The best duo in the NBA put on a show against the best team in the East on Friday night. Denver’s 102-100 win over Boston snapped the Celtics’ perfect mark at TD Garden this season, and 27-game home-winning streak overall. Nikola Jokić and Jamal Murray combined for 69 points, 20 rebounds and 14 assists to remind the rest of The Association that when they’re clicking, it’s hell to defend.
Usually, a two-man game is exclusive, with the guard playing mouse to the big’s cat, but the Denver tandem only needed 43 shots to score nearly 70 points. Other guys know they can cut in the middle of the action, and if the lane is there, will receive a pass.
On the other end of the court, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown took as many shots to score 35 while tallying just six assists. This, to me, is what’s concerning about the Celtics.
It doesn’t matter how great Boston’s first and second options are during the regular season. We’ve seen them blitz the league for long stretches and go to an NBA Finals, yet there are still nights when it looks ugly, and no one’s getting easy looks. (An open three is a good look, not an easy one.)
While Tatum and Brown make a lot of hard shots look effortless, they’re still tough shots. Add in the variance behind the arc — each is around 37 percent from deep for their careers — at a high volume, and it can make them relatively simple to defend when shots aren’t falling. This myopic approach in strategy turns Boston predictable.
The Celtics started the game 9 of 18 on three-point attempts then proceeded to shoot five of 26 the rest of the way. You want to chuck it up 42 times from range as a team every night? Fine, just have some self-awareness. Brown and Tatum finished two for 17 from deep.
That can’t happen. I know shooters shoot, but goddamn, go to the bucket. Try to get to the line and see a couple freebies go in then see if the touch is back. Tatum missed a fadeaway at the buzzer that would’ve forced OT despite catching and turning with little help defense at the rim and enough time to drive then attempt the same fadeaway if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope plays good defense.
The amount of testing and work that Jokić and Murray put into finding a good shot before settling for a bad one is the most since Steph Curry and Draymond Green’s hot-potato screen and rolls. Tatum and Brown don’t have a version of that. Running a pick-and-roll with them is redundant because they’re guarded by similarly built defenders who will switch.
So what’s the wrinkle after that? Have one of them get a switch from Kristaps Porziņģis, and then screen for each other? I don’t know. Ask Joe Mazzulla, and hopefully, he doesn’t tell you to go f*ck yourself.
The reason I bring this up is Tatum and Brown have the highest usage rate on the team. That didn’t change with Jrue Holiday and the Zinger’s arrivals. The J’s shoot six or seven more times than the next Celtic, so Boston’s fate — like it or not — is still on them.
This is why a playoff series with Miami remains a toss-up, and best records or sparkling analytics don’t mean dick. Holiday and Derrick White have been good to great, but there’s not a table setter, or someone with the ball in their hands who will tell Tatum and Brown where to go and what to look for because all shots are not created equal.
It’s time to retire the self alley-oop
Joel Embiid became the umpteenth player to throw himself a lob off the backboard this season, and, well, just take a look.
His feet barely left the floor. He hung on the rim like an eighth grader on monkey bars. Going forward, there will be no style points awarded for originality or degree of difficulty. Anthony Edwards literally did the same thing last night.
Chet Holmgren also completed the feat recently, then Mason Plumlee shoved him in the back when he tried it a second time this week. It’s a creative way to get out of picking up your dribble at the free-throw line, but OG Tracy McGrady did it first, and best.
I know that was in an All-Star Game, with optional defense even in 2003. That said, it’s during the secondary transition at a half trot, and the pass turns Dirk Nowitzki fully around. McGrady essentially ran a give-and-go with himself.
So, House of Highlights, let’s take it easy on the emojis next time.