Celtics vs. Thunder takeaways: Tatum continues to emerge from slump


It took 17 games, but the Boston Celtics finally have a winning record this season.

Maintaining it is another question, but the Celtics did what they were supposed to against a lottery-bound Oklahoma City Thunder team with a 111-105 victory at TD Garden Saturday night, improving to 9-8 on the season.

Once again, the C's were led by Jayson Tatum, who is showing signs of snapping out of a serious shooting slump he found himself in.

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Here are some other takeaways from the win over OKC (6-10), in which Boston avoided a letdown after getting up for the Los Angeles Lakers a night earlier:

Jayson Tatum is Boston's best player, and he's starting to act like it

With LeBron James in the building Friday night, it wasn't hard to imagine Tatum getting up and turning in his best game of the season to date.

With the anonymous Thunder in town 24 hours later, would Tatum come out with similar fire? You be the judge.

In addition to setting an early tone defensively, Tatum topped 30 points for a third straight game -- his longest stretch since April 28-May 3 last season -- finishing with game-high 33 points and most importantly, another solid shooting performance. Tatum shot at least 50% from the floor for a third game in a row, connecting on 11 of 22 shots, including 6 of 12 from 3-point range.

Prior to this turnaround, Tatum had failed to reach 50% shooting in nine of Boston's previous 10 contests. 

Jaylen Brown is getting closer to a return -- we think -- so Tatum's production may not be measured necessarily in points per game, but in his shooting percentage. So long as the latter continues to improve, the Celtics will be in fine shape.


Dennis the Menace

Another night, another dominant showing from Dennis Schroder, who continues to be the steal of the offseason for the Celtics.

The 28-year-old poured in 29 points on 13 of 22 shooting, including 3 of 7 from 3-point range against OKC. Since entering the starting lineup for Brown, Schroder is averaging 23.1 points per game. He's been the epitome of consistency during the eight-game stretch, shooting a remarkable 52.8%.

It's going to wind up being a good problem to have once Brown is ready to return, the abundance of good players competing for a spot in the starting five. Figuring out which combinations work most effectively at the start of games could take some time, however, and it's not unreasonable to think about Schroder replacing Marcus Smart at the start of games. Then again...

Marcus playing smarter

Marcus Smart has been a polarizing player not only for his shot selection, but for his volume of shots, especially from deep.

A career 31.8% shooter from 3-point land, Smart is at 27.3% for the 2021-22 campaign. But after jacking up 11 shots from 3 in the season opener for Boston -- making five -- going 0 for 4 in Game 2 and then making 2 of 14 from 3 over his next two games, Smart has settled down on taking so many shots from deep.

On Saturday, he attempted only two 3-pointers, making one. Over his last nine games, Smart hasn't attempted more than five 3s in a single game. It's a span which has coincided with Smart averaging 7.1 assists per game, up from 3.8 over Boston's first nine games.

Smart continues to supply his typically outstanding defense for the Celtics, too.

This version of Marcus Smart is absolutely a player the Celtics can contend with. Time will tell if he's kicked the bad habits for good. 

Enes Kanter emerging as rotation piece?

Kanter, in his second stint with the Celtics, had played a grand total of 31 minutes entering play Friday night.

After he was a plus-21 in just 16 minutes off the bench for Boston against LA, Kanter played 17 more Saturday...and recorded a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, once again off the bench.

Kanter has certainly leapfrogged Jabari Parker in the frontcourt rotation. When Robert Williams III and Brown return, the Celtics will be making changes to their starting lineup regardless. Whether Kanter gets buried again remains to be seen, but he's shown that he at least deserves a little bit more of a look for some minutes.

Boston will try for its first three-game winning streak of the season Monday when it hosts the hapless Houston Rockets (1-15) at the TD Garden for a 7:30 p.m. tip-off.