After seeing their win-streak end on Sunday night in Sacramento, the Boston Celtics bounced back Monday, downing the Phoenix Suns 99-85.
Sunday night was a tough loss for fans of the Boston Celtics, but luckily the team didn’t have much time to sulk. They had business to take care of Monday night in the Grand Canyon state.
And take care of business they did.
Following Sunday night’s buzzer-beating miss from Marcus Smart that rimmed out after resting on the rim for what felt like forever against the Sacramento Kings, the Celtics didn’t let the game boil down to the closing seconds.
Instead, the team won the rebounding and turnover battles, ultimately leading to an easy 99-85 victory in Phoenix against the fading Suns.
Despite a surprising start to the season, Phoenix is now 7-5, having split their last six games. They don’t seem like the hapless teams of years’ past, but talks of being a contender may be premature.
As for the Boston Celtics? Well, they now move into a tie with the Los Angeles Lakers for the league’s best record. The NBA’s power balance is seemingly restored after years of dominance from temporary dynasties like LeBron James’ Miami Heat and Kevin Durant’s Golden State Warriors.
Beyond the league-wide ramifications of Monday night’s early season win, the game spoke a lot about Boston’s roster balance. Here are three takeaways from last night’s win over the Suns…
1. Jayson Tatum has arrived as the league’s next superstar
Pundits have long-believed Jayson Tatum had what it took to be the next face of the Boston Celtics. Hell, the Houdini said all summer that Tatum’s development was chief among the reasons why the Celtics could be a contender in the Eastern Conference.
Well, right on cue, Tatum has delivered huge performance after huge performance—his 1/17 outing not withstanding.
Monday night, Tatum went off for 26 points on 8-16 shooting. He hit shots from all over the floor, dazzling in the mid-range as well as finishing strong at the rim. His 3/9 shooting from the 3-point line left plenty to be desired, but his 11 rebounds more than made up for it.
Tatum is in line for his first All-Star birth, but if he continues this pace, the Most Improved Player award could be in his sights as well.
2. Daniel Theis is bridging the gap at the center position
Just about every day, you see HH offer a multitude of different options for the Boston Celtics at the center position. The way I see it, the team could go far off the strength of their 1-4 spots, but when it comes time to face front-courts like Joel Embiid and Al Horford, Marc Gasol and Paskal Siakam, or even Domantas Sobonis and Myles Turner, what Brad Stevens has at his arsenal right now isn’t going to cut it.
The team needs a two-way presence at the 5, and right now the team has one-dimensional centers that are bridging the gap. That said, they are doing a fine job on their side of the ball.
Daniel Theis, in particular, has been a nice plug-and-play option as the team’s starting pivot. Though he didn’t register any points Monday, he did record 11 rebounds to go along with a block.
Most importantly, he held the starting lineup’s third best box-plus/minus. Time will tell if he will be the team’s starting center come April, but he is doing a fine job in November as the team continues to win without a marquee name in the middle.
3. Marcus Smart’s injury could be a major hinderance
So far, the Boston Celtics have done a good job overcoming adversity this season. Jaylen Brown lost a few games due to injury in the season’s early-going. Gordon Hayward suffered a broken hand and is expected to be out until around Christmas time on the early end.
Boston has recovered, but it may not have an immediate answer to Marcus Smart’s injury. In the fourth quarter, with the team up big, Smart twisted his ankle on a Devin Booker baseline drive. He came up limping, though he did not step on anyone’s foot.
Smart has been the reason why the Boston Celtics have been able to recover so well from injuries. The super-sixth man has been able to step in and fill the void left by Brown and Hayward early on, but if the team is without him for too long, dreams of continuing to win at a near 70-win pace could be dashed.