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Now that their seeding game schedule is officially in the books, the Boston Celtics can finally turn their attention toward the NBA Playoffs where they will represent the Eastern Conference’s third seed. But before we look ahead to Game 1 against Philadelphia Monday night, let’s rewind and dissect some of the top moments Boston has produced inside the NBA bubble so far.
The past two weeks have been full of intriguing storylines from both individual and collective perspectives, all of which could provide some insight into what may lie on the horizon for the Celtics.
Ranging from breakout performances, to surprising developments, to positive health updates, to dominant team performances, here are the Top 8 moments that stood out the most from Boston’s eight-game seeding slate:
8) Javonte Green’s Hard Work Pays Off in Regular-Season Finale
The feel-good story of Boston’s seeding-game experience was Javonte Green’s breakout performance in the regular-season finale. Boston rested its top six rotation players during its final matchup against Washington on Thursday, which opened the door for their role players to show what they could do. Green stepped right through that door and produced an offensive clinic.
Heading into the game, the rookie wing had never scored more than 12 points, nor had he knocked down more than one 3-pointer in a single outing. During the first quarter alone, Green poured in 11 points while canning three 3-pointers. By the end of the third quarter, he was up to 21 points and he finished the game with 23.
The Celtics wound up losing 96-90, but it was rewarding to see an international journeyman like Green finally see his hard work pay off in the NBA. In the process, he showed Brad Stevens that he could be counted upon to provide a quick burst of scoring if needed down the line.
7) Gordon Hayward’s Magical Effort vs. Orlando
The Celtics need Gordon Hayward to be at his best in order to have a shot at a championship run this summer. His overall performance during the seeding games gives me plenty of hope that he’s exactly where he needs to be, especially after watching the way he went off against Orlando a few days ago while leading Boston to a win.
Hayward erupted for 31 points during the Aug. 9 outing, while shooting an efficient 12-of-18 from the field. It was his highest-scoring effort since dropping 39 on Cleveland all the way back on Nov. 5. What encouraged me about Hayward’s performance was the way in which he attacked. He was aggressive in driving to the rim, he was fearless in his mid-range game, and he made the right play over and over.
Overall, Hayward had a solid showing during the seeding games, averaging 18.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game, which is exactly the type of production we should be hoping for out of him this postseason.
6) Romeo Langford’s Defensive Impact vs. Brooklyn
In watching Romeo Langford’s college film, I remember focusing mostly on his offensive skills, and particularly on his ability to attack the rim. I never would have expected defense to be his calling card during his rookie season, but that’s exactly how it’s shaken out thus far.
In February, Langford made a strong enough impression defensively that Stevens let him help close out a few tightly-contested matchups. That trust carried over into this summer, as Stevens called upon Langford during the first quarter of Boston’s Aug. 5 matchup against Brooklyn to help slow down the Nets’ offense. Midway through the first quarter, Langford’s number was called to replace Jayson Tatum, who had just picked up his second foul. The rookie entered a 14-11 deficit and immediately helped to turn the game around, while defending some of Brooklyn’s top offensive threats such as Joe Harris and Caris LeVert. As Langford began to lock down the perimeter, the Celtics began to find a strong overall rhythm, as they outscored Brooklyn by 12 points during the remainder of the quarter. Langford notched only four points during his 26 minutes of action, but Boston outscored the Nets by 27 points while he was on the floor, and that had a lot to do with his defensive impact.
Langford’s ability to step in and help guard the perimeter could be a valuable asset for the Celtics this postseason, especially since Hayward is expected to leave the bubble at some point for the birth of his first son.
5) Jaylen Brown’s Stunning Bounce-Pass vs. Toronto
On Aug. 7, Jaylen Brown dished out the most impressive pass I’ve ever seen him make. Following a missed shot by Toronto midway through the third quarter of an eventual 122-100 blowout win, the Celtics offense began moving up-court in transition. Brown, while dribbling up the left sideline in the backcourt, spotted Gordon Hayward streaking up the right side of the front-court, so he cocked back his right arm and fired a missile of a cross-court bounce-pass, which threaded in between four Raptors defenders and straight into the hands of Hayward, who caught the ball midstride before laying it in for an easy bucket.
But there’s a bigger picture here than just one pass: Jaylen has improved drastically as a playmaker, especially this summer. It’s not like he’s been racking up a ton of assists, but he has continually made the right play, whether he’s creating for himself or for his teammates. What excites me about this is the fact that the Celtics already have so many good facilitators, such as Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker. Adding Brown into the mix as another playmaking wing makes Boston’s offense even more of a nightmare to guard, as its team ball movement continues to blossom.
4) Rob Williams’ Emergence vs. Brooklyn
The most invigorating development of the summer, in my mind, has been the emergence of Robert Williams.
Prior to the hiatus, it had been a frustrating, roller-coaster of a season for Williams. The second-year big man started off the campaign as a role player trying to make his mark on the team, which he did during a handful of promising performances in November. However, just as he was heating up, Williams suffered a hip injury in early December, which sidelined him for three months. By the time he returned on March 1, the NBA was less than two weeks away from shutting down. But while the league was shut down, Williams must’ve ramped things up on his own, because he came out of the hiatus looking like a completely different player.
Williams only played a total of 13 seconds during the first three seeding games, but Stevens handed him 19 minutes of playing time during the fourth game against Brooklyn, with which Williams used to produce a career-high 18-point effort on 7-of-7 shooting from the field. During the final five seeding games, Williams averaged 10.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game, while averaging just 13.0 minutes of playing time. He also shot a whopping 84.6 percent from the field.
Essentially, Williams went from being a non-factor throughout most of the season to becoming an X-factor at the most critical point in the year. It should be exciting to see what the slam-dunking, rim-protecting youngster can bring to the table during these Playoffs.
3) Boston’s Blowout of the Defending Champs
The most impactful statement that the Celtics have delivered as a team so far this summer came during their fifth seeding game against the defending champion Toronto Raptors.
Toronto entered the Aug. 7 matchup having won of 24 of its last 28 games, including all three of its seeding contests up to that point. Boston would end that streak in dramatic fashion with a 122-100 blowout. However, the final score does not fully encapsulate just how dominant of a performance this was for the Celtics. Boston held the Raptors to just 14 points during the first quarter and had a 52-37 lead at halftime, which marked the lowest-scoring half of Toronto’s season. But the Celtics didn’t stop there; they went up by as many as 40 points and led 91-57 heading into the final frame before taking out their starters. Boston’s ball movement was on point throughout this game, and by spreading the ball around, the Celtics had four different players reach at least 15 points. But the defense – especially during those first three quarters – was what stood out to me. There wasn’t a single Raptors player who reached 15 points, and Boston limited their league-leading fast-break offense to nearly half of its typical scoring production.
With the win, the Celtics won the season series and also became the only team to beat Toronto three times this season. That’s not a bad feat to pull off against the defending champs.
2)Kemba Finishes Seeding Play on High Note
The biggest question heading into the bubble was how Kemba Walker’s knee would hold up. Prior to the hiatus, Boston’s All-Star point guard had been battling nagging soreness in his left knee, which caused him to miss a few pockets of games scattered across the second half of the season.
Walker's discomfort returned upon entering the bubble, which prompted the Celtics to take a cautious approach in ramping up his conditioning. The team started him on an 18-minute restriction during the first seeding matchup against Milwaukee and gradually increased his playing time each game, with the exception of keeping him sidelined during the Brooklyn matchup since it was the second game of a back-to-back. By the end, he had worked his way up to 32 minutes and claimed to have been feeling great.
The best indicator of Walker’s improved health came during his last outing against Memphis, when he shot 7-of-10 from the field. On one particular play during the fourth quarter, he performed a stop-on-a-dime, crossover step-back on Brandon Clarke which brought his left knee no more than three inches from the hardwood. Not only did the move allow him to create enough space to sink the mid-range jumper, but it also showed how comfortable he had become to perform such a movement with his ailing knee. After the game, he said “it was probably the best I’ve felt” since being in the bubble, which should be music to the ears of Celtics fans as their team enters the postseason. And for that reason alone, I think this moment deserves to be near the top of the list.
1) Tatum Comes Through in the Clutch vs. Orlando
Jayson Tatum developed at a rapid pace throughout the first three-quarters of the 2019-20 season, peaking in February when he earned his first Eastern Conference Player of the Month award. For him, the suspension of the NBA season in mid-March couldn’t have come at a worse time, as it interrupted the superstar-esque flow he had developed. A four-month hiatus could have easily thrown him off his game, but such was hardly the case for the 22-year-old wing.
Following a five-point clunker during his bubble debut against Milwaukee, Tatum returned to All-Star form by pouring in 34 points and dishing out a career-high eight assists against Portland. He also had a pair of 29-point efforts against Orlando and Memphis. However, the most promising sign, in my opinion, was the clutch, takeover performance he had against the Magic on Aug. 9. The Celtics were trailing 112-107 with 37 seconds remaining when Tatum delivered a step-back 3-pointer from the left wing to bring Boston to within two. Orlando failed to score on its next possession, and Tatum so took the reigns again by hitting a turnaround mid-range jumper over Markelle Fultz to tie the game with 4.2 seconds remaining. The Magic had one final chance to avoid overtime, but Tatum showed up on the defensive end this time to block Terrance Ross’ game-winning attempt at the buzzer. The 22-year-old then scored four more points during overtime to help Boston sneak away with a 122-119 win.
Time and time again this season, Tatum has displayed the ability to come through in the clutch, and it was incredibly ensuring to see him do so one more time before entering the postseason. The four-month hiatus clearly didn’t melt the ice in his veins, and that is of utmost importance entering the Playoffs where the Celtics will likely rely upon his poise in nail-biting situations.