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The Celtics Passed Their Latest Test But Still Have A Long Way To Go

Toronto Raptors v Boston Celtics

It’s not exactly a secret how gigantic this game was for the Boston Celtics. Losers of 3 straight, locker room drama, overall a poor display of basketball of the last week after what looked like a team that had figured things out, this was about as must win as a game can be in mid January. Not that it means all that much in the standings, the Raptors still have a 5 game lead in the loss column and a 6 game lead in the standings. Just like we talked about heading into this game, whenever these two team plays it seems that the winner is going to be whoever is at home. That’s how it’s been essentially every time these two have played dating all the way back to like 2015, so in that sense the Celtics did what they should have done and protect their home floor. The Raptors were without some key rotation players in Valanciunas, OG, and CJ Miles but let’s not act like the guys they did have, you know all their main players, are trash. This isn’t like beating the Raptors without Kawhi/Lowry or anything like that so the Celtics absolutely deserve credit for matching punches with the best team in the East for the second consecutive game.

As they stand now, the Celts are 6-3 against TOR/MIL/IND/PHI which is important because they’ve been able to play these teams primarily at home. Those are the ones you have to win because as we know this team is anything but consistent once they head on the road. I think it’s something crazy like 6 of the next 7 meetings against that group is all coming on the road. You want to prove you are for real compared to those guys, win those. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, and let’s focus on last night. The Celtics have had a few of these tests against the top teams at home, and so far they’ve only failed once which was that blowout against MIL. The win over a red hot Pacers team last week was huge, and this win against a team that had won 5 in a row and is an East leading 15-9 on the road was just as big. This showed us that the Celtics can hang with the best when they are engaged, and it also gave us yet another example of when things get close and the Celtics need someone they can turn to, just give the ball to Kyrie and get the hell out of his way. For the second straight game he carried the Celts against this team, and honestly a win like this is why Celtics fans still won’t give up on this team. When they are right they can beat absolutely anyone I truly believe that, which brings them to their next challenge.

Despite how great this win was, it’s only half the battle. We sort of already knew this team was capable of a win like this, the one thing we still have to see, and why I think they still have a ways to go is we need to see this consistently. We’ve been in this position before, where the Celtics come off a big home win against an awesome team only to see them immediately take 5 steps back by going back to playing like assholes. Now halfway through the season, coming off another big emotional win, I want to see how they look moving forward.

But again, let’s not worry about that right now. Things have been so painful on the blog over the last few games we deserve to have some fun. So I’m going to kindly ask you to clear your schedule and I should warn you, you may feel a rush of blood to your private regions. I understand this may be a problem for some of you given you’re reading at work, but I apologize for nothing. Let’s go/

The Good

– Impossible for us to start anywhere else. Games like this, performances like this, are why the Celtics invested in Kyrie Irving. We’ve talked a lot about his leadership off the court (which we’ll get to), but last night he gave us another look at what it looks like with him being a leader on the court. In my opinion this was a Top 5 Celtic Kyrie performance, and one that couldn’t have come at a better time

There’s a lot to digest from those highlights so let’s take it one point at a time. First off, the career high 18 assists. While that surprised even me, the truth is Kyrie has done a great job this season of changing the narrative around him that he isn’t that great of a passer. It’s true he’s a score first point guard, but he’s made real improvement in this area as well. Did you know his 35% AST% is the highest since his rookie year and more than 5% better than last season in Boston? All while his usage rate is slightly lower. The truth is Kyrie has done a great job making sure his teammates are involved, he’s seeing the floor so much better, and sure there are times where he forces passes and turns it over but it’s the mentality behind it that I love. It’s why his 6.7 assists this season are a career high, and is an underrated part of his development as a franchise player. We knew he could score coming in, but I don’t think any of us saw this level of passing coming.

Then you have his performance in the fourth quarter. This was a prime example of everything I just talked about. Not only were his 10 points GIGANTIC because this team needed someone to go toe to toe with Kawhi, but he also had 6 assists and only 1 TO in that final frame. That may have been one of his best all around quarters of the entire season, and as one of the best clutch scorers in the league this season when it came time to drop his nuts on the court and hit the dagger bucket this team needed, he obliged.

But most importantly, at least for me, was his commitment on the defensive end. I talked yesterday about how he had to win the Kyle Lowry matchup, and just like their last meeting he completely owned it. Kyrie was matched up with Lowry on 30 possessions and allowed 3 points. He was a complete non factor which is a huge part of beating the Raptors and it was great to see Kyrie take on that responsibility and thrive. In a game the Celtics absolutely had to win, their best player had one of his best games of the season. Hard to be mad at that.

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Obviously another huge part of his night was what he said postgame

Lot to digest here as well. The first part being how he apologized to LeBron for being a dick as a young player. To me I find this pretty cool, that as a guy got older his perspective changed and he was man enough to apologize for how he acted a few years ago. He even took a page out of LeBron’s playbook and told us about the conversation. He could have just had the call and kept it private, so I found that pretty funny. But for me, I cared about the part that relates to this team, and that’s him apologizing for calling out the young kids in the media. Talking about how Jaylen was right in what he said and that as a leader he has to be better about how he goes about talking to the media. THAT is the story for me. We need that beef to be squashed, and it was very big of him to say he’s sorry for what he did. No ego, no nothing, just a guy who realized his mistake and was big enough to admit it to the media.

– What if I told you in the 3 games so far against the Raptors Gordon Hayward is averaging 15.6/4.6/4.4 on 52/32.6% shooting. What if I told you he turned in a solid 18/5 on 8-13 shooting last night and essentially carried this team in the first half. You’d be pretty happy right?

While the shooting was a welcomed sight for a guy working his way back, what I cared more about was the aggressiveness. Of his 8 FGM, 5 of them came in the paint and the biggest difference for me isn’t really his confidence, but it’s the fact that this team actually used him. After a 10% usage rate against the Nets in a game he gave them nothing, last night we saw Hayward’s usage jump to 23.3% which was 3rd on the team and the most of any second unit player. In my opinion, this is the blueprint for Hayward as long as he’s on that second unit. He’s ready for this team to play through him when he’s on the floor because he can do more than score. His 29.4% AST% was third on the team, and he was one of 4 Celtics who had a net rating over 20. We say all the time we want to see Hayward play well against good competition, well I would say he’s done exactly that against the Raptors so far this season.

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– I know it sounds crazy, but Aron Baynes legit is one of the most important Celtics on this team. How about a cool 62.1 Drtg? I can get behind that. It’s so evident what a difference he makes when he’s on the floor for everyone involved. His rebounding, his defense, his screen assists, all of it are what make this team so good. It’s why once he got hurt things kind of went to shit, and while it doesn’t make sense we’ve seen enough over the last 2 seasons to know that a huge key to the Celtics success is getting Baynes legit minutes. On top of that, he can hit dagger threes!

– If the pressure was on Kyrie last night, you can multiply that by about 10000x when it comes to Al Horford. Coming off a brutal showing against BKN, the Celtics needed one of their max players and leaders to play like one and boy did he deliver

One of the best all around performances from Al on the season, he gave us a little bit of everything. Efficient scoring on 9-12 shooting, good defense holding Ibaka to 8-18 shooting, and clutch baskets down the stretch. Box score stuff aside, you look at Horford through the eye test and you saw someone who had a little pep in his step, wasn’t a step slow like he has been at times, and honestly this is the Horford I crave. It couldn’t have come at a better time, so now we need to keep this going.

– New shoes, same old Tatum

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You know what I loved about Tatum’s night? He didn’t let a poor shooting performance mentally take him out of the game. He was engaged the entire way on both ends, still had the confidence to take and make a big time fourth quarter three, and you know I love his 10 rebounds which led the team. Defensively he held opponents to 5-12 shooting so he was committed on that end as well, and once he fixes the bug issues in his shoes I imagine his shooting will be that much better.

– Credit to both Jaylen and Terry for their play on the second unit. It was their energy that got them back into the game after a slow start, and I thought Terry especially was sooooooo much better on the defensive end. He was active, he was fighting over screens, and honestly this is how he has to play. Finally we saw a guy not worried about his stats and a guy that was willing to fill his role. Crazy what happens when he decides to do that. Jaylen was a bench best +10 and Terry a +8. That was a welcomed sight for two guys who have been a little up and down this season to say the least.

– I talked about how the Celts needed to get into the 50s when it came to points in the paint, they finished with 54. I also talked about how they had to get back to moving the ball. They finished with 32 assists. The Celts also won the rebounding battle, and limited second chance points. Essentially they checked off every box they needed to in order to beat a team like TOR, so I’m glad they read the blog.

– Brad was so much better with his timeouts. There was no massive TOR run. I’ll take it.

– That defense in the second quarter was some of the best defense I’ve seen this team play. TOR had just 17 points and shot 28/0%. I wish I could bottle that shit up and save it for later it was that good. Please, watch that film and remember what you are capable of as we move forward.

The Bad

– I don’t know why, but Serge Ibaka is on the list of random Celtics killers. He does nothing for a three game stretch heading into this game and then boom puts up 22/10. Even though Al made him work, he still kills this team. Third game in a row he’s given them problems and that does make me a little nervous. The guy is 76 years old, stop getting worked by him.

– He was awesome so it’s mostly whatever but 7 TOs is just a little too many for Kyrie. That was half of the team’s total, and while it didn’t cost the Celts or anything, you still would like to see him not be that sloppy.

– I’m not concerned yet, but another down night for Mook. Just 2-9 shooting after a poor night against BKN, I’m really hoping this is not going to be a sustained valley. He’s too important obviously so I’d like to see Brad adjust and run some plays for him where he gets the ball in easier spots. He was the only Celtic with a minus +/-, but he’s been so consistent this season he is still getting a pass from me before I start to be concerned.

– Layups, please practice them. This was an everyone problem from Jaylen, to Tatum, to even Kyrie. I feel like they missed no fewer than 55 layups in this game and they are very very lucky Kyrie went crazy because that would have kept me up at night.

The Ugly

– Blowing a 16 point lead is never good, I don’t care who the opponent is. Deep down we as Celtics fans knew that lead wasn’t safe, but it was still frustrating to watch. A large part of that collapse was how flat they came out in the third quarter, you saw their defense lighten up and then offensively they briefly went back to the annoying type of shot selection that we’ve seen lose this team games. Too many contested long twos, missed layups, the works. There is not a Celtics fan out there that wasn’t nervous after watching those 12 minutes.

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– Blowing that lead cost us the Yabu/Timelord pairing and frankly that is unacceptable.


So listen, this was a gigantic win given the circumstances, but again nothing has really changed. The Celtics aren’t magically out of the whole they have dug for themselves and won’t be until they do this consistently. The good news they are about to have a massive homestand against mostly bad teams so if they are going to make a run it has to come now. Happy they won for sure, but now it’s time to prove this level of play can be sustained over a long period of time. Kyrie says they are going to run over the entire league once they figure that consistency out, so let’s see it.

This team man, what an emotional rollercoaster.