If you watched tonight’s game between Boston and Charlotte hoping for an ugly contest, then you should be pretty happy right now. Both teams shot the ball poorly. There were some ugly stretches of turnovers happening left and right. The two teams combined to miss 39 three pointers. Even with all that, the Celtics should be feel alright after getting their first win in nine days. Let’s get right into the ups and downs of this one.

UP

Isaiah Thomas is back

It’s easy to take Isaiah for granted, but he consistently gets in the paint and scores. That is one of the toughest things to do in this league, but he makes it look so easy. With Thomas missing the last four games, his return made me appreciate how good he really is. IT put up 26 points tonight, dished out 5 dimes, and got an offensive rebound. I have said it before and I will say it again, if everyone in the NBA was the same height, Thomas would be the best player. It was great seeing him back out there, and he was a big part of this win.

Al Horford manning the paint

Horford had an excellent all around game tonight. He put up 18 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals, while not committing a single foul. Those are all great, but the biggest surprise this season may be his ability to protect the paint and block shots. Tonight he had 5 blocks, and some of the were spectacular. Horford is 5th in the NBA in blocks per game this season, but doesn’t qualify for the leaderboards until he plays in 70% of the Celtics games. His 2. 2 blocks per game this season are well above his previous high of 1. 5. He’s already won a game with a buzzer beater block. It’s nice having one good big man down low.

Marcus Smart was 0 for 1 from three

Smart is a much better scorer than he gets credit for, but that’s his own fault. His rookie season saw him shoot 57% of his shots from deep. Last season he shot 45. 6% of his shots from outside the three point line. This season he is back up a bit, shooting 47. 5% of his shots from deep. Unfortunately for Smart, he isn’t making enough threes to warrant taking as many as he does. So, anytime he goes 0 for 1, it’s reason to celebrate. If you take away that missed three, Smart made 2 of his 3 shots tonight, one of which was an and-one.

DOWN

Amir Johnson is becoming a mystery starter

Amir is averaging a mere 16. 6 minutes per game this month. Yet, he has started 7 of the 8 games played in December. The only game he didn’t start was the Houston game, where Stevens went with Jerebko instead of Johnson. It seems like starting Jerebko in place of Johnson is becoming the obvious next move.

Tonight, Amir saw just 13 minutes of playing time. He got 3 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block, and made it to the line for four attempts. Those are decent numbers in limited minutes, but it’s obvious that Amir doesn’t fit in well with what Stevens is trying to do. It is going to be very interesting to see if Stevens decides to go with Olynyk or Jerebko in the starting lineup anytime soon.

The ball movement wasn’t as crisp as it’s been

The Celtics may have lost 4 of their last 5 games, but there was a lot of good ball movement in those games. There was some great ball movement in short stretches tonight, but overall, the ball movement wasn’t as good as it has been. Some of that had to do with just being lazy. The Celtics turned the ball over 13 times, which isn’t bad, but 10 of those turnovers were credited as steals for Charlotte. A lot of those steals were just bad passes right to defenders.

Boston ended the night with 26 assists, which is a solid number, especially when they only made 34 field goals. But, Thomas is so good at beating his man off the dribble and getting into the paint that the Celtics may not work as hard when he is running the show. There is a possibility that the Celtics actually move the ball better when Smart plays as a starter. Thomas, Horford and Smart all ended up with 5 assists a piece tonight. Difference was Thomas and Horford needed 35 minutes to get those numbers, while Smart only needed 24 minutes.

Rebounding issues made this game closer than it needed to be

Rebounds are one of those stats that doesn’t really paint the picture accurately. For instance, if a player takes a contested three and misses badly, the ball may bounce halfway back to the three point line. Even if you are a big with perfect position down low, there isn’t a lot that you are going to be able to do. Another critique of the rebounding stat is when there’s a rebound with three or four players of the same team alone under the hoop, and the big lets the guard grab it. It’s easy to want a big to get a lot of rebounds, but sometimes it’s not important to the play of the game.

A rebound should be tracked similar to a catcher catching a pitch from a pitcher. There are wild rebounds, where the bigs down low have little chance of being near the ball after it clanks off the rim. There are intentional rebounds where the big concedes it to a guard or wing. Then there are passed rebounds, where a defensive player should have secured it, but an offensive player got to it. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it almost works.

With all that in mind, I think the Celtics bigs are a little better than they get credit for. Celtics’ guards like Bradley, Rozier, and Smart tend to get a lot of rebounds for their size. Some of that is being in good position, and elevating for the ball. But, most of it involves the bigs engaging with the opposition’s bigs, which leaves an opening for the guards to get the rebound.

Offensive rebounds hurt

Tonight, Rozier (5), Smart (7), and Bradley (7) did a great job of crashing the boards. The reason why this is in the down section is because Charlotte had 17 offensive rebounds, which helped them to a plus 20 advantage in field goals attempted. Some of those offensive rebounds were on wild rebounds, where the ball bounced off the rim and back towards the perimeter. But, most of them were just the bigger team taking the ball. Whether or not Ainge can find a solution via trade will be something worth keeping an eye on.