A complete effort: 10 Takeaways from Boston Celtics-Charlotte Hornets
1. The Boston Celtics have been really good since the calendar flipped to 2022. The defense has been dominant, while the offense has started to figure things out. This game was a very complete performance against a team that should make at least the Play-In Tournament.
Boston went on the road and dominated the Charlotte Hornets in the fourth quarter. The Celtics really controlled things the whole way, but built a lead of 20-plus points in the final frame, as they cruised to a fourth straight win.
The offense was clicking, led by Jayson Tatum, and the defense was locked in. Boston limited to Charlotte to less than 43% shooting, which is under their season average. That included holding the Hornets, who have been one of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA, to just 8-of-32 from behind the arc. The Celtics also forced 16 turnovers, in what was one of their better both-ends-of-the-floor games this season.
2. Jayson Tatum is on one right now. In what is becoming a March tradition, Tatum is picking his game way up. In four games so far in March, Tatum is averaging 42 points, six rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. And he’s shooting 56/46/87 to do it. Utter dominance.
In this one, Tatum started early with a really sweet finger-roll:
This play looks like one from a high school game where that one kid is just bigger, faster and better than everyone else on the floor:
When Tatum has it going, he’ll dribble into these pull-up threes like he’s taking a warmup shot:
When Tatum really has it going, you get absurdity like this:
There are about 10 more clips we could post of Tatum abusing the Charlotte defenders. He’s as locked in right now as we’ve ever seen. Tatum’s shooting percentages are creeping up towards their normal levels, but this time it’s coming with increased free throw attempts, increased playmaking and still elite defense. All-NBA is a lock at this point. That makes the real question: Where will Tatum finish in MVP voting?
3. Marcus Smart is the Celtics point guard. That debate should have been settled a long time ago, but it’s completely finished now. He’s controlling games better than he ever has.
It’s fallen into place for Smart since that New Year’s Eve win over the Phoenix Suns. In the 25 games Smart has played since that period, he’s averaged 13.2 points, 5.8 assists and 1.3 steals. What about his shooting you ask? Just crisp 45/37/83 splits.
But it’s the playmaking we’re going to focus on here, because that his primary job as a point guard after all. This play is great because Smart could have taken the three off the catch, then he could have taken it off the fake. Instead, it’s a “Lob to Rob” play:
Next trip, after a nice offensive rebound by Robert Williams (who dominated the offensive glass early on), Smart again could have shot a three. Instead, another lob, this time to Jayson Tatum:
Good stuff happens when Smart posts up. This is Smart working against old friend Terry Rozier. Nothing rushed or forced. Smart waited for a little traffic to clear before finding Al Horford for the triple:
You can get in the zone as a passer, same as when your shot is falling. Smart’s in that passer zone right now:
4. It was kind of a weird game for Jaylen Brown. He got started with this gorgeous pass to Robert Williams in the opening minutes:
Notice though, that pass came after two mis-dribbles that could have been turnovers. That was the story for a lot of the game for Brown. He was either missing in action or turning the ball over. During one stretch in the third quarter, Brown had three turnovers in a row.
Then he woke up and looked like Jaylen Brown again. This was a confident pull:
On the next trip, this is Brown just using his skill and athleticism to draw the and-1 opportunity:
In the end, even in a sleepy and sloppy game, Brown still put up 15/5/5. That’s winning without your best stuff.
5. One key to the Celtics offensive improvement has been points in the paint. Against the Hornets, they scored 56 points in the paint. Those are coming off a combination of transition/fastbreaks points, second-chance points and drives in the halfcourt offense.
It’s that last one that has picked way up. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart aren’t settling for contested jumpers. They are getting downhill more. And the addition of Derrick White has also helped too.
Because White is bigger than Dennis Schroder, he’s better at getting all the way to the rim for shots. Schroder could get his own looks, but they trended towards more midrange pullups vs getting all the way to the basket.
6. Speaking of Derrick White, he’s been exactly what the Celtics needed. Yes, we were rough on Schroder in this space, because he never quite fit what Boston needed, even when he was good. White’s game is based on attacking and moving the ball. And his defense is lightyears ahead of Schroder’s, as well.
This is a good example of all of White’s skills. First, he picks up a nice steal. Remember how we talked about personal pace recently? White pushes, but he doesn’t rush. He just kind of gets where he needs to for the easy layup:
White could have taken this shot. Twice, probably. But he does a nice job of driving and drawing the defender just enough to open up Jayson Tatum for a better look:
However far the Celtics go this season, Derrick White is going to be a huge part of it.
7. Boston has done a really good job pushing the ball opportunistically. This is a nice find from Jaylen Brown to Payton Pritchard in transition:
The good thing from this: The previous two plays, Pritchard missed Brown open for shots. They had a somewhat animated discussion about it heading to the bench. But they also both nodded, smiled and high-fived at the end. That’s locked-in teammates.
Sticking with transition play, Boston is so fortunate to have Al Horford and his ability to create off the dribble from the big man positions. And Horford has a newfound joy in throwing lobs to Jayson Tatum on the break:
8. During the dark period of the first half of the season, the Celtics would regularly let the officiating take them out of games. They’d get frustrated and challenge the officials, which led to technical fouls and, sometimes, a lack of calls. That would then lead to frustration fouls by Boston. They still have their moments, but now it’s more to make a point than it is to show up the refs.
In this game, the maturity showed, as the Hornets melted down at the end of the third quarter. Boston was up 82-78 and holding for the last shot. For reasons only known to him. Montrezl Harrell grabbed Daniel Theis away from the play as Theis moved up to set a screen. That was two free points at the line. LaMelo Ball then took an ill-advised 30-footer. Jayson Tatum grabbed the rebound and Kelly Oubre Jr. committed a terrible foul about 55 feet from the basket. Oubre then compounded matters by getting a technical. Three free throws from Tatum.
That was five points gifted to Boston to end the period. A four-point lead went to a nine-point lead. Then when the Celtics started the fourth quarter on a 11-0 run, the game was functionally over. It was good to see Boston causing the meltdown vs doing the melting down.
9. It was another 30-assist night for the Celtics. 30 helpers on 46 made baskets. The ball is moving and generating good shots. This is a good example of that. Two paint attacks generated a wide-open three:
10. Around Christmastime, if we had used this space to say, “The Celtics might win 50 games”, it’s likely that might have been the last Takeaways post due to reasons of insanity.
Now? The Celtics might win 50 games.
Boston is 40-27 with 15 games to play. That’s a 10-5 close to get to the 50-win mark, which feels reasonable. However, there are some tough ones remaining for the Celtics, including a west coast trip and a three-game road trip to end the regular season at Chicago, Milwaukee and Memphis.
Will Boston get to 50 wins? Who knows? Does it really matter? Not so much. As long as this group keeps doing what they are doing, toss out the record. As Derrick White said postgame: “We got a nice team that can compete with anybody.”