Jaylen Brown following the Celtics 33-point defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night, saying the team was “embarrassed” because they “pick and choose” when they want to play. We’ll have to wait to see if that’s a problem that continues to plague the team, but one thing is for sure — they chose to play on Thursday.
The ball was moving, the 3-pointers were falling and the Celtics finally looked like the early-season version of themeslves again as they ended the Dallas Mavericks‘ seven-game winning streak with a dominant 124-95 road victory.
“Yeah, that was a tough one the other day, we lost two in a row, but we had a responsibility to respond, just to play better,” said Jayson Tatum, who led the way with 29 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists for his second career triple-double. “That last two games hasn’t defined our season, right? We’re still one of the best teams, we just had to come out and play like it and get back to playing like we know how.”
The Celtics certainly did that, and their very first possession set the tone. They moved the ball from side-to-side with seven passes and multiple drives before Tatum found Marcus Smart all by himself at the top of the key. Smart had all day to line up the shot and drained the first of the Celtics’ 16 3s on the night.
Three-pointers have been the story for the Celtics this season. They started out on fire, which powered their 21-5 start. Then every single player on the roster hit a cold streak. Over their 5-7 stretch entering Thursday night, they were shooting 31.1 percent as a team, which ranked 28th in the league during that time.
They found their stroke again versus the Mavericks thanks to intentional offense. Time and again they generated wide-open looks by making quick decisions, getting downhill to shift the defense and sharing the ball. The basket starts to look bigger when you’re playing with aggression and confidence.
Here’s another example: six passes, a post touch and a drive before Derrick White hits from the corner.
It wasn’t just 3s, either. The Celtics are a jump shooting team, and their lack of free throws and paint points is why things can look so bad when the shots aren’t falling. Against the Mavericks, their desire to get into the middle of the defense didn’t only lead to open 3s. They shot 21 of 31 in the paint, and more importantly earned 31 free throws, which was tied for their fourth-most in a game this season.
This was another glimpse of the dynamism that had the Celtics’ offense on a historic pace through the first month of the season, and it was an important response to the Thunder loss. But by now they’ve made it clear they can reach an incredible level. The question moving forward is one of consistency.
“Just build on it right? Tatum said. “Enjoy this one but get ready for the next one. We can’t ponder on this one. Don’t get to high, don’t get to low when you win or lose, just stay level-headed. Take it one game at a time. It’s a long journey to where we’re trying to get to.”