Everything you need to know about the Celtics' 121-109 win over the Hawks with BSJ insight and analysis:
Kemba Walker looked more like his old self: Walker continues to shake free of his struggles, putting together not only a big game (28 points, 10-16 FG, 6 assists, 5 rebounds), but a game with a few added "Kemba" moments. His nine points in 40 seconds was a classic Walker burst reminiscent of his Charlotte days.
Bigs coming through: The much maligned double-big lineup was huge for Boston down the stretch of this game. After a rough start where Clint Capela just dominated Tristan Thompson, Thompson and Daniel Theis settled into the game and found each other multiple times for assists. All four of Theis' assists went to bigs (two to Robert Williams, two to Thompson) and two of Thompson's assists went to Theis. Williams was also good off the bench despite early foul trouble, checking in with 12 points, 4 blocks, and 2 steals.
After the Hawks used a 7-0 run to cut the fourth-quarter lead to single digits, Theis made two dunks and a jumper in less than a minute to stabilize the Celtics and hold off the Hawks.
Brad Stevens started the fourth quarter with Jayson Tatum, Aaron Nesmith, Robert Williams, Payton Pritchard, and Semi Ojeleye. The Celtics were up 25, so Stevens may have been hoping this group could do just enough, but knowing this team, it might have been better to play four good minutes with a stronger lineup to stretch the lead further, and enjoy garbage time.
Kemba Walker: A lot has already been said, and more will be said, but let's just leave this here: Walker is making a lot of progress. It's not all entirely linear, but the ups are higher than the downs are down. The plan, to this point, is working.
"I know this sounds crazy, but that extra night off, there's a reason he looks fresher, right? It just helped," said Brad Stevens.
Daniel Theis: In addition to all the offensive stuff mentioned here, he had 3 blocks, including a monster block of a John Collins dunk attempt in the first quarter.
Jaylen Brown: He had a very efficient night, finishing with a true shooting percentage of 63.8%. He also tied for a team-high 6 assists and had a takeover stretch in the third quarter to build Boston's big lead.
Robert Williams: He continues to make his case for more minutes and probably should have been matched up with Capela from the start. It will be interesting to see if Stevens uses this adjustment during Wednesday's game against Atlanta. He's an alley-oop machine. Just toss it up there, and he'll go get it.
Jayson Tatum: If Walker wasn't the big story and the bigs down the stretch wasn't 1-A, we'd be making a bigger deal of Tatum's night. He did have 6 turnovers, which is bad, but 25 points on 47.6% shooting, 3-8 on 3-pointers, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks and a steal is one heck of a night.
Payton Pritchard: This was his second straight rough night against Atlanta, which might just be a bad matchup for him. It's also a reminder that he's a rookie, and even a rookie who has mostly played well is prone to ups and downs. He missed all 7 shots he took and was a -18 on a night where Boston was up by as much as 27. Ouch.
Double alley oop. This will be on the end-of-season highlight reel.
ONE TAKE KARALIS WILL PROBABLY REGRET LATER
Maybe preaching patience was the right call after all? I don't want to overblow a nice win over a bad team, but also there are things I see on the floor that are simply a product of letting the season play out rather than overreacting. Kemba Walker is slowly getting his bounce back. He had a couple of plays that were very "Kemba," and he was back to playing with more confidence and manipulating defensive coverages. He'll have his down days too, but the patience is paying off.
The same can be said about the double-big lineup. It's not perfect, and it's not useable all the time or against certain matchups. But they are also growing with more time on the floor.
"We are forming that connection," Thompson said after the game. "I think we do a good job playing off each other, we know what our strengths are, and our weaknesses, and we know that we can help each other be great out there. And you saw that tonight. Whether it's me boxing out and him get a rebound, or him boxing out and me going to rebound, or blocking a shot, or us on offense, playing a high low action. 1990's big man basketball."
All I'm saying is that sometimes we've got to keep the bigger picture in mind. Taking some time to fully evaluate a team isn't excuse-making. It's just taking some time get all the information before making a conclusion. We're seeing some of the results here with the more maligned players of the year so far. Walker and the bigs are making good progress.