Celtics dominance over Mavericks highlights the effectiveness of team-first basketball

“It’s about team for them. You can see that with the ball movement,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said after Boston’s win over Dallas. “They’re not worried about who is shooting it.”

It’s obvious to the Mavericks coach, it’s obvious to the Celtics coach, and it’s obvious to anyone who watches — this Celtics group plays team basketball. The Celtics finished with 33 assists to the Mavericks’ 20, with Derrick White (8 assists), Jrue Holiday (7 assists) and Jaylen Brown (5 assists) leading the way.

The 138-110 demolition of the Mavs marked the 10th consecutive win for Boston. It also provided yet another data point that a team-oriented approach is working.

Jayson Tatum scored two points in the first quarter, but finished with 32 on the night. Despite having the hot hand, Holiday attempted just 6 shots and finished with 11 points on 3-3 from downtown. Kristaps Porzingis, who’s seemingly had a perpetual mismatch all year, attempted 14 shots and sat out the entire fourth quarter.

It’s been a prevailing theme all season, but the distribution of talent on this Celtics roster means that making the right reads comes before any one player’s individual success. It means that Jayson Tatum won’t average the same eye-popping stats as Luka Doncic, and that Derrick White wasn’t named an All Star despite his outstanding play

But none of that matters, because the wins keep piling up.

“Our team doesn’t call for me to dominate the ball and necessarily have to make every single play,” Tatum said after the game. “It’s not a bad thing – just the dynamic of our team doesn’t call for that. In a sense, it kind of makes life easier at times – we’ve won 10 games in a row. There’s nothing to really complain about. We’re on the right track.”

Tatum explained that in the first quarter, there were a string of possessions where the right read meant a pass to one of his teammates — Porzingis with a smaller defender in the post, Jaylen Brown with a mismatch, Holiday in the corner. In turn, Porzingis finished with 13 points in the opening period, Holiday with 8, Brown with 7, and the Celtics led by 6 points after one.

“If it calls for me to essentially pass the ball eight possessions in a row because that’s the right read, then you have to trust that that’s what is going to help us win the game,” Tatum said.

Mazzulla pushed back on the notion that a two-point first quarter meant that his MVP candidate had a slow start.

“I don’t consider it a slow start. I consider it a team start,” Joe Mazzulla said. “If you go back and watch the shot selection that we took, labeling it as a slow start is not giving the rest of our team the credit that they deserve for getting off to such a good start.”

Mazzulla has praised Tatum’s willingness to defer to others all year, and noted that his team approach to basketball has been central to what’s made the Celtics so successful this season. Last night, he echoed that sentiment: “It’s a credit to him – his trust, his patience, his understanding.”

Putting their foot on the gas in the third

For a moment there, it looked like the Celtics could finally be due for a close finish – the Mavericks trailed by just two points midway through the third quarter. But, for the fourth consecutive game, the outcome was decided after a major scoring outburst. With the Celtics leading 81-79 a few minutes into the third, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum hit back-to-back threes to regain control of the ball game. The Celtics then outscored the Mavericks 57-31 the rest of the way.

“We’re just playing our game,” Porzingis said. “I think what’s cool is that we’re trusting each other, and that starts from JB and JT. They’re finding me in my spots, and we make the extra pass, and do these little things for each other that just gives us energy.”

Tatum finished the night with 32 points – 16 of which came in the third quarter. In that period, Holiday played all twelve minutes and didn’t attempt a single shot – because it wasn’t what the game called for.

“Every possession, there’s two or three of us that feel like and realize that we have the advantage, we have the mismatch, but only one person can shoot it,” Tatum said. “If I feel like I have the big on me, but KP has the small, I have to be okay with trusting and throwing it to him in the post. We take advantage of that, and then they change how they guard us, and then I can find different ways to attack. And, you know, we’re winning, so that makes things a lot easier.”

What’s stood out over these past few weeks is that when teams respond to the Celtics’ offensive explosion, they don’t get rattled. Against Philadelphia, the Celtics lead was cut to 2 with 9 minutes to play – and the team subsequently went on Tatum-led 17-0 run. Prior to that, against the Knicks, the 20-point lead was cut to 9 with 9 minutes to play – so the Celtics scored 10 straight to put them away.

“We’re really good. We get off to good starts,” Tatum said. “We get a lead. Teams respond, rightfully so – best basketball players in the world. Then, we call a timeout, and we go into halftime, and we regroup. And we talk about the things that we got to do better, and we go out there and execute.”

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