Boston Celtics: Player grades from understaffed victory over Wizards

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 08: Tacko Fall #99 of the Boston Celtics dunks against the Washington Wizards in the fourth quarter at TD Garden on January 08, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Wizards 116-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 08: Tacko Fall #99 of the Boston Celtics dunks against the Washington Wizards in the fourth quarter at TD Garden on January 08, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Wizards 116-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

Despite a late fourth-quarter push, clutch hustle plays saved the night for an understaffed Boston Celtics squad as they secured a critical Friday night home victory against the Washington Wizards.

Before we move to the conversation of player grades for Friday night’s victory, let’s just take a quick step back and reflect on the fact that this Boston Celtics game is bigger than basketball.

The NBA and WNBA have strong and progressive voices. They are continually pushing the envelope on necessary justice reforms. While it’s easy for sports websites to stick to sports and treat players like commodities, let’s take this essential step back and appreciate this Cs team as human beings first.

Different players deal with news differently, and it’s essential to respect these decisions — this is a players league first.

Onboard with the possibility of this team sitting out Wednesday night’s win against Miami, the Boston Celtics were in full support of the players. Again, they make this league. Let’s support the players both on and off the court.

Onto the game itself, with four of the six Boston Celtics big men ruled out for COVID-19 related circumstances, the team would have ample opportunity to test out some hyper-switchy, speedy, small-ball style lineups against a struggling Washington Wizards team.

Despite Washington’s rocky 0-4 start, the Wizards came into last night’s game with hints of momentum with a win against the struggling Minnesota Timberwolves and impressive shootout style victory against the confusing Brooklyn Nets and, yes, with both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant present during this loss.

Jaylen Brown: A-

It was almost as if Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum took turns with their scoring efforts, making runs at specific stretches of the game.

After a slow 1-4 start in the first quarter, the wing bounced back in the second with his improved and hyper-efficient midrange game, going 5-6 during this stretch. Brown spurred an 8-0 second-quarter run, which helped the Celtics grow their early lead, a lead they never lost.

He was both physical and poised on his rim attacks.

Jaylen’s patience and willingness to use more up fakes has helped him immensely improve his  finishing with contact. He got to the line six times and converted on all six attempts.

His shot chart had a smattering of looks from different zones, as Brown connected on a clutch, transition corner three-pointer that gave the Cs enough wiggle room down the stretch.

While Brown committed two Payton Pritchard style foot on the line turnovers, was over-ambitious at times with his pass, and was a bit too fouly, he came through with yet another tremendous performance, perhaps as revenge for being overlooked as the Eastern Conference Player of the week.

Brown finished with an outstanding 27 points, a sneaky 13 rebounds, five assists, and a +21 on the night.

The rest of the league needs to take notice. For the third year in a row, Jaylen Brown should have his name in the Most Improved Player of the Year Award mix.

After all, he’s already got his name in the MVP conversation.

Jayson Tatum: A-

For us it was the Boston Celtics vs. the Washington Wizards, but for Drew Hanlen (Jayson Tatum & Bradley Beal’s offseason trainer), it was a good old fashion St. Louis shootout.

With Beal left on an island defensively, Tatum came out firing with 14 first-quarter points and provided some underrated on-ball pressure on the other side of the floor.

I enjoyed his run-to-a-spot, relocation, movement three-pointer, as he caught Russell Westbrook with his back turned and knocked down an open catch & shoot triple.

One thing to note about this game was the series of high quality and in-rhythm shots Tatum took.

His decision making seemed quicker, and while he took the occasional fade-away isolation midrange long two, the majority of his looks came within the flow of the offense.

While he ended up with 32 points on 52 percent shooting from the field and also snatched five boards, Tatum only got to the line once. Thus far, this has been a pattern, perhaps a puzzling occurrence given his increased role as a playmaker.

Even though previous performances from his last five games may suggest differently, I thought Tatum’s decision making this game was the best I’ve seen thus far.

Yes, that includes his 12 assists, zero turnover outing.

Tatum made a pivotal 45-foot swing pass to an open Payton Pritchard three, something that harkened back ‘bubble-Tatum’ vibes.

Marcus Smart: B+

Imagine playing against Marcus Smart in a YMCA pick-up game.

I don’t want to.

Even though I sound like a broken record, Smart is one of the few players that can shoot 20 percent on the night and still be a positive impact player. Yes, he shot poorly from the field, but he finished with 13 points, nine of which came from the free-throw line as he mixed it up with almost every conceivable Washington Wizard.

Smart had some beautiful passes initiating out of the pick-and-roll but also committed the ever-popular Payton Pritchard turnover.

Perhaps Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics coaching staff should make the team run a suicide for every step on the line turnover we’ve had this season.

He ended up with only two steals, but played outstanding early on-ball defense against both Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal, at times guarding both players on the same possession.

While Tatum and Brown accounted for late scoring down the stretch, Smart won possessions on the other end. He won them through his pure hustle and defensive positioning.

He drew two key fouls against Davis Bertans and Rui Hachimora, both instances that took away the opportunity for Washington to score.

Let’s just say it plain and simple — Marcus Smart wins possessions; Marcus Smart wins games.

Daaniel Theis: B+

As one of two active centers, Theis gave a tremendous effort on both ends as he logged a season-high 29 minutes.

Despite two early fouls four minutes into the game, the German Hammer finished with 10 points and six boards, knocked down a triple, swatted a shot, and scrambled his way back to defend the big during pivotal pick-and-roll plays.

Much like Smart, a lot of what he gives the Boston Celtics isn’t tracked up by the traditional box score. The Wizards only finished with seven offensive rebounds. Theis’ collective effort with his box-outs shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Semi Ojeleye: A-

Want to read a cool sentence: Semi Ojeleye scored eight points in three minutes.

While they were his only points of the night, I’ll say it one more time: Semi Ojeleye scored eight points in three minutes.

Oh, and one more thing, when Semi was on the floor, he gave the Cs a team-high +23 in the box plus-minus column.

While he went 2-6 from three, his improved confidence and willingness to shoot right away gave the Boston Celtics an added ounce of spacing from the corner — just some food for thought as the Shamrocks move forward with this abridged season.

One separate note as well — Boston has been far less willing to go small this season.

The unavailable Grant Williams had only spent six percent of his total time at the center spot compared to 35 percent last season.

The Shamrocks kept it traditional with Fall or Theis always on the floor, but Ojeleye gave this center-depleted team a much-needed stone wall post defense against the taller Rui Hachimura.

Perhaps one day we will see a hyper-revved, modernized, short-burst, ultra-switchy, small-ball unit with Ojeleye and Grant out on the floor together… maybe one day.

Payton Pritchard: A-

Coming into this game playing the fourth-most minutes of any Celtic, Payton Pritchard gave another classic performance. His only gaffs of the night came with two questionable offensive fouls.

Outside of this, P-Rabbit was 3-3 from beyond the arc and got in on some of the playmaking fun as well.

Like last game, Pritchard helped close alongside the big three + Theis as he also came up with a huge steal off an ambitious Russell Westbrook pass.

It’s obvious, but Pritchard also wins possessions. He has a knack for finding the ball; he studies the bounces.

Echoing his game-winner on Wednesday, my favorite play of the night from Pritchard came at the 2:40 mark where Jaylen Brown was forced to throw up a late-clock contested midrange look.

The Boston Celtics lead was cut to five points and, with three taller Wizards circling the basket, Pritchard came in from the corner to grab a sneaky offensive rebound that led to another opportunity for the Cs to score.

The little guy, flying in on the glass for yet another winning play.

Tacko Fall: A-

With an immediate impact with a block on Russell Westbrook, while anchoring the Celtics’ zone, Tacko Fall played the best game of his NBA career.

He logged meaningful minutes, offered an imposing presence, but, most importantly, looked spry and energetic getting up and down the floor.

While he missed his two free throws and committed four fouls in 20 minutes of play, Fall did a great job of clearing out space down low, finishing with eight boards.

Truly spectacular and truly impressive as Fall looked much more mobile. His ability to play 20 minutes shows that he can get to a place where he is more than just a spot minute center.

Boban Marjanovic is probably the closest analog to Fall, as they both play in more short burst type situations. But could he potentially start and replicate this 20-minutes a night performance?

Last night was a great sign!

After Friday night’s win, Cs fans should be excited for what’s to come with Tacko, as the game only seemed to scratch the surface.

Javonte Green: A-

After a 10-day absence away from the team, Javonte Green gave an energizer-bunny level effort during his 18 minutes off the bench.

He played terrific defense, pushed the pace, forced an on-ball steal and turnover fronting the post, and also went 3-5 from the foul line. After starting against Brooklyn back on Christmas day, Green has yet to find consistent minutes after five-games of being listed as inactive.

He’s only played a total of 24 minutes this season, excluding last night’s game but, overall, he made winning plays, got the 50-50 balls, and attacked Washington’s zone off the dribble.

As one of the best athletes on this Boston Celtics team, Green will have his time to shine as he could see minutes as a small-ball four in certain situations. Remember, you don’t have to be tall to guard the post.

Look at PJ Tucker as an example.

Jeff Teague: C

Jeff Teague, who was sidelined for two games due to a left ankle sprain, struggled in his return.

He appeared deflated but aggressive at times, as the sprain may still be giving him fits.

Teague had flashes of brilliance with a veteran spin move, and some willing takes to the basket, but overall he was underwhelming on the night.

I wouldn’t put too much stock into his performance, as I’d look for Teague to bounce back against Miami on Sunday.

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