ball up to allow traffic to clear. This led to Jaylen Brown making a cut for the en-1:
This is classic point guard game from Smart. He comes off the screen and could have pulled up for three or even taken a two-pointer. By holding the ball for one extra measure and keeping his eyes open, Smart keeps the defense that Brown opens up for a try:
Fantastic set here to record the second half. Smart delivers an excellent fit to get Rob Williams the easy setup:
5. Because Smart was in full control of the offense, things got very rough when he sat down. Dennis Schroder struggled to keep the team going with the same pace and movement that Smart had. Boston was a +28 in Smart’s 30 minutes. In the 18 minutes he sat, the team was -18.
Single play plus / minus is not a perfect statistic. In this case, it tells the story of the game perfectly. Tatum and Brown scored the points, but Smart directed the show. And he did it really, really well.
6. After the Pelicans made a big run in the third quarter to close out the game, Smart came back and got things back under control for the Celtics.
Jose Alvarado played a very good game for New Orleans, but Smart had enough and went to work on the young, smaller guard. Smart drew a couple of free throws to open the fourth quarter. Then he bullied Alvarado for this essay:
And then Smart ended the match with this steal. This is a play that no other Celtics player makes and Smart does it at least once per game:
7. Robert Williams is concluding the first 5×5 game of his career. That’s at least five points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in the same game. It’s coming and it’s coming soon. After the game, Ime Udoka, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum all mentioned Williams’ progress as a key to where the Celtics hope to go this season and beyond.
There are not many centers that can do what Williams does in this play. First, Williams competes at the arc and forces a pass. Then he immediately recovers to block a driver:
Part of making the 5×5 possible is Williams is a very good passer for a center. It’s a good cut / delayed roll and Williams knows exactly where he wants to go with the ball. If the defense does not cheat to help him in the lane, he will only go up for the dunk / layup. But the defense cheated and Williams kicked to Schroder in the corner:
8. You are what your record says you are. The Celtics are 26-25. But they have a league-high difference between actual and expected record, as Boston’s expected record is 30-21. Therefore, there is still so much hope that this team can finally figure it out.
Most of that hope drives the Celtics is an elite defense. They are fourth in the NBA in defensive rating. It achieved a net rating of +3.0, which is the fourth best in the Eastern Conference.
That defense, combined with Jayson Tatum shaking off his season-long shooting slump, Jaylen Brown doing his thing, Marcus Smart controlling the offense and Rob Williams thriving, along with better health, give the team hope on the way to the playoffs.
9. Ime Udoka has had his share of problems this season as he has learned on the job. He probably leaned a little too much on his veteran players. But, with the grid healthy, Udoka has significantly adjusted its rotation. Enes Freedom is now completely out of rotation, with Rob Williams, Al Horford and Grant Williams splitting the big minutes. Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder do not play together regularly (minus a strange pairing late in the Atlanta game). And Udoka pulls players faster than ever before when they are not efficient.
Growth is something we are constantly looking for in young players. It is fair to seek it from head coaches as well for the first time. Ime Udoka shows it with a healthy grid.
10. The Celtics return home to end January with a game against the leading Eastern Conference Miami Heat. We said January has a chance to be a good month, and it was. Boston is 9-6 in the month with one game left.
The Celtics have one of the easiest remaining schedules in the Eastern Conference. Almost all the teams in front of them have a harder to much harder schedule.
We’ve been here before. It’s been a “win one, lose one” season so far. But as Marcus Smart said after the game, “We make no excuses. We own it. We just have to keep coming. Keep working. Finally we’re going to run here. But we have to hold on to the things we did not do well. But no apologies. “
Getting a win over the Heat on Monday will help a lot to turn that turn around and get that run going.