1. In a bit of a surprise twist, Brad Stevens opened the game with two bigs, as Tristan Thompson started alongside Daniel Theis up front. Postgame Stevens said he wanted to have a “really, really good defensive lineup on the floor after the preseason”. Thompson came through with 12 points, eight rebounds (four offensive) and some good defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo in his Celtics debut.
2. Jayson Tatum made the game-winner and was great late, but Jaylen Brown was Boston’s best player on the night. One wrinkle, and a necessary one with Gordon Hayward gone, is Brown working more as a pick-and-roll ballhandler. Brown said “New year, new opportunity and new challenges” after the game. If opening night is any indication, it’s a challenge he’s up to. Here, Brown rejects the double screen, to open up space to find Thompson for easy bucket in the paint:
In the fourth quarter, as the Celtics offense floundered a bit, Brown did a nice job staying patient. This pullup off the screen is how you beat the Bucks drop coverage:
Brown’s last two points of his nearly career-best 33 points were out of pick-and-roll again. He uses the screen from Theis, plus a nice hesitation dribble to create the driving lane for himself:
3. Brad Stevens always has great sets off ATOs. Sometimes they are quick-hitters for end-game or late-clock situations. Sometimes, they can take longer to develop. This was a longer one, but a good one. There’s a lot of window dressing with the early stuff. In the end, it looks like Marcus Smart and Tristan Thompson are going to run a wing pick-and-roll. Instead, it turns into Thompson screening for Jayson Tatum, as Smart takes the ball further away to remove the help defender:
4. During and after the game, Stevens wasn’t happy with the Celtics defense. Twice he called the transition defense “terrible” and that about sums it up. The good news is that Boston did clean it up as the game went along. They allowed 16 fast break points in the first half and just two in the second half. Most of them came off leak-outs following long jumpers. That’s a guard or wing not getting back when the shot went up.
As Stevens referenced post-game, Boston will get killed in this area against Brooklyn on Christmas Day, if they aren’t ready. The Nets got several baskets off run-outs. Expect this to be a focus on Friday.
5. Jeff Teague was a major reason Boston won. He scored 19 points off the bench and was 4-of-4 from behind the arc. He brought a playmaking element as well. Here is a small-small pick-and-roll attacking Milwaukee in the drop:
Here’s Teague vs the drop again. This time he holds it just long enough to draw Brook Lopez up to open up the drop-off pass to Robert Williams for the easy layup:
6. Teague and Thompson were both terrific in their Celtics debuts. Payton Pritchard showed some of why he was drafted in the first round as well. He hit a deep three for his first NBA basket, and was good on defense when he challenged ballhandlers. Aaron Nesmith was a DNP, perhaps signaling he needs a bit more time before he’s ready to contribute in games.
7. It was far from his debut, but Semi Ojeleye looked like a different player. His defense was predictably solid, but his offense was surprisingly good too. Ojeleye made some nice passes and this Eurostep for the and-1 chance was something we haven’t seen from him before:
Bonus: peep Jaylen Brown’s awesome chase-down block to start the play!
8. Even though Boston started the game big, they switched everything as per usual. This time around though, it came with a bit of a wrinkle. Usually, when the Celtics have switched the past few years, it often resulted in Kemba Walker or Kyrie Irving or Terry Rozier in a mismatch. Because of that, Boston became one of the best in the league at jump-switches and scrams to get out of those mismatches. Without the smaller guard on the floor, and all good defenders out there, the Celtics switched and lived with the resulting matchup no matter who it was. Something to keep an eye on, especially in late-game situations.
9. His work often goes unnoticed, but Daniel Theis was sold for Boston. His defense was very good, as per usual. He hit a couple of threes, and had the confidence to take a couple more late in the game. The play that stood out was this one. Normally Theis is a finisher, either at the rim or off a spot-up. It’s nice to see him put the ball on the floor for a couple of dribbles and use his skill to get up a floater:
10. Saved Jayson Tatum’s end-game heroics for the end because you’re supposed to save the best for last. When Paul Pierce was a Celtic, Boston’s late-game offense often involved getting a smaller player switched on to him. Then Piece would back him down to his spot (usually around the elbow) and bury a turnaround over the smaller defender. Shades of that here from Tatum:
That wasn’t the only Pierce-like moment Tatum had, as he went off the glass for the game-winner as well:
There was some post-game handwringing from the fans about the shot selection. 1. Just stop. Enjoy it! 2. Tatum tried to set Giannis Antetokounmpo for a drive off the dribble, but that’s the Defensive Player of the Year. This is a shot Tatum, and every other superstar, goes to late in the game.
And if you can get this reaction from a soon-to-be Celtics Hall of Famer, you’re doing alright: