Celtics shooting guard Marcus Smart had a feeling this team might surprise people.
“We just stayed back, kept quiet, and kept working,” Smart said after the group’s latest victory, their eighth straight. “We couldn’t wait for this season to tip off so we could show everybody.”
Boston edged the Dallas Mavericks Monday night to improve their league-best record to 8-1. The Celtics maintained an advantage for the entirety of the first half before the Mavs took their first lead of the game midway through the fourth quarter. The late push fell short, however, as Kemba Walker rattled off nine points in an 80-second span to secure the 116-106 win.
Here’s what we saw:
1. With Gordon Hayward sidelined, rookie Javonte Green received some early first-quarter minutes. Green logged a season-high 13 minutes off the bench, in which he showed his well-documented athleticism and speed. His first bucket of the game came on a putback after he hustled to an offensive board. He even flashed his less-heralded shooting ability when he knocked down his first career three-pointer in the second quarter. Already a threat to get to rim, Green could make an even stronger case for minutes if he is able to establish some consistency from range, especially in Hayward’s absence. “His scoring is helpful,” coach Brad Stevens said after the game. Green finished with 9 points on 4-for-8 shooting, 2 rebounds, and 2 steals.
“He’s going to be big for us this year,” added teammate Jaylen Brown. “I’m looking forward to seeing him on the court because he brings an excitement to this team that we haven’t had, like we got a lot of athleticism that we haven’t had in the years I’ve been here at least.”
2. Brown’s offensive production has erupted, as he followed up Saturday’s 30-point performance with 25 (and 11 rebounds) on Monday. The stretch marks the first time in Brown’s four-year career that he has scored at least 25 points in back-to-back games. After coming to accept his reserve role last season, Brown has seized the opportunity as a starter this year, exhibiting aggression on both ends of the floor. His handle on the ball has improved, giving him more control and opening up more options. Through six games, Brown, shooting 53 percent from the field, is staying true to his preseason mantra of simply wanting to come out and hoop. “I don’t think I have to do anything special,” he said Monday. “Just keep hitting singles, just keep playing my game, being aggressive, and things will fall into place.”
3. Hayward will be sidelined for six weeks after undergoing surgery to repair his fractured left hand, the team announced during the game. Stevens said he got word at halftime that the surgery went well, though he had not yet spoken to Hayward. The projected timeline slates Hayward’s return for Dec. 23, which means he would miss 19 games.
4. The crowd warmly greeted Enes Kanter, who made his TD Garden debut for his first game action since suffering a left knee contusion during the season-opener in Philadelphia. Kanter played only six minutes against the Mavericks and did not re-enter the contest after checking out with 7:30 remaining in the second quarter. “I still don’t think he’s moving quite like I saw him during preseason,” Stevens said. “Despite the fact that he was cleared, we didn’t anticipate him playing [much].” Pointing to the solid performances from centers Daniel Theis and Robert Williams, Stevens said the plan is to re-integrate Kanter slowly. Kanter noted his knee “feels good,” but acknowledged he felt a bit winded and is not yet in “game shape.” Still, he expressed excitement about his return. “I just want to go out there and be with my teammates,” Kanter said, “even if it’s just for one minute.”
5. With the Celtics leading 95-93 in the fourth quarter, Kemba Walker knocked down back-to-back three-pointers to swing the game in Boston’s favor. Walker finished with eight threes en route to a 29-point performance — 24 of which came in the second half. “In the fourth quarter, the competitive nature just comes out,” Walker said. “I was just trying to do what I can to put the ball in the basket.” Walker did leave the floor early in the final minutes, suffering from neck pain that Stevens described as whiplash. Stevens said he does not know whether his availability will be affected, but Walker said he does not anticipate any additional treatment.
6. Point guard Brad Wanamaker has received props from both his teammates and Stevens for his role in the second unit. “He’s a pretty steadying hand in that group right now where we don’t have a lot of experience,” Stevens said. Marcus Smart, too, highlighted Wanamaker’s leadership. The 30-year-old played a season-high 21 minutes Monday, posting 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. “He doesn’t get enough credit,” Smart said.
7. Jayson Tatum could not get anything going and finished a dismal 1-for-18 from the field. “Just one of those nights,” Stevens said. “I guess that means a lot of good nights are coming. I don’t lose sleep over missed shots.” According to his Snapchat, Tatum went to the Auerbach Center after the game to get some shots up around midnight. “Gotta be able to laugh at ya self sometime!” he wrote in the caption. “Glad we won! On to the next.”
8. Smart continues to be a serviceable “big” on defense, or as he likes to call himself “a stretch six.” Smart primarily defended Luka Dončić and limited him to one basket on five attempts, per the NBA’s tracking data. He also guarded Kristaps Porzingis for a handful of possessions, forcing a turnover and holding him scoreless on three shot attempts. Despite the obvious size differential, Smart welcomes the chance to go up against traditional centers. “I love it,” he said. “It’s a challenge I love every single time I get the call. I pride myself on the defensive end. That’s where I earn my keep. When I matched up against those guys, I never think it’s a disadvantage for me.”
9. Two-way center Tacko Fall was in the building Monday evening, although the visit does not count against the 45 days Fall is allowed to spend with the Celtics because he was not active. Fall, wearing an L.L. Bean winter hat, sat courtside next to team co-owner Wyc Grousbeck.