The Boston Celtics had a big-time rest advantage against the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night.
The C's had back-to-back off days for the first time since the All-Star Break. Meanwhile, the Suns had survived a tight battle with the Philadelphia 76ers the previous night and nearly had to go to overtime because of a ridiculous shot by Joel Embiid.
Clearly, the Celtics were the better-rested team on Thursday. And as a result, they were the better team. They played excellent defense on the Suns, limiting them to just 37 first-half points and watching Marcus Smart help to put smothering defense on star guards Devin Booker and Chris Paul.
While the C's offense didn't have a great game, one of their stars helped lead them to victory. Additionally, the team did a great job of getting the Suns into foul trouble (23 total) and avoiding fouls of their own (12 total). And though the C's turned the ball over 20 times, they forced the Suns to commit 17 of their own, making it largely a wash.
This wasn't the prettiest win of the year for the Celtics, but it was a big one. They have now won seven of their last eight games and are tied for the No. 5 seed in the East with the Atlanta Hawks, who just lost Trae Young for an extended period of time.
Here are three observations from the Celtics' 99-86 win over the Suns.
A well-rested Kemba Walker powered the Celtics' offense
Kemba Walker hadn't played for the C's since their win over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday night. He had missed Monday's game while dealing with a non-COVID-related illness.
Apparently, those four days of rest helped him to be at his best in this one.
Against the Suns, Walker was unstoppable. He went 11-of-17 from the floor and notched a season-high 32 points, accounting for a third of the Celtics' scoring. He did a great job of hitting 3-point shots early in the game, going 5-for-11, but also did well driving to the hoop, as you can see below.
Walker didn't just score on the night either. He grabbed four boards and had four assists, showing a knack for making heads-up plays, including finding Tatum on this play.
Walker couldn't have picked a better time to have his best performance of the season. Jayson Tatum had another rough shooting night and the C's were without Jaylen Brown (shoulder), so they needed their third star to step up. Kemba did just that.
Now, he will have a chance to be well-rested when he next plays for the C's Sunday against the Charlotte Hornets (he'll sit out the second night of a back-to-back, per usual, on Friday against the Brooklyn Nets).
Jabari Parker is seamlessly fitting in with the Celtics
When the Celtics signed Parker to a two-year deal, the move seen as a surprise. It was a sensible one, especially given that the team needed some scoring off the bench, but it was worth wondering just what type of role Parker would play with the C's in 2021.
So far, the answer appears to be a pretty important one off the bench.
Against the Suns, Parker was able to do a little bit of everything. He tallied six points, four rebounds, four assists, and a steal in 15 minutes of action.
Parker once again played very well near the rim and was able to help give the team a solid threat on the interior. That's something they've desperately needed with Robert Williams (knee) out of action.
It seems like Brad Stevens' plan to use Jabari Parker as a backup four and small-ball five is working to perfection. In three games as a Celtic, Parker is averaging 8.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.3 assists.
That has been some much-needed bench production for the C's. And as Parker gets more comfortable, he should only get better, whether that's from a volume standpoint or an efficiency standpoint.
Jayson Tatum is providing value even on bad shooting nights
After a torrid six-game stretch, Jayson Tatum has cooled off wickedly. In the C's loss to the Bulls, he shot just 3-of-17 from the field. Against the Suns, he repeated that performance with another 3-of-17 shooting night.
Shooting 17.6 percent from the field in back-to-back games is woeful and won't please many people. Still, Tatum is providing value for the Celtics in major ways. And above all else, he's becoming a better distributor of the basketball.
Tatum has always been a great scorer, and the 6-foot-8 forward has always gotten his fair share of rebounds. But this season, Tatum has upped his assist average to 4.3 per game. And on the year, he has posted the highest assist percentage of his career.
Over the Celtics' last eight games, in which they have a 7-1 record, Tatum has averaged 5.0 assists per game. When Tatum has at least five assists, the C's have logged a 13-8 record, so it's easy to understand why the Celtics have been on such a hot streak in April.
It's nice to see that Tatum is finding a way to positively impact the game, and impact winning, even amid a recent shooting slump.
That said, the C's will need him to snap out of it on Friday against the Nets while still performing well as a distributor as he has in April.