Here are nine Boston Celtics takeaways after the team posted a nine-win January that culminated with a 119-104 triumph over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night at TD Garden:
1. NOT SMART TO CHIRP MARCUS
Marcus Smart took a handoff sliding towards the corner in front of the Golden State bench late in the third quarter of Thursday’s game and heard the visitors talking trash behind him.
Smart launched a high-arcing triple over Eric Paschall then immediately turned towards the Golden State bench before jogging running back up court, all while his finished its trip to the twine.
Marcus Smart pulls a Steph Curry in front of the Warriors bench— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) January 31, 2020
Drain of the Game is presented by John’s Sewer & Drain Cleaning pic.twitter.com/CKRFgJrWDA
Yes, Smart essentially did the Steph Curry in front of Steph Curry.
“It wasn’t towards Steph, it was just towards towards the bench in general. When I caught the ball, they were all talking and, of course, we’ve heard it all before,” said Smart. “For me, when guys talk, I’m going to talk back. So when I caught the ball and shot it, they were all screaming, basically, let me shoot, so when I shot it I turned around and told them it’s a bucket.”
Smart’s 3-point shooting took a hard dip as he was coming back from his oblique injury but he’s back up at 35.1 percent for the season. He’s made 29 3-pointers in Boston’s last eight games, including the franchise-record 11 he made against Phoenix.
Will opposing benches ever stop chirping Smart?
“Never,” said Smart. "I hope they don’t.”
2. HEY NOW, YOU’RE AN ALL-STAR
Shortly after Jayson Tatum found out he’d been named an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve, his young son came to the trainers room with a celebratory shirt.
“Obviously, Deuce came in the back with the "My dad is an All-Star" shirt so that was icing on the cake,” Tatum said of the airbrushed T-shirt with neon lettering.
Tatum said he kept his emotions in check while watching the official announcement from the trainers room but worried it might all spill out later.
"I wanted to cry. I didn't cry. I might cry later, though,” said Tatum. "But I'm just so grateful. It's something I'm not going to take for granted. There's only 24 guys who make the All-Star team, so I'm super thankful and I'm going to enjoy the opportunity of the moment.
"I’ve been watching the All-Star game ever since I’ve been watching basketball. I’d always get Kobe [Bryant’s] All-Star jersey and I always had aspirations of one day being in the All-Star game. And at 21 years old, to make it a reality, I can’t put it into words. It’s a special feeling.”
3. EVER-MOTIVATED BROWN HAS NEW MOTIVATION
Jaylen Brown swore he wasn’t disappointed with the news that he hadn’t been voted an All-Star reserve. But he absolutely plans to use it as a motivation.
"I try to use anything and everything as motivation,” said Brown. "But it’s OK. Keep working, get ready for the playoffs — that’s a stage that you want to be on.”
Celtics coach Brad Stevens repeatedly suggested recently that it’s better to be playing like an All-Star than to be voted one, which is his very Kaizen way of rationalizing that Boston wasn’t going to get more than two voted All-Stars in a conference loaded with talent.
Brown deserved heavy consideration for a spot and could always be a replacement should others bow out due to injury or otherwise. But Brown's focus is clearly on mid-April, not mid-February.
"I’m not disappointed,” said Brown. "I think it’s a lot of guys that they have to choose from, a lot of guys having a good year. It is what it is. Just start gearing up your mind, getting ready for the playoffs and stuff like that. Building good habits.”
4. KOBE TRIBUTE WAS FANTASTIC
Kudos to the Celtics’ game operations for the way they handled the Kobe Bryant tribute during Boston’s first home game since he passed away in the helicopter crash on Sunday.
There was no hype video before the Celtics-Warriors. No starting lineups for either side. The Celtics put the names of all the crash victims on the JumboTron and then held a 24-second moment of silence with 24 Bryant images cycling during the countdown. A poignant tribute video followed.
Simply put, it was a heartfelt tribute for a rival who routinely broke this city's heart.
"I thought it was really special,” said Tatum. "It was cool to see. He definitely deserves that. I thought it was special of the Celtics to do that.”
Said Stevens: "Really nice, really nice. The video was great, our people do a great job with that. It was really important to our leadership team, our ownership, people in our corporate office that it was done and done well from our perspective, and I thought it was really nice."
5. HAWYARD’S BEST STRETCH IN GREEN
It would have been fascinating to know how coaches might have selected East reserves if Hayward had been healthier for a longer chunk of the first half. The month he missed with a hand fracture, combined with the nerve issue in his foot that cost him three more games, meant Hayward wasn’t going to get serious All-Star consideration.
And yet, he’s now had two really impressive stretches this season where he’s looked every bit the All-Star he used to be.
Hayward has been exceptional over the past six games (not coincidentally, there have been five wins for Boston in that stretch). Yes, he’s scored 20+ points in each of the past four games but the eye test is even better than the stat lines.
Ever since botching that late-game alley-oop against Phoenix, Hayward is averaging 21.2 points while shooting 54.9 percent from the floor and 50 percent beyond the 3-point arc. Add in 7.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists over 34.3 minutes per game.
Some of that production uptick is related to Tatum’s three-game absence due to the groin injury, but Hayward came out aggressive Thursday even with all of Boston’s wings healthy — a particularly encouraging sign for Boston’s potential, especially when all of its perimeter threats are healthy.
6. GW12 CURIOUS ABOUT TB12
In the locker room before Thursday’s game, Grant Williams approached a group of reporters, cell phone in hand, wanting to know what most of New England was wondering: What the heck did Tom Brady’s social media photo mean for his future?
So we threw the question back at Williams, who noted that Brady was walking back *into* Gillette Stadium, suggesting a potential New England return. Most Patriots fans wouldn’t quibble with that suggestion.
7. SEMI-CHARMED LIFE
Semi Ojeleye, who logged a DNP in Boston’s first game of January, and once seemed like a potentially expendable asset, has seen his role increase in recent weeks. Some of that is due to Boston’s perpetually injured status, but Ojeleye has made himself a valuable bench piece with his rugged defense and increased confidence in his shot making.
Ojeleye has now appeared in 45 games and is shooting a career-best 36.2 percent beyond the 3-point arc. Given the size-heavy teams that Boston might see in the postseason — or simply on Saturday when Philadelphia comes to town — Ojeleye’s value has been boosted, particularly when Boston doesn’t have all of its horses.
8. ALL-STAR COACHES
Winners of five of their last six after some January stumbles, the Celtics are tied for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference at 32-15 but remain 1.5 games back of second-place Toronto.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse and his staff can lock up the honor of coaching the East All-Stars by winning either of their next two games before the Feb. 2 deadline to determine the coaches. The Bucks own the best record in the conference but Mike Budenholzer and his staff are ineligible after coaching last year.
9. JUMP ON IT
Smart and Brown got caught doing a little dance to Sugarhill Gang’s “Apache (Jump on It)” while salting away Thursday’s win.
Go ahead and explain yourself.
“It was just spontaneous, in the moment,” said Smart. "The song came on and we were feeling it. So that’s Jaylen. .. That's the thing with me and Jaylen. We’re both goofy and we’ve been playing long enough that we kinda pick up on each other’s similarities and we roll with it. It was spontaneous, we liked it, and we went with it.”
It's just the latest instance of this team keeping things light and having fun this season.
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