1. It’s rare, but sometimes you can assign a win to a single player. The Boston Celtics won their sixth straight game by beating the Detroit Pistons on the road. Many players contributed, but it feels like this was Jayson Tatum’s victory.
With Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and Malcolm Brogdon all joining Rob Williams on the sideline, Tatum led Boston. The Celtics superstar scored 15 points in the first half, before totaling in the third quarter. Tatum then added 13 more points in the fourth quarter as the Celtics held off the Pistons.
Others will get their love in this space today, but we’re starting with Jayson Tatum. It would be disingenuous to start anywhere else.
2. Unfortunately, we couldn’t splice the two clips together, but it was another one of Jayson Tatum’s MVP sequences. First, he takes on Saddiq Bey 1-on-1 in isolation. Tatum is up to the task and blocks the shot:
After the block, Tatum uses a hesitation dribble in transition and he goes off the rim for the and-1 opportunity:
Tatum has always had the spin move, but this year it feels like he has it all together with this one. He uses his skill, speed, length and soft touch for at least a couple of finishes like this every game:
We’ll start calling this the “Rock the Baby” jumper. Tatum just slowly rocks Bojan Bogdanovic to sleep with a series of controlled crossovers and then he drills the jumper in his eye:
Sometimes Tatum doesn’t even need the dribble. Jalen Duren is huge and he’s all over the shot. But it doesn’t matter:
3. Because the Celtics need him to score, it’s not a high-assist night for Jayson Tatum. But he still had some really good passes throughout the game. This was a lefty beauty in transition to get the Celtics a 2-for-1 opportunity:
A year ago, Tatum looked off Grant Williams for a lob game. Everyone laughed when Tatum said, “I don’t give credit to Grant. Rob and JB. I’m going to give credit.” Well, with Rob Williams and Jaylen Brown out, Tatum had no choice and Grant Williams delivered. .Big steal by Marcus Smart to start the game too:
4. Let’s stick with Grant Williams. He has been terrific this season. Williams gives Boston everything they need tonight. Sometimes he is a shooter, sometimes he focuses on moving the ball and screening, other times he lacks in defense. With 19 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in this one, Williams has a little bit of everything.
Williams’ confidence is so high right now that he’s pretty much constantly taking and making buzzer-beating shots like this:
Teams are starting to catch onto the Celtics “walk the dog” game where they let the ball roll to conserve the shot clock. When teams press the floor to stop it, Boston turns it into an impromptu transition opportunity. This is possible because the team trusted Grant Williams to make the right decision with the ball in his hands:
5. Marcus Smart is in full control of the Celtics offense right now. In the last five games, he reached the 10-assist mark for the fourth time. And Smart makes it happen without being in a ball-dominant, pick-and-roll-heavy role.
The offensive rebound flows right into an assist to Blake Griffin in one motion:
This is the smart combo. Steal followed by a gorgeous dime to Jayson Tatum:
The DPOY still stands tall as the best short rim protector in the NBA:
The Celtics cut has gone up a couple of levels this season. Turn your head and there’s a bucket:
If your defense is out of position or late with help, Smart will pick you apart:
And the “Cobra Strike” is still alive and well, along with that magical link:
6. With Al Horford out, Joe Mazzulla went to Blake Griffin in the starting lineup. This is likely to keep Luke Cornett in the reserve role, where Cornett has been comfortable. Griffin logged 22 good minutes, but Cornett had some struggles with the Pistons’ speed and physicality.
Matsula made a change and went to Noah Wanla instead of Cornet, and Wanla came through. In 20 minutes, the veteran big man had seven rebounds and played really good defense. Vonleh was a better fit against Detroit’s gritty style.
The Celtics depth behind Horford, Grant Williams and Rob Williams isn’t amazing. But it’s functional and just versatile enough to get by.
7. With Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon out, Derrick White has to give Boston quality minutes. He did his thing with 12 points, three rebounds, four assists and two blocks. White is a cunning shooter. This little punch to get the defender off him opened the scoring for the Celtics:
Despite being 0-for-4 from behind the arc at this point in the game, White handed the dagger to Detroit:
8. Boston is starting to take better care of the ball. Very quietly, they are committing the second-fewest turnovers in the NBA with 12.8 turnovers per game. In terms of turnover rate (which is adjusted for possessions), Boston is fourth-best in the league.
The shooting will probably eventually cool off some, but taking care of the ball will make the Celtics very difficult to beat. Opponents will have to hope for a high-turnover or cold-shooting game, or maybe both, to get wins.
9. In line with the turnovers going down is the ball movement hitting new levels. Even on a night when they didn’t make everything, the Celtics had 27 assists on 39 baskets.
Good extra passes like this one from Marcus Smart to Grant Williams are common now:
Noah Vonle doesn’t get to shoot very much (and he later took a bad shot from the same spot), but he doesn’t get selfish here. Extra pass equals Payton Pritchard splash:
Grant Williams loves working from the corner office. The nice thing about this game is that the ball finds energy when it moves the right way. Kick, move, move back, extra pass and cash it in the corner:
10. Boston now travels back home for a Monday night matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Celtics are riding high on a six-game win streak, while the Thunder will be on a back-to-back. Fortunately for OKC, they play a matinee in New York before heading to Boston against the usual back-to-back type of set.
Much like the Pistons game, this is the kind of game the Celtics should win. Constantly, Boston is showing that the growth from the second half of last season is over. The effort is there every night and the team’s mindset of team-ball and playing together has taken them to a new level offensively. The defense is starting to show signs of coming around as well.
With games at the Atlanta Hawks and New Orleans Pelicans later in the week, it’s important to start things off well against the Thunder. We’ll see if the Celtics can stretch their win streak to seven on Monday.