#1 Porzingis makes everything tick
In his first game back since injuring his calf against the Orlando Magic, Kristaps Porzingis instantly made a huge impact for the Celtics. His presence on the court opens things up on offense and provides a different dimension on the defensive end.
The Celtics look more fluid with Porzingis out there. They can run more stuff. They have another creator on the elbows. And his three-point shooting stretches defenses, pulling opposing bigs higher up the floor.
Having a big man who can operate in actions like this is a luxury. Porzingis fakes the pin-down, receives a pin-in from Jayson Tatum, and knocks down the wide-open jumper from the corner. His movement is fluid; his size is troublesome — he’s the original Unicorn.
A matchup against Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein isn’t ideal for Porzignis due to the difference in physicality and strength. Yet, he found ways to deter shots, get tip-ins, and rediscovered his perimeter jumper that had begun to abandon him before his injury.
#2 Derrick White
Who doesn’t love Derrick White? It feels like every game, we have a new reason to praise him. I’ve said it before, but his ability to scale his production and fill gaps on a night-to-night basis is such a luxury. Against the Knicks, White stepped up as a scorer, dropping a game-high 30 points and hitting 6-of-10 from deep.
Nothing White does is flashy. That’s not his game. He’s substance over style, yet it’s winning over the entire Celtics fanbase. His hounding on defense, his ability to create both on and off the ball and his shot-making ensure he’s a nightmare to guard.
For me, beyond the scoring and stellar point-of-attack defense, it’s White’s ability as a small-screener that really sticks out.
Having a guard that can create offense out of the short roll adds new wrinkles to the offense. Factor in Jrue Holiday, and now the offense needs to go shopping for some anti-aging cream — because it’s soooo wrinkled…I’ll see myself out.
Seriously, though. Watch how White peels off the screen and stops his role at the nail. Instantly facing the basket, the veteran guard can see Luke Kornet cutting toward the basket. Nice little floater pass, and boom, we have a lob play.
The Knicks struggled with White’s aggressiveness and decision-making throughout the game, as many teams have done over the first quarter of the season.
#3 Sticking with D-White for a moment
I mentioned White’s defense above, but I feel it needs its own takeaway. White challenged 14 shots against the Knicks; he held his opponents to 35.7% shooting — only Julius Randle faired better, limiting his opponent to 3-of-10 from the field.
One of the most important defensive skills a guard can have is the ability to navigate screens successfully. They’re going to be put in pick-and-roll actions time and time again. Avoiding getting caught up with the big man or making the wrong decision, such as going under on a sharpshooter, can be a make or break throughout a game.
As you can see in the above clip, White not only navigates screens well, he uses his body to feel for the screener and then adjusts to avoid the majority of the contact. As such, White can stay with his man, keeping his body in front of them and limiting penetration. Of course, this isn’t always possible. Yet, as we’ve all become aware, White is also capable of swatting shots when operating as a trailing defender, which adds another layer of pressure onto the ball-handler.
#4 I have some thoughts on Jaylen Brown’s ejection
I’ve never been one to point toward the game officials. They have a difficult job to do and generally do it tremendously well, given the circumstances. Allow me this one transgression, though. Because, as I’m sure most of you will agree, that ejection was something else.
Brown was on the bench. Yes, he was still talking, but there was no dissent. No aggression. No physicality. He was just…talking. Taking the passion out of the game isn’t good for anyone.
“There’s a difference between showing emotion and it being disrespectful or derogatory toward another person,” Brown said. “I don’t think I was directing it toward him whatsoever, especially on the second one. It wasn’t even close. I’m on the bench; I’m talking from the sideline. He can’t even hear anything I’m saying. He called a tech from across the court. That for sure has to do with somebody having their emotions too involved in whatever else is going on, and they’re exercising their power with technical fouls.”
#5 Al Horford, take a bow
Bench production has been a hot topic for this Celtics team. Questions have swirled regarding how much offense Joe Mazzulla has when going to his second unit. What we’re learning is that Horford’s role off the bench not only works, it could be a huge swing factor moving forward.
Horford secured a double-double against a Knicks team that has two physically imposing big men, both of whom generally operate within the paint and make life tough on both ends. Like Porzingis, Horford’s ability to knock down some perimeter shots stretches the defense or, as you will see in the clip below, punishes them for overloading onto the strong side.
Here, the Celtics have gone into their Spain/Stack action, where there’s a normal pick-and-roll on the perimeter, as a shooter sets a back screen on the big man’s defender. As the defense shifts over to pressure Tatum, who has dragged out his dribble, Horford has been left all along on the weak side.
Some excellent court awareness and passing ability from Tatum sees a swing pass fired over to Horford who drains the catch-and-shoot three in rhythm. That’s your bench, big man, ladies and gentlemen.
One final note: Horford’s rebounding was incredibly important in this game. The Knicks won the battle on the glass. Yet, Horford’s presence and efforts ensured the Celtics held their own. He’s one of the more physical players on the roster and brings a calmness to the rotation when he’s on the floor.
#6 Gettin’ nerdy with it: Loop Ram
With Porzingis back in the rotation, it makes sense to try and get him involved in some set actions.
Here, the Celtics have Porzingis “loop cut” from the weak side into a down screen from White. The loop was to get Robinson on the move, making it easier to slow him down with the screen.
The screen slows down Mitchell Robinson and creates some space around the elbow. Porzignis then screens for Tatum. RJ Barret fights over the screen, but the space has already been created, allowing Tatum to flow into a pull-up jumper from deep.
Had the defense shut down Tatum’s jumper, Porzingis would have been open after both Barrett and Robinson defender Tatum. It’s a pick-your-poison type of play. Love it.
#7 I loved this defensive play from Jayson Tatum
Midway through the first quarter, Tatum made a defensive play that stuck out to me. It’s nothing special. But his understanding of positioning continues to stand out. White and Holiday have shut down Randle on the low block, pressuring him with a blitz.
Barrett has relocated to the weak side, forcing Tatum to split the difference between Robinson and Barrett around the dunker spot. To do this, Tatum is facing Barrett and has his hand on Robinson, allowing him to feel any back-door cut as it takes place while also keeping a scoring threat in front of him.
As Barrett relocated into the paint and received the pass from Randle, Tatum swiped down, killing any shooting chance and giving the Celtics defense time to swarm. Barrett keeps control and gets the ball out to a perimeter shooter. However, the Knicks offense has already become sped up, and the play comes to nothing.
Tatum grabbed the rebound, too, for what it’s worth.
#8 Sticking with Tatum for a moment
I like to call it quiet dominance. Tatum has become really good at impacting the game in a multitude of ways without really making a splash. I mean, we haven’t had a real Tatum game this season. Maybe we can say the game against the Charlotte Hornets, but that’s about it. Instead, he’s quietly giving you 20-30 points, 6-10 rebounds, and 4-6 assists in most games.
The expectations are higher now. A big night for Tatum is 40-50 points, along with solid work on the glass and as a creator. Yet, sometimes, we take his all-around production for granted.
Against the Knicks, Tatum was an All-Star. He made an impact everywhere. It wasn’t jaw-dropping. It wasn’t taking over the game. It was empowering others around him while still getting his. I like this version of Tatum. Just wanted to point it out.
#9 Switching with purpose
When the Celtics defense clicks, it really clicks.
Boston forced a shot-clock violation in the above possession despite the Knicks grabbing an offensive board. The first shot was simple. The Celtics threw some digs at Randle to break his rhythm, but he got his shot off.
In the second half, the Celtics ramped it up. Every switch was quick and decisive. Every closeout was fast but controlled. Double teams were angled to make passing difficult. And no one shied away from their responsibility. It was a complete team effort that stifled New York.
When the Celtics ramp things up, they’re a nightmare to break down. As the season progresses, I hope that can build on moments like these and take their already solid defense to a new level.
#10 Giving Jrue Holiday his flowers
Jrue Holiday has been off-tempo in his last few games. His offense has been subpar, and his defense hasn’t had the impact many had hoped for or came to expect. Against the Knicks, it felt like Holiday was emerging from his slump. He was aggressive on offense, triggered traps to pressure offensive stars, and played his role to a high level.
Yes, Holiday can take his game up a couple of notches. He undoubtedly will. But for now, seeing him making an impact on both sides of the court was a great sign. Hopefully, his ankle issues are behind him, and we can start to see the type of play we became accustomed to over the opening weeks of the season.
The Celtics are back in action on Tuesday when they face the Cleveland Cavaliers. The threat of Cleveland’s frontcourt size and Donovan Mitchell’s scoring will ensure we’re in for a good game, especially if both teams are operating at a high level.
Cleveland has somewhat bounced back from a tough start to the season and won’t be willing to roll over. Ideally, I would like to see Mazzulla use some of his playbook and not rely on a read-and-react offense simply because of the size and ball pressure Cleveland has at their disposal.
Until then, though! Let’s bask in another win over the Knicks!