1. This was a big win for the Boston Celtics. Not just in terms of the importance of the game, although it was important enough, but Boston hammered the Chicago Bulls on the road.
This game was never really close. The Bulls have never led. The Celtics led until 27. Even when Chicago made a mini-run, Boston pushed back right away.
It was the opposite of the Celtics’ collapse against the Bulls on Nov. 1. This Boston team only built tracks to give away like slices of pizza on a kid’s birthday. All of a sudden you look down and it’s all gone and all that’s left is chaos and crying.
Now the Celtics are creating leads and giving you no hope of coming back. They take you down and keep you there. What five months it has been.
2. Al Horford will be a big part of Boston’s playoff success. And as long as Rob Williams is out, Boston needs a lot more Horford. And he delivers.
Ime Udoka said part of the Celtics’ challenge during the regular season was to make Horford and Daniel Theis more comfortable together. It seemed to show up against the Bulls. Horford is a power/center forward doing this show-and-go to set Theis up for the dunk:
Without Williams, rim protection becomes a team effort. Horford does a good job of stoning Nikola Vucevic to the post to start this play. Then, as Zach LaVine drives, Horford returns his shot. Nice forward pass from Jayson Tatum and good finish from Jaylen Brown at the end of the clip as well. Turn defense into attack here:
In the playoffs, it’s imperative that teams find an easy offense. Even big offenses have a harder time scoring in the playoffs. Horford’s ability to rip, run and set up teammates is huge for the Celtics’ playoff hopefuls:
3. The Celtics ball movement was on point again. 29 assists out of 43 baskets is very high level.
That’s about a minute into the game. Four players touch the ball, finishing with Marcus Smart making the extra pass to Al Horford:
Note: Horford is 41.9% from three since the All-Star break. It’s almost a quarter of a season of good filming. Her sweater is back.
Making the extra pass is contagious. Payton Pritchard is primarily a shooter at this point in his career. He had just drilled a triple play before, so you know he wants to shoot this one. But Pritchard misses a good shot to make it a great one for Derrick White:
Look how fast this decision making is. Jayson Tatum reads the double team and immediately passes it on to White. White almost tossed the ball to Jaylen Brown before he even caught it:
4. Jaylen Brown carried a good chunk of the score with Jayson Tatum having a shooting night. This Brown fadeaway is starting to become a very regular occurrence:
The game is slow for Brown right now. Compared to the start of the season, he has his head held high and that opens everything up. As the game has slowed down, it can go faster, but with patience:
Tatum has his side step pullover as his signature move. Maybe it’s Brown’s. Call it “The Staccato” because of the quick, fast dribbling sequence to set up the jumper:
5. Back to ball movement… Assists are great. Really great. It’s been ages since Boston had a team that moved the ball like this one does now.
For this ball movement to work, the Celtics need to trust each other that the passes will also be made the other way. And they have to shoot. Nobody moves the ball if he doesn’t believe the next shooter.
They must also reduce turnovers. Boston did a great job for most of this game keeping their turnovers in check. Some freebies will come, especially as they try to pick up the pace and spin the ball. But keeping that a secret as much as possible will be important in the playoffs. You can’t donate assets in the playoffs.
6. DeMar DeRozan is a tough cover. He’s taller than a lot of guards and wingers, and he’s too fast for most bigger forwards. Besides letting him dribble over a few mid-range jumpers, Boston did a really good job of making DeRozan work for everything he got.
To slow down the All-NBA candidate, you need to have active hands. You can’t let DeRozan put you to sleep with a dribbling streak. Grant Williams does a great job of taking on DeRozan in transition here:
It’s an outstanding Defensive Player of the Year defense. Marcus Smart takes the hit, but he’s too strong for DeRozan to move. Next, Smart uses his fast hands to get the tape:
Smart has spent most of his time guarding DeRozan or Zach LaVine. He held the two Bulls All-Stars to a combined 3-of-8 shot on 30 possessions with just one pass, while blocking a shot and forcing a turnover.
20 empty possessions and six negatives against only four positives. Start burning the DPOY trophy now.
7. We’ve shown Tatum doing a good read of a double earlier in the takeaway, but here are some more good things from Tatum as a passer.
Tatum reads Daniel Theis’ off-screen double. Javonte Green slides to tag Theis as a roll. Because Tatum sees all the ground, and because he’s so tall for a passer, he sees Payton Pritchard coming out of the corner for the open three-pointer:
When a natural scorer has the ball in transition, they are usually looking to do just that: score. But Tatum makes the right play almost every time now. Good setup at Theis for the easy bucket:
It’s perfect execution and selfless play. Many top scorers will hold that ball and investigate. Tatum knows what play call is. Good screen from Theis as Pritchard fires up for the three. Perfect and punctual pass from Tatum as well:
When your best player is ready to give up plays to his teammates, your cap is so high you can’t really see it.
8. Remember when the Schroder-Horford two-man game was supposed to be a thing against second units? It never developed because the first rarely gave up the ball until he absolutely had to.
The White-Theis two-game is one thing because White is very willing to give it up:
9. Ime Udoka must still have scars from the blown runs earlier in the season. He’s still waiting until he’s far enough into the fourth quarter to fire the regular. But if the bench behaves like it has the last few times, that will probably change.
Boston was up 23 points when Udoka began the substitution process midway through the fourth quarter. And the Celtics won the game by 23. Progress from the bench guys deeper!
10. Let’s go for a short trip to face Milwaukee dollars for the second night of a back-to-back. It’s theoretically a huge game. It is very possible that the Celtics-Bucks winner will be the second seed in the Eastern Conference.
But…we don’t know how much either team wants him. the brooklyn nets loom as the potential No. 7 seed. This is a much tougher first-round game than a top seed typically draws.
At this stage, it is unclear who will play for each side. Boston didn’t have to release an injury report before the game started, and Ime Udoka was quite suspicious after the game about who would and wouldn’t play. The Bucks demoted a few players, but could always choose to rest even more guys.
No matter what happens in Milwaukee, the Celtics have secured a top-4 seed and home advantage in the first round. And they won their 50and Game. This combination seemed like a ridiculously absurd holiday goal, but here we are. With two games to play in the year to start. What a change in situation.