Celtics

Aaron Nesmith proves worthy of playing time: 8 takeaways from Celtics vs. Heat

Plus: Jayson Tatum had a bad game (kind of) and more.

Aaron Nesmith
Aaron Nesmith of the Boston Celtics celebrates against the Miami Heat. Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Here are the takeaways as Aaron Nesmith and the Celtics defeated the Heat 95-78 — a statement win after a difficult week.

1. For several games now in these takeaways, we have specifically noted Aaron Nesmith’s playing time because the DNP-CDs felt so noteworthy for a Celtics team that really needed some 3-point shooting. Nesmith was excellent in Summer League and preseason, but he struggled (0-for-10) in his first three outings, and Ime Udoka tied him to the bench for the Celtics’ next three. On Wednesday, Nesmith finally re-emerged in garbage time against the Magic and made a 3-pointer — his first field-goal of the season.

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Against the Heat, however, Nesmith made the most of his available minutes with Josh Richardson sidelined, dropping 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting. He started by beating Jimmy Butler to the rim and laying the ball high off the glass. He then buried a pair of 3-pointers before the end of the first half when the Heat strayed too far away from him, and he hit another in the second half.

“He’s a young guy that hasn’t played a ton of basketball, and rushed some things early,” Udoka said. “It wasn’t just that he played poorly, it was other guys who played well.

“He’s a guy who we know can light it up, bring us a spark off the bench, and then being solid on defense is just an added bonus there.”

Floor spacing has been a real issue for the Celtics. If Udoka trusts Nesmith again, he could be a major asset.

“Whenever my name is called it’s not a shock to me just because I keep the same schedule every day,” Nesmith said. “So whether I play or don’t play, I’m ready to play at all times.”

2. Jayson Tatum struggled once again from the field, finishing 3-for-13 from the floor. All 10 of his points came in the fourth quarter, including both of his 3-pointers, a nifty euro-step layup and a free throw.

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But Tatum played a significantly better brand of basketball than he has in other poor shooting performances so far this season. He forced far fewer shots, and he moved the ball better out of double teams. That didn’t always directly result in an assist, but it was essential as the Celtics took advantage whenever the Heat swarmed the ball. The rest of the Celtics did the same, especially in the second quarter as they pulled away.

To achieve their potential, the Celtics still need more from Tatum but they can probably tread water for a while in the interim if he makes opponents pay for focusing their attention on him.

3. Jaylen Brown left the game after the third quarter with tightness in the balky right hamstring that has bothered him at times this year.

“He has a little history of some stuff over there, so we wanted to be cautious and get checked out,” Udoka said. “We’ll know more tomorrow.”

Brown led all Celtics scorers with 17 on 5-for-14 shooting.

4. Al Horford had the play of the game, which came with a little back story.

On the play, observant Celtics fans might notice how — before Horford thundered into the paint — Bam Adebayo switched onto Schröder, but Tyler Herro kept working his way around the screen anyway.

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Right before this sequence, Herro tried to drive on Brown, but Brown denied him and clapped in his face. Herro tried to answer Brown’s challenge with a 3-pointer that clanked off the rim, and on the other end, he picked up a technical for shoving Brown out of bounds (Brown may have embellished the shove a bit). Then the Celtics inbounded the ball and ran the play above.

Was Herro supposed to fight over the screen to avoid being switched onto a big man? It’s possible, although Adebayo switched pretty willingly onto Brown.

Did Herro compound his bad shot with a bad technical and then a bad decision to fight angrily around a screen, which led to a bad outcome for the Heat (Horford’s and-one slam)? It’s also possible.

5. Romeo Langford scored 12 points and — along with Nesmith — provided a two-way punch as part of a defensive unit that was so good, Udoka was willing to break substitution patterns to keep them in the game.

“At times we would have brought Jayson back in at a point, we went with the young guys who were rolling,” Udoka said. “They were playing so good defensively that we didn’t want to break the rhythm of that group. Jaylen came back in and did some things, but we really wanted to keep that core in there and reward them for how well they were playing.”

Langford also hit an important 3-pointer in the third quarter. When asked about it after the game, he gave a quintessentially Romeo Langford answer.

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“I didn’t even know that was a big shot,” Langford said. “I was just shooting, just playing the game and letting it come to me. It does feel good to see things go my way.”

6. Dennis Schröder’s pace is an important asset for the Celtics. He can accelerate around defenders with the shot-clock winding down, drive and kick to 3-point shooters, run nice pick-and-pop sets with Al Horford and get out in transition. The Celtics’ starting lineup certainly hasn’t been an issue (+17.6 points per 100 possessions in 85 possessions), but Schröder adds quite a bit in his minutes.

7. The Celtics’ bench outscored Miami’s 45-20 — an impressive showing given that, as Udoka noted after the game, Herro averages 22.4 points per game himself.

“Holding them to 78 is obviously something you don’t think with this high-scoring team, especially with their bench play,” Udoka said. “Did our job there, focused on certain things, and our bench really outplayed theirs.”

8. If the Celtics go on a run here, there may be a lot of snide comments from players about the outside noise after the first seven games.

“We’re a great team, too, and we knew that,” Schröder said. “Everybody was panicking seven games in.”

Those snide comments ignore a lot of context. In their first seven games, the Celtics looked a lot like last year’s .500 team that needed a 50-point game from Tatum to win its play-in game — only Tatum is shooting 38.3 percent so far this year.

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So you’ll pardon those of us who need a little more evidence before walking completely away from the ledge. But Thursday’s win in spite of Tatum’s continued struggles was unequivocally impressive, and the Celtics have every reason to believe in themselves as they travel to Dallas.

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