7 takeaways as Jayson Tatum, Dennis Schröder lift Celtics over Thunder

"We gave them the appropriate fear, respect for your opponent."

Celtics Thunder takeaways
The Celtics took on the Thunder at TD Garden on Saturday. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Here are the takeaways as the Celtics held off the Thunder 111-106 behind big nights from Jayson Tatum and Dennis Schröder.

1. Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams both sat out again Saturday, although the Celtics hinted one or both could be back Monday.

When Brown comes back, the Celtics will have some decisions to make with Schröder: It might be a little difficult to put the offensive toothpaste back in the tube. Over the last 10 games, Schröder’s usage is up to 27.2 with an individual net rating of 7.4, and he averaged 20.7 points in those games after posting 29 on Saturday.


Schröder isn’t perfect — he turns the ball over too much and isn’t a great defender — but he clearly plays better in the starting lineup and has brought so much to the table, Celtics coaches might need to take a look at starting him.

Udoka didn’t go that far after Saturday’s game, but he did note Schröder works well in tandem with Jayson Tatum.

“We like to keep Jayson and Dennis on the court for most of the time to initiate offense with those guys and just try to find the right balance there,” Udoka said.

2. The complicating factor, of course, is Marcus Smart, who has been excellent and certainly won’t be headed to the bench. Smart — who scored 20 points and defended hard against the Lakers on Friday — took just six shots, dished out eight assists and was a crucial piece shutting down the Thunder back court. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored just 14 points on 4-for-13 shooting, and Smart made one of his best plays of the year harassing him into a turnover.

If Schröder does find his way into the starting lineup, don’t expect it to be at the expense of Smart.


3. One major sign of improvement for the Celtics: The Thunder rallied, but it didn’t feel like the end of the world. They gained a little ground against the Celtics’ bench lineups — who we will get to — but they never felt like a threat to win against the Celtics’ best players.

Saturday’s win didn’t feel like a major blown lead, just a regular NBA game. Blowouts are hard to maintain against the best players in the world.

“We gave them the appropriate fear, respect for your opponent, and they came out and handled it for the most part,” Udoka said. “We got a little sloppy at the end, but it’s not going to tarnish a good back-to-back home win.”

4. Holding a lead is easier when Tatum goes off, and he scored 33 — topping 30 points for the third straight game as his rebound to the mean continues. Tatum was 6-for-12 from 3-point range, including a couple of pull-up triples that looked quite a bit like last year.

Meanwhile, Tatum was part of a balanced passing attack once again — the Celtics dished out 28 assists on 41 field goals. He finished with five, but he would have had several more if teammates hadn’t missed make-able shots.


5. Grant Williams is up to 43 percent from 3-point range after finishing 4-for-6 from deep on Saturday. He joked after the game that teammates used to tell him to keep his head up when he missed.


“They used to not get mad when I missed,” Williams said. “Now, it’s like, ‘C’mon Grant. What are you doing?'”

Williams has hit 55.5 percent from the corners — 15-for-27 for the year.

“I think he knows where he’s going to get his shots off of guys,” Udoka said. “They’re looking for him out of the crowd that they draw, and he’s ready to let it go. We want quick decisions and he does that when he’s shooting the ball.

“He’s putting in a solid effort on defense, and with the way he’s shooting it on offense, he just have to continue to be aggressive and knock down those shots.”

6. The Celtics’ bench got knocked around — Tatum and Smart were plus-22 and plus-23 and the rest of the starters were positive in a game the Celtics won by just five. Aaron Nesmith was -14, while Payton Pritchard, Brodric Thomas, Sam Hauser, and Bruno Fernando were all -7 after a mercifully brief stretch at the end of the fourth quarter. The Thunder’s bench outscored the Celtics 47-18.

“A credit to [the Thunder] that they’re playing hard — especially in that last minute when we got subs in,” Udoka said. “Just a learning experience for our young guys.”


Udoka deserves another mea culpa from here: Nesmith has really struggled in his limited playing time. We wondered repeatedly why Nesmith wasn’t getting more playing time — a young defensive presence who could space the floor — but he looks like he might need a short stint in the G-League to ramp back up.

“We’ve looked at that,” Udoka said in response to a question about the G-League. “Some of our younger guys not playing as much right now, keep sharp for whatever may happen. Obviously a ton of individual work and then they are getting their five-on-five in, albeit not game situations. So it’s something we have discussed and something we’re going to look at closely over the next few weeks.”

7. With the win — the Celtics’ seventh in 10 games — they moved back over .500 for the first time this season.

Is that a big deal?

“For me, I mean, it’s nice,” Al Horford said. “The biggest thing for me is how we’re playing. As we continue to play the right way and do the things that we need to do, I feel like winning will continue to happen and, you know, it’ll just be kind of a part of it.”

The Celtics will look to stay above .500 with a home game against the Rockets on Monday.


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