This season we are trying a new feature at CelticsBlog. Following each game, we’ll give you 10 takeaways (or a few more or a few less, depending on the game) from the previous game. These aren’t meant to be true deep dives, but more stream of conscious thoughts that are blown out a little more than a Twitter thread. For excellent deep dives, check out Bill Sy’s piece on Boston hammering mismatches or Jack Noonan’s article about how Aron Baynes works to limit Joel Embiid. On to the takeaways!
1. Jayson Tatum is really, really good. He’s just 20, or 19+1 as Jeff Clark coined it, but he’s already making veteran moves:
The best part of this highlight package is Tatum’s work off the bounce. For most of his rookie season, he was a one-dribble pull-up guy or he took it all the way to the hoop. He started to breakout more of his game off the dribble late in the season, but really unleashed it in the opener. Tatum is now comfortable to pull it back against bigs and make them defend in space or he’s going to bully his way to the hoop against smaller players. Not sure what he adds next, but it’s going to be exciting to see!
2. Jack’s piece above outlines how Aron Baynes helps slow down Joel Embiid better than we will here, so make sure you read it. But what is also important to note is that Baynes succeeds in part because he annoys Embiid. Early in the fourth quarter, as things were unraveling for Philadelphia, Embiid came down and gave Baynes a chicken wing for no reason. It was a pure frustration foul from Embiid. He might talk about dunking on Baynes a lot on Twitter, but on the floor, he also knows Baynes will be right there all game long.
3. Al Horford is just so good. Other than the five blocks, nothing jumps out from his stat line. But, as is often the case with Horford, that misses the beauty of his game. For example, watch here as he pump-fakes Embiid off his feet and gets in the paint for a finger-roll:
It’s a layup in the box score, but it’s really so much more. It flashes a level of versatility that most centers don’t have. And the smarts to remember a lesson learned in last year’s playoff series: Embiid is so highlight hungry that he will go for every fake Horford throws at him around the arc.
4. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward both struggled to find their legs in Game 1. This isn’t really a surprise. It was expected both might need some time. What was encouraging was their aggressiveness, especially in the second half. Both went into the paint on a regular basis, often seeking contact as they did so. It might not be pretty for a while, but they can both still be effective as they play through things.
5. Staying on Irving, he had seven assists last night. That’s a figure he matched or topped 14 times in 60 games last season. With a lot of scorers and shooters on the squad, Boston might need Irving to be a playmaker more than last year. Actually…more than in most of his career. His career-high assists per game is 6.1. With the talent around him, he could easily top that this year. And he can still be the primary scorer when things break down or the team needs to milk his match up.
6. On the topic of assists, the Celtics were a little lower than their ideal ratio of assists to made field goals. They had 21 assists on 42 baskets. The ball got a little sticky in the second half, as Boston had just 10 helpers on 23 hoops. Tatum and Marcus Morris had it going and that turned into some isolation ball. Brad Stevens prefers it when the ball pops around and turns good looks into great ones. Look for more emphasis on ball movement over the coming weeks.
7. If you like defensive basketball, Boston is a joy to watch. Not only does the team have several standout individual defenders, but the team defense is incredible. They finished atop the NBA in defensive rating in 2017-18 and hope to repeat that performance this season. What makes the Celtics so special on defensive is their well-known ability to switch everything. But what goes a little unnoticed is how they execute switch-backs and jump-switches. More to come on these concepts in a future CelticsBlog article, but keep your eye off the ball some over this weekend’s games. You’ll see what we’re talking about pretty quickly.
8. As mentioned above, Boston turned to iso-ball a lot in the second half. Part of this was because Marcus Morris had the hot hand. Brad Stevens called out how important Morris is to the team and how he is sacrificing by coming off the bench. Morris can get frustrating because he loves to pound the ball for five or six dribbles and launch contested, long two-pointers. But that misses the point that he can create his own offense and his confidence never wavers. You need guys like that to win and the Celtics are overflowing with them.
9. Minutes were balanced throughout the game. The game did finish as a blowout, but no Celtic topped 30 minutes. That will probably change some in closer games, but not significantly so. Because of the depth of the roster, Stevens will make sure everyone sees plenty of time. Someone like Terry Rozier, who earned more run after starting in last year’s playoffs, need to get at least 20-25 minutes a game. If Stevens sticks with a nine-man rotation, this shouldn’t be a problem.
10. Ben Simmons is really good, but Boston is better equipped to handle him than most other teams. The guards and wings have enough bulk to make Simmons work and Horford and Morris have the speed to stay in front of him. Simmons final stat line looked great with nearly a triple-double, but his truly impactful plays were limited mostly to transition. For the Celtics to stay ahead of the 76ers, they need to control Simmons and Embiid as much as possible. Including last year’s playoffs, they seem to have a formula that works.