By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
The Toronto Raptors had won five of six headed into TD Garden on Thursday night. The Celtics were licking their wounds following a 2-3 West Coast trip. And yet, Boston never trailed and prevailed by an impressive 14-point margin. It wasn’t the greatest defensive effort (the Green were outscored 58-32 in the paint) but with the offense clicking, it didn’t need it to be.
It also wasn’t a typical Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown showcase. The presumptive All-Stars paired for a mere 29 points in the win. However, they quickly learned they could trust their teammates, dishing out a combined 19 of Boston’s 30 assists on the night.
The win was another feather in Brown’s cap. His 10 dimes were a career-high. With Gordon Hayward in Charlotte, Brown has blown away expectations as a secondary distributor.
Spot starter Semi Ojeleye’s career-high 24 points (with six three-pointers) was a big reason for that trust. Payton Pritchard had 20 points (and canned six threes as well) off the pine.
The Celtics have been looking for scoring off the bench for a couple of years now. If Ojeleye (making tangible strides in his fourth season), Pritchard and Grant Williams can flash some of that potential more consistently, with Tristan Thompson banging down low, that’s not a bad reserve group.
They could use one more guy. The trade deadline is six weeks away.
Joe Murray posed this question following a recent Kemba Walker clunker:
I asked @TheSylverFox this question over the weekend. What was a worse signing for the Boston Celtics..— Joe Murray (@JoeyMurr) February 10, 2021
Kemba Walker Or Gordon Hayward?
There should only be one clear answer to this.
Walker went a combined 6-for-32 in losses to Phoenix and Utah to close out the road trip and despite a few encouraging performances, hasn’t had his shot working (just three games over 42 percent from the field) since his return about a month ago.
The uneven results have produced a general unease about the point guard’s precarious physical state. Fans are wondering if he can still be the player they anticipated when he signed that big contract. And if his current struggles are tough for fans to swallow, imagine what they’re doing to the player.
It was difficult to adjust expectations for Hayward, too; though he produced some of the best numbers of his career last season, it wasn’t enough for a vocal segment of observers.
Expectations aside, the rest of Kemba’s season will be about positive momentum. Perhaps it started on Thursday night. He began 2-of-6, had a bunch of turnovers and his shot blocked multiple times. But he finished strong, made all six of his free throw attempts and tallied 21 points.
A healthy Walker gives the Celtics a puncher’s chance against anybody in the East. With an inconsistent or ailing Kemba, there’s not enough spackle to cover up the holes.
Walker was signed in part to provide star-caliber stability following the departures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. He’s been a consistent performer for years. But, to Joe’s point, there’s a path to this contract becoming a bad one. Let’s hope we don’t get to that point any time soon.
As Chris Gasper noted on Saturday’s Sports Hub Celtics Show, Daniel Theis is currently the most complete big man on the roster. Part of that package is his ability from behind the arc. A developing skill in years past, this season has seen the lanky German surge to the top of the NBA in that category. He’s converted over 45 percent of his 2.1 attempts per game – with a few more shots from deep, that would qualify for the 15th best mark in the league.
Moreso than the typical stretch bomber, Theis’ entire offensive arsenal has been on display in his fourth year. In one sequence Thursday, he put the ball on the floor and blew by the Toronto D for a layup, ragdolled Chris Boucher on a box out shortly thereafter, and later slammed home a lob for two points.
He’s now shooting over 60 percent for the campaign.
At almost 29 years old, it’s unlikely Theis becomes more than a complementary offensive player for Boston. But with Walker struggling and bench contributions not a night-to-night guarantee, the Celtics will take all the efficient, complementary scoring they can get.
Coming up next
The Pistons come into TD Garden Friday night with the worst record in the Eastern Conference, but played Boston to a near-stalemate in their two previous meetings, even grabbing a 96-93 win on New Year’s Day.
I recently spoke with Rod Beard of the Detroit News about the future of the team, the emergence of All-Star hopeful Jerami Grant, and other topics.
Tipoff is 8:00 pm on the 98.5 The Sports Hub Celtics Radio Network.
Listen below for Sean Sylver’s interview with Rod Beard of the Detroit News:
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.