Bouncing back: 10 takeaways from Celtics/Kings

Bouncing back: 10 takeaways from Celtics/Kings

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#1 A team effort

The Boston Celtics put together a team performance as they overcame the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, and Luke Kornet were all unavailable for selection. Rather than using that as an excuse to take their foot off the pedal, Boston punched the gas, matching the Kings’ up-tempo style of play and overcoming their hot shooting start.

Every member of the team’s rotation put in a good performance. They played high-level defense. They moved the rock. Found good shots. And executed their offensive actions with quick decision making and aggression.

When you’re on the road, the league has a way of throwing potholes in your direction. Tatum’s ankle injury against the Warriors was a solid example. The Celtics bounced back from that defeat, banded together, and strung together some impressive basketball.

#2 A Jaylen Brown master class

Brown’s performances keep getting better and better. He’s thriving in his new role and making everyone around him better as a result. He’s making smart decisions, finding good reads around the rim, and has really leaned into the advantage his athleticism provides when driving the lane.

Out of his 11 made baskets, four of them were dunks. It would have been five had Domantas Sabonis not got his hand to the ball. Another four of them were layups. And only three shots came from outside the restricted area.

A devastating burst of pace and the strength to hold off his man have allowed Brown to become a fearsome scorer in a team filled with shooters — and yes, there’s a difference. Every night, it feels like Brown is showing us something new, and against the Kings, it’s that he’s learned how to be a primary option who can fill in for Tatum when needed.

His current performances are one of the best storylines surrounding the Celtics.

#3 Porzingis dominates the third quarter

Porzingis had a solid first half for the Celtics. However, in the third quarter, he really made his presence felt. It started with the veteran big man taking advantage of a mismatch against Kevin Huerter, with him twice attacking with his back to the basket. Then, he went to his pick-and-roll game with Derrick White. I liked the below play due to how he shot the gap on the defense and found a pocket in the slot.

Porzingis’s defense was also fantastic. Coming into the third, he had recorded three blocks over the first half. He matched that while playing the entire quarter while also grabbing five boards. It’s not just about the shots he blocked, though. It’s about the shots he affected and those that didn’t happen because his presence around the rim made players think twice before driving.

According to NBA Stats, Porzingis directly guarded 11 shot attempts throughout the game, allowing 2 makes. That gives him a defensive field goal percentage of 18.2%. When he’s in the rotation, he provides stability on both sides of the floor, and everything appears to come that bit easier for the rest of the roster.

#4 Boston took away the three-point line in the 2nd half

In the first quarter, the Kings took 21 shots from the perimeter. They made 11 of them. Both sides were hitting their looks at a high clip and displaying elite shot making along with a breakneck pace. Things slowed down in the 2nd quarter, but the Kings still got 9 attempts off from deep.

After halftime, the Celtics adjusted their perimeter pick-up points and began denying shooting opportunities. As such, the Kings were forced to drive, and that’s where the wheels began to fall off for them. Sacramento took five attempts from deep in the third, and just 18 shots overall.

Notice how high Jrue Holiday is situated in this defensive position. Then, notice how Derrick White is only a step below the perimeter. The aim was to take away any space on a screening action and funnel the ball handler toward the paint where Porzingis and a pinching wing would be waiting for him.

The above play ends with Porzingis securing a block.

On this possession, notice how far Oshae Brissett has shaded over so that if the ball-handler goes into shooting motion after coming off the screen, there will be a hand in his face. That forces the drive.

Solid adjustment from the coaching staff at halftime had a big impact on the flow of the game.

#5 Derrick White, All-Star

28 points on 13 shots. 6 of 9 from deep. 7 assists. 3 blocks. What can’t Derrick White do? Right now he is arguably (unquestionably?) the Celtics third-best player behind Tatum and Brown. I’ve written about White Ad Neausam in recent iterations of the takeaways. So, I’m keeping this segment short. Because what more can I say? How else can I say it?

He’s a baller. He’s a hooper. He’s a hoopers hooper. And soon enough, he will be (better be?) an All-Star.

I’m going to leave you with this clip of White blowing up the Kings’ “Ghost Flare” action early in the game.

#6 Jrue Holiday’s best game as a Celtic?

Holiday is kind of like White in that he gives you what you need on a game-to-game basis. Need him to step into a bigger offensive role? He’s got you. Need him to lock in on being an All-Defensive talent? He’s got you there too.

With Tatum out, Holiday had to do a little bit more of everything. He’s used to that kind of role. He did it for years with the Milwaukee Bucks.

White is the type of talent that makes everything look effortless at times. He ended the game with a double-double in points and assists.

Holiday has produced some impressive performances since joining the Celtics. However, this one is right up there. Not only because he made an impact across the board, but because he showed additional aggression without letting the increase in usage affect his game.

He was acquired to make this kind of impact. Holiday stepped up to the plate with the Celtics down one of their star players.

#7 Payton Pritchard, what more can I say?

The slow start is firmly behind him. Pritchard has found his rhythm and is starting to prove he can be the bench guard Boston needs. He’s hustling on defense. He’s screening when off-ball, and he’s found his shooting touch from his spots on the court.

A lot will be said about his 6 of 11 shooting from deep. However, it’s moments like the one in the clip below that stood out to me.

Pritchard executes a well-timed “Peel Switch” to kill a drive toward the rim after White had gotten caught up on the screen. Little things like this, where players are fighting for each other and covering for each other, are the type of winning habits you always hear about. The fact that Pritchard had such a big impact on this defensive possession was also impressive.

And then we have this screening action:

Pritchard is doing more than scoring, and it’s uplifting the Celtics while also allowing them to continue generating mismatches when the second unit is on the floor.

#8 No tired legs

Second night of a back-to-back after an overtime loss the night before. Somehow, the Celtics seemed fresh. They kept up with the Kings. They sprinted on offense. They sprinted on switches, x-outs, and peels. They sprinted into screens. All-in-all the Celtics didn’t show the slightest sign of fatigue.

That was always the concern, right? A tough loss to the Warriors, followed by a trip to a Sacramento team that loves to push the pace and boasts one of the fastest players in the league. If anything was going to derail Boston on Wednesday, my money was on their legs getting heavy. It never happened. Instead, the Celtics matched Sacramento’s pace and overpowered them with physicality.

What’s not to love about that?

#9 Another good night for Neemy

At this point, it’s fair to assume that Neemias Queta is close to earning himself a full-time deal with the Celtics. Brad Stevens has made decisions like that before. He did it with Sam Hauser and Luke Kornet a couple of seasons ago — and look how that worked out!

Queta is still raw. We all know that. However, he’s shown rapid improvement as a screener. Has the size to be a factor around the rim (on both sides of the floor) and works his tail off every second he’s on the floor.

For all the talk of the Celtics needing one more big body in the rotation for insurance purposes, Queta makes the most sense. He’s already part of the team. He’s learning the system. He’s impressing. And, most importantly, he’s young enough to keep improving.

In the above clip, Queta’s jostle on the strongside block stood out to me. It was a smart play on his part, as he looked to seal his man and provide Pritchard with an open drive to the rim if the Kings managed to close out on his shooting attempt. Little moments like that illustrate the growth in how Queta is reading the game.

If he’s improving this quickly, taking a flyer on him shouldn’t be hard to talk yourself into.

#10 Hauser’s shooting slump was short-lived

Hauser went 0 of 7 from deep against the Golden State Warriors. You could have been forgiven for worrying that a shooting slump akin to the one he suffered last season was on the horizon. However, Hauser has dramatically improved since then. He snapped out of his short-lived shooting slump with two perimeter buckets against the Kings.

However, what I like the most is how Hauser has begun to attack closeouts by taking one or two dribbles before making a decision whether to shoot a mid-range jumper or redistribute the rock. I feel confident that he is Boston’s seventh man and has a role both now and in the postseason.

Looking Ahead

The Celtics have two days off now. On Saturday, they will travel to Los Angeles and prepare for an early game against the LA Clippers. After that, they have a Christmas Day game against the Los Angeles Lakers to close out their road trip. Both LA teams will provide a stern test for the Celtics. I’m hopeful for two wins. I’m excited for two highly competitive games and the additional lessons we’re going to learn about this team in the process. Until then! Have a great couple of days!

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