While Semi Ojeleye and Payton Pritchard were racking up 3-pointers and, in the process, making franchise history, Thursday night at TD Garden, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown were a cohesive, assist-stacking force against the Toronto Raptors.
The tandem combined for 19 assists of the team’s 30 total assists on the night. Kemba Walker, coming off of a combined 6-of-32 from the floor in his last two outings, found his shot early.
Leaving his point guard duties for Tatum and Brown, Kemba’s 3-pointer extended the Celtics’ early first-quarter lead to 11 (15-4). And then went on to make four more while Ojeleye and Pritchard connected on 12-of-16.
Walker finished the night 5-of-12, including 5-of-8 from deep to go with his five rebounds and three assists. Still, this game, a 120-106 win for the Celtics, wasn’t a blowout until the latter half of the final frame.
Brad Stevens: ‘I’d Like To String Together A Few Weeks Of Good Ball Movement Before I Get Too Excited’
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, while satisfied by his team’s play Thursday, pointed out the two biggest glaring weaknesses he’s seen from his team this season.
“I’d say the two areas that have kept me up at night is our lack of ball movement and the inconsistencies of our defense,” Stevens said after Thursday’s win. “I’d like to string together a few weeks of good ball movement before I get too excited, but it’s clearly really important. Not only from the standpoint of generating the best looks but also from the standpoint of getting the most out of each other.
“That’s a huge emphasis”
Tatum and Brown are not only the Celtics’ two leading scorers for Stevens but are also two players often weighed down by the pressure of needing to score when their team is in the midst of an offensive drought. Forcing the star tandem to continue to move the ball kept the Raptors defense on their toes.
Semi Ojeleye On Jayson Tatum & Jaylen Brown: ‘Those Guys Are Good Passers’
Especially, in transition, when open looks for Ojeleye and Pritchard came in bunches, from behind the arc.
“We watch a lot of film and you know those guys garner a lot of attention,” Ojeleye explained. “For us, that are off the ball, it’s just all about being ready. And those guys are great passers, scorers; great players. Jayson, Jaylen, Kemba — those guys that are always on the ball. So, just always being ready and giving them space to operate and they’ll find you whenever you’re open.”
As for Walker, the Celtics got his offense going off of screens and other open opportunities when the ball isn’t in his hands — which made for clean and crisper looks. In contrast to Kemba’s approach off-the-dribble, this made it so that Walker didn’t have to work so hard for his scoring opportunities.
Stevens, who called for his team to make the game easier for his starting point guard, did just that in preparing for the Raptors.
Kemba Walker: ‘It’s Our Job To Space The Floor, Find Openings On The Floor For Them’
Dynamic scorers like Tatum and Brown command special attention from opposing teams, drawing in defenders and creating open looks while the passing between the two like we saw Thursday, is quickly building trust in their shooters.
“They draw such a crowd so they’re going to have to draw a double-team or something, so, it’s our job to space the floor, find openings on the floor for them,” Pritchard said. “They did a tremendous job; I think they both almost ended up with almost 10 assists so that’s crazy.”
As for Walker, did Tatum and Brown’s passing make things easier for him?
“Not just for me but for everyone else; just makes the game a lot easier,” Walker replied. You know, those guys are so talented. There’s going to be so much attention on those guys. So, they just made the right plays tonight and they’re very capable of that; two special guys. They really wanted to get guys involved, especially me — they really wanted to get me going tonight.
“I’ve been struggling, obviously. So, big up to those guys.”