Celtics

Jayson Tatum takes steps as a passer: 9 takeaways as Celtics beat Raptors

"We’ve got to build that bond, that strength of knowing I can go to war with these guys beside me."

Raptors Celtics takeaways
Precious Achiuwa of the Toronto Raptors takes a shot against Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics. Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics put together an imperfect (but perfectly acceptable) 104-88 win over the Raptors on Wednesday.

1. If this is who the Celtics are, Robert Williams will be happy.

“We’re all basketball players, we’re all hoopers, but we’ve got to build that bond, that strength of knowing I can go to war with these guys beside me,” Williams said after an impressive 16-point, 13-rebound performance. “Off the court too, knowing I can go to war with these guys. I feel like we’ve been stepping up on there, but we’ve got to carry it over all year.”

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The power of a defensive-minded team is that while you can’t win with defense alone, you can buy your offense a lot more wiggle room. The Celtics bought themselves enough space for Tatum to shoot 7-for-22, and for Dennis Schröder to turn the ball over seven times. They were fine shooting a pedestrian 34.5 percent from 3-point range as a team and getting to the free-throw line just 15 times. A team-high 22 inefficient points from Tatum were enough.

That’s in large part because the Celtics became the third team this season to hold three opponents below 90 points.

“I think we’re starting to learn what we have to do to win on that end,” Udoka said. “We’re mixing up some coverages, we found out what some guys do better than we did in the preseason, and I think as coaches we learned as well, but the players have taken that to heart. We’re hurt by what we did in the first game against these guys and really took it to heart and brought the effort tonight.”

2. Jayson Tatum put together an oddly encouraging performance: He shot very poorly, but for the second game in a row, he punished an opposing team for doubling him with his passing. Tatum collected seven assists, and the Celtics took advantage of a defense that struggled to contain them at the point of attack.

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“He knows the attention he draws every night, and our big point of emphasis was them over-helping and shifting and gambling on him as you saw in the first half,” Udoka said. “He was really getting into the paint and kicking out for wide-open shots, whether they made or missed them.

“He’s doing what he asked, he knows that will alleviate the pressure on him later in the game if guys can make them pay early in the first half and he did that.”

If Tatum becomes a pick-your-poison offensive threat as a scorer and passer, the Celtics are in great shape (now he just needs to nail down the scoring side again).

3. If you ever wondered why Tatum always rides a bike when he leaves the court, Udoka — when asked postgame — said Tatum doesn’t like to get cold and stiff when he sits down which should come as little surprise.

Something to watch: Udoka said the Celtics are fiddling with Tatum’s rotations, leaving him in and taking him out for shorter stints to avoid stiffness rather than giving him longer stints and longer breaks.

“We tapered that a little bit to help him stay loose, but it’s more so than anything preventative,” Udoka said.

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4. Robert Williams hit the offensive glass hard against an undersized Raptors team, but he also put a ton of pressure on the rim in the pick-and-roll. As the Celtics find their identity, that pressure could weigh heavily on opposing teams. Containing both Tatum and Brown is a tall task — especially if the drive-and-kicks continue — and Williams barreling down the lane in the pick-and-roll is another pain in the temple for any opposing coach.

“He’s finally stepping into his own,” Marcus Smart said. “And we’re excited for him. He’s excited to continue to progress and keep going and only help himself and better this team. So we love everything Rob’s doing.”

5. Smart often plays basketball like a football player — he isn’t afraid to dive on the floor, stick his hand into risky places, and body up against bigger players. This play in the third quarter was as nice a lob as Mac Jones could hope to throw all year.

Meanwhile, in the first half, Smart channeled Jamie Collins with this steal.

The last two weeks were open season for Smart’s detractors, but don’t forget games like Wednesday when Smart turns defense to offense, dishes out six assists with no turnovers, and hits a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. Those games are worth factoring in as well.

6. Apparently, Romeo Langford is a reliable 3-point threat now. Tatum targeted Langford twice in the corner as a drive-and-kick option, and both times, Langford rewarded his trust. After going 2-for-3 from the field, Langford is now up to 50 percent shooting from deep for the season on three attempts per game. That number obviously can’t hold, but the improvements look real.

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7. Al Horford was uncharacteristically talkative after iso-ing in the post against Pascal Siakam at one point in the second half. Horford lost the ball out of bounds, then made a point to tell everyone — seemingly so that Siakam would hear — to give him the ball back so he could go to work. The Celtics obliged, and Horford started to back Siakam down only for Siakam to strip him and start a fast break the other way.

Horford doesn’t often talk trash, so it was odd (and maybe a little funny) that it didn’t work out, given how good Horford has been in nearly every other facet of his game. Trash talk, it seems, can’t be rejuvenated by a half-season off in Oklahoma City.

8. Dennis Schröder was uncharacteristically sloppy on Wednesday with eight turnovers, a season-high for the Celtics. Given that Schröder averages just 2.0 per game, it will likely just be an odd footnote, but he was playing with fire against a Raptors team that excels in transition. While several of his miscues were dead-ball turnovers (which don’t allow for a fast break), the Raptors scored six of their 16 transition points after forcing Schröder to cough up the ball.

9. NBC Sports gave their nightly “Tommy Award” to late Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn on Wednesday, commemorating Heinsohn one day after the anniversary of his death last year.

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