1. The Boston Celtics have won four games in a row. In a familiar situation to last year, Boston is rolling heading into the final couple of games ahead of the All-Star break. Last year, that featured a big game at an Eastern Conference rival and then a home game against the Detroit Pistons.
This year, the Celtics are headed into a big game at the Milwaukee Bucks, followed by a pre-break home game against…the Detroit Pistons.
To stay on this roll, Boston had to win without some key players. Marcus Smart remains out, and Jaylen Brown missed another game due to his facial fracture. In addition, Malcolm Brogdon was a late downgrade from probable to out due to Achilles soreness.
No matter, multiple Celtics stepped up. The depth that Brad Stevens and Joe Mazzulla have worked together to cultivate is starting to shine here in the dog days before the break. That’s why Boston just keeps rolling along.
2. Derrick White has started the last 10 games in place of Marcus Smart, while the starting point guard recovers from a badly sprained ankle. In that stretch White has played his best basketball since joining the Celtics roughly a year ago.
White has averaged 19.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.1 blocks. He’s also shooting 50.4% from the field over that stretch, including 47% on three pointers.
In the last couple of games, White’s playmaking has shown up for Boston. He’s had back-to-back games of 10 assists. Here are some of his best dimes against the Grizzlies.
White beats Luke Kennard off the bounce here, which draws the help defense from the corner. Despite being on the spin move, White knows exactly where Al Horford is:
The Grizzlies defense gets a little scrambled here. White attacks Xavier Tillman off the dribble, which draws Jaren Jackson Jr. in help defense again. That left Rob Williams open for the lob:
On this play, White attacks before Memphis can set their defense. He draws the corner man in help defense at the rim, but this time Kennard rotates to take the corner away. No worries for White, because he knows he has Payton Pritchard open on the wing:
This one pretty much capped it off. Boston is chewing up the clock here and with Memphis cross-matched all over, White attacks the paint again before hitting the lob to Rob:
3. Sam Hauser had a great start to the season, then he had a rough couple of months. Now, Hauser appears to have found his shot again. He’s started three of the last four games, and Hauser got extra minutes after Jaylen Brown went down in the one game he didn’t start. Over those four games, he’s hit 19-of-33 three-pointers, which brought his season average back up to 41.7% from deep.
This game actually started with Hauser’s hot shooting getting him a layup. With Ja Morant top-locking (essentially denying Hauser a wing catch-and-shoot in this scenario), Hauser back cut for a layup off a nice pass from Rob Williams:
The Celtics have gone to a lot of actions where Jayson Tatum sets a pin-down screen for Jaylen Brown. The defense naturally reacts to Tatum with extra attention. Here, the Celtics use that same set to get Hauser a three:
With Hauser so hot, Al Horford has no issue with making the extra pass to the corner:
Don’t watch the ball on this clip. Just watch Hauser. He starts off the play by directing Mike Muscala as the primary look. When the Grizzlies collapse on Tatum in the post, Muscala skips it to Derrick White. As White drives, watch Hauser lift to the top of the arc against the grain of the Memphis rotation:
4. With Jaylen Brown out, but all the frontcourt players available, Joe Mazzulla went to some jumbo-sized lineups. Grant Williams saw a lot of his minutes as a three in this game, including some where Jayson Tatum was playing the two.
Those big lineups helped Boston beat up Memphis on the glass. The Celtics snagged 14 offensive rebounds, which led to 13 second-chance points. That came while limiting the Grizzlies to just three offensive rebounds of their own. As expected, Rob Williams led the way, as he grabbed five offensive boards as a part of his 16-rebound night.
Once perceived as a weak spot, the Celtics are now the NBA’s top defensive rebounding team on the season.
5. Since we’re talking about the bigs…Al Horford is turning another really productive season. He just does a little bit of everything. Horford had 16 points, nine rebounds, five assists and a block in this one. He was also really solid in Boston’s switching defense against both Ja Morant and Desmond Bane.
That two-year, $19.5 million extension Horford signed already looks like tremendous value for the Celtics. And that’s true even if Horford slips enough that he’s in a backup role by the end of that deal. But that’s probably not where this ends up, as Horford only seems to adapt and get better as he ages.
6. Boston’s scoring in this game was ridiculously balanced. Eight players scored in double-figures, ranging from 10 points to 23 points. And Boston tallied 28 assists on 39 baskets.
In consecutive games where Jayson Tatum couldn’t find his shooting touch, he was able to focus on other parts of his game. That only happens because multiple other Celtics are stepping up and making shots at a high rate.
7. Payton Pritchard has been very open that he would have welcomed, even wanted, a trade. What’s getting lost a bit (or a lot, depending on your perspective) is that it’s because Pritchard wants to play. He doesn’t want to leave the Celtics necessarily; Pritchard just wants to play. That’s not the problem some are trying to turn it in to.
It’s that supreme confidence that allows Pritchard to turn in stretches like this one that bridged the first and second quarter. First, he caught the Grizzlies a step too low in transition:
On the next trip, Pritchard made a nice kickout pass to Grant Williams. But he didn’t stop moving and as Williams drove the closeout, Pritchard relocated for the corner three:
On the Celtics first possession of the second quarter, Pritchard showed his ability as a movement shooter on this catch-and-shoot behind a Rob Williams screen:
8. Mike Muscala has fit in really well with the Celtics right from his first minutes without so much as a single practice. This was a nice show-and-go pullup against a hard closeout:
Muscala also fits in as a quick decision maker. The ball isn’t in his hands long before he does something with it, which is usually letting it fly:
9. With all the bigs available, Boston ran a lot of offense through them. Rob Williams, Al Horford and Grant Williams combined for 12 assists. Here’s a sampling of those efforts.
This is a good drive-and-kick by Horford against a closeout:
Sam Hauser does a nice job with the relocation after the post entry pass. Horford goes to work against the mismatch and finds Hauser on the opposite wing:
Grant has improved greatly as an off-the-dribble passer. This was a nice find to Mike Muscala for the short push shot:
Rob is an incredibly gifted, and willing, passer. This is all in one motion to set up Derrick White for the three:
We love some big-to-big passing here, so of course we thought this Rob to Horford dime was worthy of inclusion:
And, to finish it out, one more big-to-big effort, as Grant makes the extra pass to set up Horford in the corner again:
10. Boston heads to Milwaukee on Tuesday night with a 1.5 game lead in the conference. They’ll come out leading the East, no matter what. But this game is a big one. The Celtics have a 1-0 advantage over the Bucks in the regular season series. If they win this one, they’ll win the tiebreaker, as the two teams only play three times this regular season.
This is arguably the biggest game of the regular season thus far for Boston. No matter who suits up for the Celtics, we can have faith they’ll put together a pretty good game. Nothing we’ve seen this month would tell us otherwise.