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The Celtics picked up a 107-99 victory over the Bulls on Monday which head coach Joe Mazzulla called one of their better wins of the year so far.
Here are the takeaways.
1. The biggest news Monday was Robert Williams’ return to the starting lineup, with Marcus Smart sidelined with a knee contusion. Williams played well as part of a familiar double-big lineup, and his presence seemed to spark a big first quarter as the Celtics used him to create 2-on-1s in the pick-and-roll getting to the basket.
“Him not getting the ball [in the pick-and-roll] is just as effective for us, because it creates a 2-on-1 somewhere on the floor,” Mazzulla said. “We were a little slow in the first half finding where the 2-on-1 was. I thought we did a better job in the second half finding the 2-on-1 based on his rolls, his screening, and what he brings to the table. But he has the ability to play off the ball as well, which is something that we did a lot of, and we have to continue to work toward that. So I think he’ll fit right in if not make it better.”
His teammates were happy to see him back in that role.
“He’s kind of like that blanket. We just kind of rely on him and his activity and energy,” Al Horford said. “I just really enjoy playing alongside him. I was glad that he was able to get a start tonight and we can continue to build that chemistry.”
Williams looked winded at times, and he was -5 in the box score, but he grabbed seven rebounds and finished with two assists and two blocks.
Jayson Tatum called for Robert Williams to start in his postgame comments following the Spurs game, and he was rewarded on Monday.
“It felt like we was getting back to normal,” Tatum said. “Obviously Smart wasn’t there, but Rob looked great. Felt like he was in a great rhythm. Obviously he made some big-time hustle plays. He just gives us that lob threat, rim protection, obviously how well he can pass the ball. So, extremely happy to have him back.”
2. Another night, another MVP-quality stat line from Tatum, who finished with 32 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. He dished to Al Horford for a dagger 3-pointer that bounced in with under a minute remaining, and his and-one dunk with 12 seconds remaining sent the TD Garden into hysterics. As he went to the line for his free-throw, fans chanted “M-V-P” with extra zeal. Al Horford waved his hand, signaling for more.
As noted by Sean Grande on Twitter, no Celtics player has ever averaged 30 points per game. Tatum currently averages 30.8, and he officially has scored more points total through 41 games than any Celtics player in history.
3. The Celtics made just 11 of their 41 3-point attempts (26.8 percent) as their recent cold streak continued – over their last 15 games, they are 28th in 3-point percentage and second in 3-pointers attempted. Jaylen Brown was particularly bad from deep, missing all eight of his attempts. The two biggest triples of the game – one by Grant Williams and the dagger by Horford – both hit the rim at least twice before falling through (which still counts of course).
Mazzulla wants the Celtics to keep shooting whenever they have an open triple, but he drew an important distinction: Shoot 3-pointers that are a result of great execution to create better attempts.
“I’d still like to shoot a lot of open shots because it shows that we’re spaced, it shows we’re playing fast and it shows that we’re creating 2-on-1s all over the floor,” Mazzulla said. “So we have to continue to shoot with confidence but it can’t be our identity, just shooting. It has to be executing.”
4. After DeMar DeRozan left the game with what the Bulls said was a right quad strain, Zach LaVine took over for a stretch in the fourth quarter – scoring 15 of his 27 points on 6-for-9 shooting. LaVine made his first six shots of the quarter, but he missed three step-back jumpers as the Bulls tried to finish their comeback. The first was over Horford, who struggled to defend LaVine when he went to the rim. LaVine created a lot of space but missed. On the next possession, Derrick White helped force the miss, before LaVine fired up one more in desperation late.
Mazzulla noted that the Bulls have a lot of shooters and cutters, which makes it difficult to double LaVine when he gets hot.
“They really test you,” Mazzulla said. “Do you want to go double LaVine and then you give up an open three to a Dosunmu or a [Alex] Caruso who hit two, or do you challenge your guys that you can guard him and force him into a difficult shot and contest?
“We were right about at that line where we had to make a commitment to, ‘Are we going to double him or are we going to guard him and take one of his tendencies?’ I thought our guys did a good job.”
5. Grant Williams recorded his first 20-point game of the season and was the Celtics’ second-highest scorer, shooting 8-for-15 from the floor. He continues to show a lot of promise driving into the paint like a bowling ball rumbling toward the strike pocket with an increasingly wide and varied offensive skill set.
“I feel like I continually improve, not only year-over-year but night-after-night,” Williams said. “Just continue to understand spacing, understand driving angles, understand how people are guarding you. I feel like at the beginning of the game, I didn’t make a couple shots. I just decided to see something go in, be aggressive, continue to go downhill, be physical.”
6. The Celtics had a bizarre but impressive play early in the fourth quarter – three missed shots, three offensive rebounds, a tipped pass recovered, and a tip-in to close it all out.
“Regardless of the result, on either end of the floor, we kept a certain body language and certain focus about us, a togetherness, a commitment to the details, and it was really fun to watch the guys do that,” Mazzulla said. “I think that’s what helped us win the game.”
7. Robert Williams may catch him by the time the season is over, but Derrick White currently leads the Celtics in blocked shots. His 39th, which he swatted away on Monday, was a gorgeous one. Navigating a screen on a sideline out-of-bounds play, White appeared beaten by Ayo Dosunmu, who cut to the hoop for a layup. But White made up the ground quickly and met Dosunmu at the rim to send the shot packing.
The Celtics might have a monster defensive run coming at some point. Their entire team is big, strong, long, and highly capable on that end.
The Celtics take on the Pelicans in Boston and the Nets in Brooklyn on Wednesday and Thursday.
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