8 takeaways as Jayson Tatum, Celtics beat hot Mavericks, Luka Doncic
Tatum recorded his second career triple-double as the Celtics snapped a two-game losing streak.
The Celtics bounced back from their worst loss of the season with one of their better wins – a 124-95 victory over the Mavericks.
Here are the takeaways.
1. A battle between two of the leading MVP candidates didn’t really look like a fair fight, as an ailing Luka Doncic struggled to solve the Celtics’ defense (more on this in a minute). But Jayson Tatum got himself going late in the first quarter, and despite a relatively inefficient night from the field, he was the driving force behind the Celtics’ victory with 29 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists as Jaylen Brown saw limited minutes with foul trouble.
Tatum struggled early, missing seven of his first nine attempts (including a Dirk Nowitzki-esque one-foot fallaway jumper in Nowitzki’s longtime home arena). But toward the end of the first half, he made a pair of free throws, a tough layup splitting through a double team and a 3-pointer.
In the second half, Tatum never really found his touch from the field, but he worked his way to the line for 10 of his 12 free-throw attempts, which helped him score 29 points despite shooting just 8-of-22 from the field. The Mavericks don’t have a lot of elite wing defense, especially with Dorian Finney-Smith sidelined with a groin strain.
Thursday’s result won’t do much to swing the MVP conversation one way or the other — Doncic looked limited, and Tatum was good but not overwhelmingly so (at least by his lofty standards).
Still, Tatum did show why one big reason Celtics fans make his MVP case so enthusiastically every time he goes to the free-throw line: Many of their best wins revolve around his singular talents.
2. Tatum got his final assist on a kick-out to the corner, which some found questionable.
The verdict here? We changed our minds since the above tweet: Give Tatum his assist. His drive-and-kick vacuumed the entire Mavericks defense into the paint, which created the advantage that White used to score. He was the reason the defense was scrambled as well as the passer. It feels very fair to call that an “assist.”
3. Was Doncic okay? He appeared to tweak his ankle in the first half, and he spent the entire game coughing and pounding on his chest. The Mavericks told TNT reporter Jared Greenberg that Doncic wasn’t sick but rather dealing with a hard hit to the chest.
If that’s the case, Doncic’s ailment was … persistent. He could be seen exiting the floor with his jersey over his mouth to suppress his cough. After a bonkers stretch over the last few weeks that included some historic stat lines, Doncic was clearly unhealthy.
The Celtics did defend Doncic well, utilizing double teams and quick rotations to make the Mavericks uncomfortable. But the Mavericks also simply could not hit a shot — they shot an abysmal 7-for-32 from the 3-point line, which was even worse before they made 3-of-6 triples in extended fourth-quarter garbage time. As a whole, they shot 37.8 percent from the field, while Doncic went 7-for-23 and 0-for-6 from three.
4. Still, the Celtics did a lot to beat the Mavericks on both ends. Offensively, they assisted on 29 of their 41 made field goals and 14 of their 16 3-pointers. Tatum accounted for 10 of the Celtics’ 29 assists, including four of their assists to 3-pointers. He also recorded a hockey assist on a 3-pointer and was part of the cycle as the Celtics swung the ball around the floor for a corner triple by Jaylen Brown in the third quarter.
After a chastising loss to the Thunder, Thursday’s Celtics moved the ball like the November Celtics and looked much more crisp and engaged.
“They showed me they can do it one time,” Joe Mazzulla told reporters afterward. “We have to do it over and over again.”
5. Al Horford was fouled in the first half and went to the line for two free throws.
That might not sound worthy of a takeaway, but as noted by the Athletic’s Jay King, Horford hadn’t attempted a free throw since Nov. 15. The free throws, which Horford split, were his ninth and 10th of the season. He’s now 6-for-10.
On a highly related note, Horford is shooting a career-high 63 percent of his field goals from behind the arc.
6. When Grant Williams is at his best, you can see the archetype of a future starter and potentially a pretty high-level one. Against the Mavericks, he attacked the rim with his unique combination of ball-handling and post moves and finished with 12 points.
Williams was also rock solid on the defensive end. He didn’t get any statistical credit for this play, but his ability to absorb the initial hit gave Robert Williams time to come swooping in to send Christian Wood packing.
7. In two pieces of sneaker news, Grant Williams was spotted wearing Luka 1s while he warmed up before the game.
Meanwhile, Tatum told reporters it will be a month or a month-and-a-half before his own signature Jordan — the Tatum 1 — is released.
8. And finally, Kemba Walker made a two-minute appearance in the first half, during which he got to the rim and finished off a layup. He has made eight appearances for the Mavericks this season, which included a 32-point start against the Cavaliers on Dec. 17 in 42 minutes.
The Celtics close their four-game road trip in San Antonio with a game against the Spurs on Saturday.
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