FINAL: Boston: 112 Brooklyn: 104
16 blocks. 11 steals. Those two stats are what ultimately pushed the Celtics over the top and passed the Brooklyn Nets on the finale of Brooklyn Mondays. 6 of the those 16 blocks were from Al Horford and 5 of those 11 steals were courtesy of Marcus Smart. In each of those categories they had top performers, but the other guys also chipped in as 6 different players had blocked shots/steals for the Celtics. As a team, they were able to force turnovers and protect the rim at a high level. They average 5.7 blocks and 8.8 steals per night and it’s obvious how much of a lift this sort of effort on the defensive end gave them as a unit.
On the topic of Horford and Smart, they both contributed on both sides of the ball as Horford finished with 14/11/5 while Smart had a team-high 21 points. Smart also knocked down 4 threes, much to his joy as he let the Net’s bench hear about it.
It seems like he’s just been at war with them ever since the first time we saw Brooklyn this season. If Marcus Smart is going to continue to shoot 36.5% from downtown and trash talk his opposition, I won’t be the one to tell him to stop it. After years of being considered the worst 3-point shooter in league history, he’s flipping the script and leaving opponents dumbfounded.
Horford continues to impress with not only his defense, but his rebounding numbers and overall offensive output as well. He’s averaged 9.2 rebounds and has shot a blistering 64.4% from the floor as well as 44.4% from downtown in his last 6 games. He notched his third straight double-double last night which is something he has not done yet in a Celtic uniform. More importantly, he just looks like he’s back to normal after looking like a fossil for a stretch of games after his knee injury.
Starter Terry arrived again and had a 14/7/7 showing while also snagging 2 steals. He shot 6-15 from the field but I felt like he wasn’t taking ridiculous shots and he facilitated well. Terry usually has some trouble with running the offense but he was able to do it effectively last night. Marcus Morris had 15 points and 8 rebounds as he was his usual self on both ends of the floor. He’s been quiet as of late (39.7%/29.6%/85.7% shooting splits his last 5 games) but he’s found ways to contribute wether it be on defense or on the glass.
Jaylen Brown tied Smart for a team high in points (21) as he’s established himself as a true asset off of the bench. He showed off all of his game on offense and it looks like he’s comfortable in his role. With that comfort has came a confidence and the ability for him to let loose.
After drubbing the Celtics in their last matchup, The Nets came back down to earth a bit. While the Celtics were able to pull it out, they once again allowed another huge third quarter to not only the Nets (38 points), but D’Angelo Russell. He had 14 in the third quarter and it started to unfold eerily similar to the last time these teams met with shots like this.
Luckily, shortly after his 3rd straight three, he missed his next one and fell back into the shadows. Either way, the Nets are a scrappy bunch and they feel like the type of team to pitch a tough first round matchup. I could see them winning a few homes games as they are a better offensive team there than they are on the road. While their defensive rating is at around 109 wether they’re at home or on the road, their offensive rating spikes from 107.4 to 112.2 when at home. It makes sense as they are a young team and young teams perform better at home, but they also have talent. Once Spencer Dinwiddie and (maybe) Caris Levert return they will be a pain to deal with, if they aren’t already are. Kenny Atkinson has done such a great job with this group and D’Angelo Russell could make the All-Star team. It says a lot about a team who has been forced to rebuild for years without their first round picks (hehe).
Lastly, I wanted to touch on the topic of Gordon Hayward after having another rough effort offensively (2 points on 1-6 shooting). It’s gotten to the point where it’s useless to take stock into single games. We’ve seen him put up stinkers, breakthrough performances, and sometimes we don’t even know he’s on the court. It’s still a process and it’s still going to take a bit for him to even get to 85-90% let alone 100%. I’m starting to think we might not see him close to 100% until the start of next season. I hope that I’m wrong and he picks it up by April, but I think this might just be the case. He’s in a tough situation as it’s not easy to get himself involved with so much talent on the team. It’s not like they’re drawing up plays for him, he has to force the issue. Until he’s confident in finding his own offense and forcing himself to be a key part, he will continue to struggle, and he will continue to be questioned. That’s why I think another off-season will do him well and help him integrate himself into the overall game more. While his offense was off, he was still a +11 and the Celtics played good basketball albeit his lackluster shooting performance. It’s unfortunately still a work in progress and we’ll have to deal with the peaks and valleys of his overall recovery.
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