There is no hotter team in the Eastern Conference right now than the Boston Celtics. After using a genuine team effort on both ends of the floor to defeat the team right behind them in the standings, the C’s traveled to Charlotte to face a hungry ball club that was desperate for a win.
Behind a quiet 51-point outing by Jayson Tatum on Martin Luther King Jr Day and 69 combined assists in the two games in the Queen City, Boston heads home brimming with confidence. Despite Golden State’s record, the presence of the Warriors proved to be too much for the Cs in the Bay Area during their road trip last time out, but with the way they are playing even without Jaylen Brown, it could be a different story on Thursday night on national television.
Currently, Joe Mazzulla’s men have won seven in a row, winning three straight without one of their All-Star wings. The Boston Celtics are in the top five in the association in fewest giveaways in the last 10 contests and sit second in assists per game during the previous seven games. 34 out of Boston’s 43 field goals were assisted on Monday afternoon. Derrick White’s alley-oop pass to Marcus Smart to open the scoring at Spectrum Center on MLK Day summed up the three-game road trip pretty well.
In Tatum’s 50-point display, three of his five assists came in the first quarter, informing the Hornets that it was going to be a long day attempting to guard the MVP candidate. Tatum did not force anything early, and let the game come to him. Charlotte attempted to blitz Tatum with the ball in his hands, but the problem is the rest of Boston’s roster has the ability to score the basketball at all three levels.
Mazzulla summed up how Tatum reached the 50-point mark quite well:
"“He didn’t settle for shots,” Mazzulla said. “He got catch-and-shoots, he got off the dribbles, he got layups. The other piece of that is the humility of our team to really work with him to get those 51 points.”"
White continued Mazzulla’s point, stating:
"“He wants to be great and he takes that challenge each and every night. He’s seen a lot of defense during his time in the league and he is making the right read off of that.”"
Jayson Tatum is being propped up by the rest of the Boston Celtics
The key to that is “the humility of our team to really work with him”. Tatum was locked in during both contests in Charlotte, combining for 84 points, but it was the work of the entire team that allowed their superstar to create the best shots for himself. Whether it was a drive and kick, swifts ball movement around the perimeter to an unguarded Tatum, or putting a pass right in his shooting pocket off of a pick and roll, this team filled with unselfish individuals were catalysts in his historic outing being marked as relatively “casual”.
The former Duke product got anything he wanted on the offensive end, putting on a three-level scoring show for the Celtic-dominant crowd in North Carolina. Grant Williams reached a milestone in his assist numbers, collecting a career-high at halftime on Monday while White demonstrated his elite decision-making, dishing out his third-highest assist total in a single game this season in the final contest of this quick road trip.
Perfect example of Boston’s prolific ball movement in the Queen City during the past two games:
Whether it was Grant Williams finding Luke Kornet for a dunk, or Robert Williams III finding a red-hot Tatum on a backdoor cut, Boston’s display of unselfish basketball was out in full force. It is clear when this version of the C’s stalls out on the offensive end, the ball does not touch enough hands on the offensive end. 66.1% of Boston’s field goals have been assisted during the last 10 games, which is good for third-best in the NBA. There are of course times when top-level players are going to take on mismatches as Tatum did against a Hornet’s defense that threw everything under the sun at him defensively.
With Brown out due to a right adductor, this trip away from TD Garden has shown the depth of scoring talent the Boston Celtics possess. Malcolm Brogdon ran the show in the second unit in lineups without Tatum. At the same time, White remained aggressive, finishing with the second-highest point total for Boston on Monday. The Celtics’ isolation frequency has gone down from the last two seasons, and while in today’s NBA there is going to be quite a bit of it, Boston pieced together a sweep on the road through persistence on the defensive end, and selflessness in half-court sets.