The Celtics can win even when the Jays are cold: 5 takeaways from Celtics vs. Hornets

"We want to play the right way at all times."

Marcus Smart
Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics reacts during a game against the Charlotte Hornets at TD Garden on February 02, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

After outlasting the Hornets 113-107 on Wednesday, the Celtics have now won five of their last six games and 10 of their last 14.

You could see a good stretch coming if you squinted at the team in the early months, even while they threatened to crack and fall apart. After all, there are legitimate role players on this year’s team — one of the biggest issues with last year’s group. Robert Williams is knocking on the door of something deeply intriguing. Grant Williams has morphed into a marksman. This year’s team is much more than just the Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown Show.


Still, even squinting, you probably would have a hard time imagining games like Wednesday in which the Celtics beat a solid playoff team and got just 34 points on 31 shots from Tatum and Brown. That’s the benefit of all that added depth: Tatum and Brown combined for 15 assists and six of the eight players who played scored in double figures. Two players scored more than 20 points and neither of them were the Jays — Josh Richardson dropped 23, while Marcus Smart put up 22. As a team, the Celtics finished with 31 assists.

Smart, who stirred up controversy earlier this season when he criticized Tatum and Brown for not moving the ball, said the team’s ball movement has been very encouraging.

The game plan that everybody has is to make the Jays pass the ball,” Smart said. “They have to do a good job at it, and they’ve been doing a phenomenal job at it. By doing that, it’s just going to open the floor for them down the stretch where it’s time to take over and it makes it hard for defenses to load up when you have guys shooting the ball, making shots, and making the right play.”


That symbiosis could be what makes the Celtics’ current solid stretch solidify into something sustainable.

“We want to play the right way at all times, make or miss and then rely on our defense,” Ime Udoka said. “… Keep doing the right thing regardless. Nights are going to happen where they don’t make shots but the looks were the same last game when we didn’t make them, and tonight we hit them. They continued to feed those guys. “

More takeaways

2. Late in the fourth quarter, NBC Sports Boston showed a concerning graphic on its broadcast: The Celtics were 4-12 in games decided by five points or less. At the time, they led by fewer than five points.

The Celtics have not closed games well, but recently, they have blown out some mediocre teams. Those blowouts swelled the team’s net rating, while close losses failed to make up the difference. In other words, for the Celtics, net rating — which is usually a pretty good catch-all metric to predict a team’s success — didn’t line up with their record. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Celtics should have 32 wins by now based on their net rating. That would give them a record of 32-21– tied for fourth with the Bucks.


The bad news? The Celtics are, in fact, not even close to tied with the Bucks and have a lot of ground to make up. The good news? There are still 29 games remaining. The Celtics might not be able to get home-court advantage in the playoffs, but they could easily still lift themselves out of the play-in game with a good finish.

“A lot of the league is about confidence,” Josh Richardson said. “And instilling that confidence in guys to take those shots down the stretch and make those and to make plays and get in the paint and makes stops is huge.”

3. After coming back from his injury/COVID absences, Marcus Smart initially got himself into the groove primarily by facilitating. On Monday and Wednesday, however, he took nine and 11 shots respectively — his highest totals since his return.

Smart is making his shots: He’s 13-for-20 since his return to the lineup. More importantly, his shots are coming within the flow of the offense — the Hornets made it clear that they were not going to let Tatum and Brown beat them. Smart proved up to the task.

“I’m just taking what the defense gives me,” Smart said. “Tonight they did a really good job on the Jays in certain aspects of that game, forcing the ball into their hands and making other guys make shots such as me, J-Rich, Grant [Williams], Al [Horford], Rob and everybody else out on the court. And we did that. We’ve gotta continue to do it and continue to help the Jays out.”


4. The Celtics secured the game on a huge play by Robert Williams — flying forward to swat P.J. Washington’s 3-pointer out of the air and help maintain the Celtics’ two-point lead. Smart made a pair of free throws on the other end to seal the game, but Williams’ block — one of his three in Wednesday’s game — was essential.

“I actually told [Williams], ‘You look like me out there. You’re going to beat me out for being one of the best defenders out here. So keep going. I’m proud of you,'” Smart said.” Rob is phenomenal. The athleticism he has to be able to guard 1-5 at his size is just tremendous. We need that from him. We need Rob every night to be that Rob.”

5. Dennis Schröder played 16 minutes on Wednesday. As noted by Jay King of The Athletic, that marks the fifth consecutive game for Schröder with 17 minutes or fewer. The Celtics are healthier, so it stands to reason that fewer bench minutes would be available, but given the time of year — just eight days until the trade deadline! — it’s hard not to wonder whether the Celtics are bubble-wrapping Schröder in the event that a team makes them a solid offer.


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