It’s official: the 2020-21 Boston Celtics are the most confusing team we’ve had in Boston in quite a while.
Coming off of three straight losses, including to a team that had lost 14 in a row going into the game in the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Boston Celtics looked like a totally different team in their 120-111 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night. Jaylen Brown (38) and Jayson Tatum (35) combined for 73 points, Aaron Nesmith had the best game of his young career, and the Celtics moved to 33-30 on the season, as they continue to fight to avoid the play-in tournament.
After their embarrassing loss in the first half of this back-to-back, Jaylen Brown spoke about needing to find the fire that good teams need, and how it has to start with him. Well, it certainly looked like he took his own words to heart. He dropped 20 points himself in the first quarter of this game, while the Hornets as a team only scored 19. He was hitting all kinds of shots, going 8-11 from the field and 4-5 from three point land. It was an impressive display as he set the tone for this win. After the best first quarter Boston has played in the past few weeks, they held a 39-19 lead.
In the second quarter, of course, the Hornets made a run to start to close the gap. PJ Washington continued to play well against Boston, hitting a couple of tough 3’s as Charlotte outscored the C’s 28-19 in the quarter. Although Boston took a 58-47 lead into the break, you could feel that the momentum was in Charlotte’s corner and the Celtics would need to buckle down in the second half to secure an important win over a team chasing them in the standings.
And in final 24 minutes, Boston’s stars did just that. Jaylen Brown scored 18 points after the break and Jayson Tatum added 20 to his total as the pair of young wings did whatever it took to close out the win. Simply put, they were not going to let Boston lose again. They controlled the game down the stretch, taking all the key shots and making the right plays. The Hornets managed to close the gap to three midway through the fourth quarter, but Boston pulled away for the final score to 120-111.
As incredible as Tatum and Brown are, they’re going to need help if this team wants to continue winning. And tonight, that help came in the form of rookie Aaron Nesmith. Nesmith has struggled for most of the year to carve out consistent playing time, but he seems to be coming on down the stretch. He plays with a ridiculous amount of energy, and it’s almost never controlled, but somehow it works out for him. He finished this game with nine rebounds, three blocks, and three steals. Two of his blocks came as the Hornets were within single digits in the fourth quarter, as coach Brad Stevens elected to leave the rookie out there in crunch time.
But most of all, as Mike Gorman says at the end of the clip, he has confidence on the offensive end, which has not been the case for a lot of the year. He scored a career-high 15 points in this game, going 6-12 from the field overall. And while he’s still primarily a spot-up shooter, he’s shown more of the bounce that he has briefly displayed in recent games, including a nice driving layup in this game.
I spent way too much time in these game recaps early in the year getting on Nesmith for not being able to make even wide-open threes. After all, he was a sniper in college. But he hadn’t played basically in a year due to foot injury in college, and he wasn’t given the luxury of a summer league due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so he was thrown into an NBA season completely cold, and it showed. While it took him longer to catch on than most would have liked, he’s made a real impact in the C’s last few games, even though they were losses. If he continues to play like this, there’s no reason he won’t earn some playoff minutes as the third or fourth man off the bench brought in to rain down threes.
The other big storyline from this game was the return of Robert Williams from the knee pain that has kept him out for the last few games. Injuries continue to be a concern with the young big man, but there’s no debating that he changes the game when he’s out on the floor. I couldn’t decide which of his ridiculous blocks was more ridiculous, so just watch both of them and decide for yourself.
Poor Devonte’ Graham. Getting stuffed once is bad enough, but having your shot swatted basically straight out of your hand twice in the same game? That’s tough. This is the kind of play that the C’s have been banking on from Williams, and every time he’s out there he delivers. After playing out of a reserve role for most of the year, Williams was elevated to the starting lineup shortly before getting hurt. In the games he started, Boston went 8-2. In his absence, they went 3-4, including the three game losing streak they were on coming into this game. He makes an impact every time he steps on the floor, so Celtics fans should be hoping for good health for the Timelord down the stretch and in the playoffs.
This was a feel-good win, but in the end doesn’t change much about this team. They’re still inconsistent, one win over a team below them in the standings certainly doesn’t change that, and they struggle to score when Tatum or Brown aren’t dominating. Could this win be the start? Are they finally getting back to full health, and are about to go on a run straight through the Eastern Conference? It’s possible, but we’ve said that probably twenty times this year. Only time will tell. They’ll have a chance to prove that they’ve changed when they face the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night at 7:30.
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