Business-like road win: 10 Takeaways from Boston Celtics-Portland Trail Blazers
1. The best descriptor for the Boston Celtics victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday is “business-like”. The Celtics were expected to win, they were even expected to win comfortably, and they did. And they did it by being in control from the jump.
Sure, the Blazers made a run to make it sort of close in the fourth quarter, but you never got the sense the Celtics were letting go of the rope. This was mostly Damian Lillard doing what he does in Dame Time. Boston kept running their offense, kept playing and got stops when necessary to close it out.
The Celtics got this one done in some familiar ways. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown did their thing. Marcus Smart made some Marcus Smart plays. Al Horford and Derrick White were steadily terrific.
But Boston also did some different things too. They bludgeoned Portland on the boards with a 52-37 rebounding advantage. That included outrebounding the Blazers by an 18-8 margin on the offensive glass.
The Celtics also forced a lot of turnovers, which isn’t their usual defensive style. Of the 19 turnovers forced, Boston snagged 12 steals. That led to a bunch of easy points the other way.
All around, this was a good, solid win for the Celtics. And it clinched at least a .500 road trip.
2. Al Horford got Boston off to a great start in this game. He hit a layup early, which seemed to get him going. Horford is shooting threes with more confidence than ever. That’s fitting, given Horford is second in the NBA in three-point percentage this season.
Jusuf Nurkic doesn’t get a hand up, so Horford doesn’t hesitate:
A couple of plays later, Nurkic did get a hand up, but Horford let this fly immediately off the catch:
Horford also had 10 assists in the game. His ability to rip-and-run off the boards has never waned. Horford’s push up the floor created this bucket for Jaylen Brown:
Late in the game, Horford put Portland to bed with another no-hesitation triple:
3. Jayson Tatum had another shaky night from behind the arc, shooting just 2-of-11 on threes. But overly focusing on that would miss that Tatum is finding other ways to score when his jumper isn’t falling. He’s getting to the line with regularity now, finishing 16-of-18 on free throws in this one. But Tatum is also getting his baskets in other ways too.
Good things seem to happen when Tatum catches the ball on the move going downhill toward the rim:
This was one of Tatum’s two threes on the night. He’s been very good working in the middle of an opponent’s zone. But rather than just camping around the lane, Tatum passes and relocates to the opening on the wing:
It’s always good to see Tatum work out of the post. He hits Cam Reddish with the shoulder and the shimmy here before dropping in the fallaway:
If the defense is even a little bit late, Tatum is going to beat them to the spot. This is nice touch on the shot through contact for the and-1:
4. Jaylen Brown quietly dropped in his 27 points. There weren’t any of the huge scoring bursts that have become common for him. Brown was just steady all game long, which is just as effective and needed for Boston.
This is good patience by Brown to get the defender off his feet for the step-through leaner:
Here, Brown realizes Portland is scrambled. Instead of hunting an isolation and slowing things down, Brown flows into an improvised pick-and-pop against Drew Eubanks:
Brown still remains one of the best transition attackers in the NBA. He just slices through Portland for a lefty finish on this run, which is becoming a regular occurrence:
This is a good BLOB set by Boston. They know Jusuf Nurkic isn’t going to step out, so Luke Kornet sets the wide screen for Brown to get to the corner and he buries the shot right off the catch:
5. Boston had the ball moving in this game. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum took the most shots, as per usual, but they came in the flow of the offense. Both were content to work away from the ball or in transition for a lot of their looks. That kept the offense moving and on schedule all night.
Four players had at least four assists. The Celtics dropped 29 dimes on 41 baskets. Against a bad defensive team, Boston overwhelmed them by playing the right way.
6. Marcus Smart did a lot of the playmaking for Boston. He played a really nice, if somewhat understated game…until the end.
This is a good set here. Jaylen Brown uses brush screen from Jayson Tatum to set up the backdoor cut, and Smart is on-time with the lob:
Drive-and-kick is when Boston is at their best. Smart does a great job of getting deep into the paint before zipping it out to Hauser:
Smart has also really mastered the pocket pass this season. He’s really good at putting it in a spot before his teammate is even there. It’s kind of like a quarterback throwing to a spot for his receiver to go get it:
And we said Smart was kind of understated until the end. And then he made one of those signature Smart plays to help Boston clinch the win:
7. Luke Kornet got the call again in this one, and he gave Boston some really good minutes. Kornet saw a lot of minutes in double-big lineups. That means he has to screen and move. On this play, he did both to get the loud finish:
A little later, Kornet finished off a terrific pass from Jayson Tatum for the and-1:
As a Boston big, you have to be able to pass the ball. This was a really good find from Kornet to Grant Williams (who knocked down a couple of threes, which was great to see) on the short roll:
8. Derrick White didn’t do a ton in the box score. But he was good in his role as a ball-mover and connector. And he came up with his now standard block per game with this from-behind effort:
9. Blake Griffin has gotten a lot of love for being a great teammate this season. In about six months or so as a Celtic, Griffin has become beloved in the Boston locker room.
But more than that, Griffin has been really productive on the floor. He’s literally putting his body on the line and leaving it all on the floor every game. Griffin is taking, or attempting to take, charges every time he’s out there. He’s diving on the floor for loose balls or sailing into the seats to save a possession at least once per outing. And the stats are there too, as Griffin has held his own on the boards, he’s been solid as a finisher at the rim (including a few dunks here and there!) and he’s hit his share of threes too.
Griffin isn’t just along for the ride as a ring chaser. He’s been a key contributor both on and off the floor for the Celtics.
10. The Boston Celtics can clinch a playoff spot with a victory at the Utah Jazz on the back-to-back on Saturday night. They can also accomplish that goal if the Miami Heat lose at the Chicago Bulls on Saturday.
A win in Utah would also clinch a winning road trip, which is a good accomplishment for a team that has been fairly uneven over the last month or so. And it would also draw Boston to back to within one game of first place in the East.
So, Saturday is an important game. But that being said, it’s a tricky back-to-back. Boston is going from Pacific to Mountain Time, losing an hour while doing so. While not the fabled mile high of Denver, Utah is also a game played at elevation. And the Jazz are desperate to hang in the race for the Western Conference Play-In Tournament.
Almost no matter what happens in Utah, Boston has seemingly turned a corner here in the last week or so. Let’s see if they can keep that going in a tough spot on Saturday night.