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Marcus Smart Went All Larry Bird In The Celtics Win Over The Nets. Wait What?!?

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Coming off a gut punching loss against GS, I think it was fair to be a little nervous of this matchup with the red hot Nets. It’s not as if the Celtics have shown us any sort of consistency, so as fans we had no idea what to expect. Would they come out and lay and egg because they couldn’t mentally get past Saturday night? Then we got word that Kyrie was sitting out and you combine that with the fact that this Nets team beat the Celtics the last time they played, and there were reasons for concern everywhere you looked. I would say the only form of comfort I had was knowing that the one thing this team has shown is that when guys are out they usually rise to the occasion, and considering this game was being played at the Garden where the Celts are one of the best teams in the league I feel like this was a game the Celtics couldn’t afford to lose. Not when the Nets were missing as many regular rotation players as they were.

By the end of it, what we got was one of the most balanced all around performances of the season. Things were extremely balanced between both units, the defense was stellar, and sure there was obviously frustrating stretches because that’s what this team does, when things got tight and they had to respond and execute, things were so much better this time around. We talked a few weeks ago how important this 5 game homestand was going to be, and as of now they sit with a respectable 3-1 record with CHA to close it out. This team is now just 1.5 games behind IND for the 3 seed and the good news is they can play so much better. After a brutal start to the season the Celtics have an opportunity here over the next week or so to get back to where many people expected them to be, and with MIL/TOR looking rather beatable lately we could have ourselves quite the second half of the season.

But before we get way too ahead of ourselves, we first have to talk about what we saw last night. I know you see “Nets” and think that team stinks but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We have a lot to get to so let’s just dive right in.

The Good

– I have a rule in this blog, if you do something on the basketball court that brings you into the same company as Larry Bird, you start us off. That’s exactly what Marcus Smart did last night with his 21/2/7/5/2 performance

How rare was that performance in terms of Celtics history? The only players to ever pull that off in franchise history are Larry Bird and Paul Pierce. You do something that puts you up there with those absolute legends, it’s pretty special. Watching this new and improved Marcus Smart is such a blessing because not only is he giving you the standard awesome elite level defense, but now he’s hitting threes consistently! He made another 4 3PM in this game and it’s turning into a legit weapon. What if I told you he’s averaging 2.5 3PM on 43% shooting from deep in 2019? He’s played in 14 games this month and has at least 3 3PM in 5 of them and at least 2 3PM in 9. The biggest improvement is his decision making and shot selection as we’re not really getting those ill advised momentum killer threes. Everything is coming within the flow of the offense and you combine that with all the other positives that Smart gives you I think we can all agree that this is a man who has earned his extension.

With no Kyrie in the lineup Smart had to fill multiple roles, he became the primary facilitator with a team best 30% AST% and led the team with a 22% usage rate all while doing a great job taking care of the ball. That’s what makes Smart so awesome, he truly is a basketball swiss army knife that Brad and plug and play in a wide variety of roles depending on the situation. If this season has told us anything about Smart, it’s the fact that he is without a doubt one of their most important and most impactful players. Oh, and he’s only 24.

– One of the more interesting trends of this season is that whenever Kyrie sits, Jalyen Brown seems to take his game to another level. In those games he’s averaging 17.3 points and had a nice 22 point outing the last time these two teams played. Well with no Kyrie last night it was more of the same for Jaylen who carried the second unit with 21/6 on 9-16 shooting (3-5 from deep)

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Over his last three games Jaylen is putting up a solid 18 points on 56% shooting, and if you expand that to the entire month of January it’s a respectable 13.4/4.6/1.2 on 48/44% splits with 1.5 3PM a night. What we’re seeing is the version of Jaylen we got last year, which is why it’s important to remember that young players will have their ups and downs but it’d be silly to just give up on them given a bad game here or there or a slow start to the season. The proof is in the production

Jaylen had the 3rd best Net Rating on the team in this game, and a large part of his success has to do with his offensive approach. It’s not rocket science when it comes to getting the best out of Jaylen, when he uses his athleticism to get to his spot and into the paint, things tend to work out well for him. He sees the ball go in, gets his confidence, and now his threes start dropping. Of his 16 FGA last night, 11 of them came in the paint. To me, that’s perfect

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Defensively we didn’t have as many mental mistakes which can sometimes be a problem for Jaylen, he finished well in transition which was a nice change of pace, and you could even make the case that he’s playing his way back into consideration for a starting spot. It’s no secret that when this team gets the type of Jaylen we saw last night it makes all the difference in the world, and now we’re getting it consistently.

– I don’t know what has gotten into Al Horford, but I am all for it

His 14/11/5/6 marked his third straight double-double, and honestly they had him down for 6 blocks but I’m pretty sure it was 7, and could have even been 8. You know how earlier in the year he looked slow and hurt and didn’t really pass the eye test? Well it’s been a complete 180 now that he’s been able to get rest and it’s making all the difference in the world. The only thing that hasn’t come around yet is his three point shooting, but teams still have to respect his shot so it’s still doing its job of opening up the floor.

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The biggest change I would say we’re seeing is his work on the glass and on the defensive end. His energy level is a billion times better, and he’s actually moving well on the defensive end and doesn’t look like he has cinderblocks on his feet. He owned his matchup with Jarrett Allen, his help defense has been perfect, and this is the closest we’ve gotten to Playoff Al so far this season. He has 59/36% splits in January with 5 games of at least 9 rebounds. This is the Al we know and love.

– What do we always say, the success of this team comes down to their defense and rebounding. Well, BKN shot only 37/38% and the Celtics won the rebounding battle 52-48. It’s not rocket science, the blueprint for them to win is pretty easy.

– I’ve given up trying to make sense of why Terry Rozier is such a better player when he gets the start. Once you do that and just accept the fact that he’s going to be two different players you can actually start to enjoy what you see. We all know it’s been a rough year for Terry, but last night showed us what he can be capable of if he stays engaged.

14/7/7 in his 35 minutes there was a lot to like about the performance Terry turned in, but for me I think it was a combination of how he passed the ball and how well he took care of it. Just 1 TO on the night, when Terry plays in control and actually unselfish it’s like he’s a completely different player, one that actually deserves minutes. Defensively he did a great job on both Russell and Napier, holding them to a combined 4-14 night on a total of 42 possessions so not only was he bringing it on the offensive end, but also he held up his end fo the bargain on the defensive end which was important with no Kyrie in the lineup. All the offense does nothing if you’re immediately giving those points back and Terry was rock solid on that end.

– It may sound like a joke, but Aron Baynes really is the perfect center for this team

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His rebounding, his incredible defense, he makes threes, he takes charges, he’s hilarious, there’s no way you could possibly have any other feeling about Baynes other than love. He had the second best net rating on the team at +25.6 and an insane 84.8 Drtg, and really it was him and Jaylen that carried this second unit early. Add in his 3 blocks and this was one of his best showings of the year.

– Speaking of blocks, the Celts had 16 total blocks in this game which is fairly outrageous for a team that always feels like they need rim protection. Just tied the franchise single game record no big deal.

– 29 assists on 45 baskets. Crazy what your offense can look like when the ball moves isn’t it? Five different players had at least 3 assists, and that willingness to pass the ball is a big reason how they were able to overcome the lack of Kyrie. They didn’t have to rely on one guy, they didn’t just iso every damn time and settle for bad shots. They played the right way and the Basketball Gods rewarded them.

The Bad

    – It wasn’t all positive though because since when is it ever. For starters the Celts were once again way too sloppy with the basketball with 17 TOs. I feel like this has been a problem for this team recently and to me they’re playing with fire. This team is too inconsistent offensively to be throwing the ball away like this, and part of it is guys trying to do too much, but the reason the Nets were even able to get back into this game is because the Celts couldn’t stop turning it over. They had 4 in that third quarter where the Nets put up 38 points and found life, and those self inflicted wounds are annoying as hell.

    – A weird night for Tatum. He wasn’t awful, I thought he did a good job on the glass and defensively, it just felt like he was nonexistent on the offensive end. Maybe that’s because he only took 1 shot in the entire second half and had just a 13% usage rate, but I never really felt like he was making his imprint on this game. It was really just a “blah” performance which isn’t something that happens all that often. You would think with no Kyrie he would have been a major factor but that wasn’t the case.

    – This is a small thing, but something I feel like Brad has to figure out. When this team is posting up Horford, they have to be better when it comes to timing their cuts. This play stood out to me as an example of times where their spacing can get all fucked up.

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    I’m not really sure what Mook was thinking here. He was cutting into traffic and brought his defender with him which made Al’s fadeaway that much tougher. I am all for cutting without the ball when Horford has it in the post, but you have to be smart about it. This seemed like an ill advised cut in my opinion.

    – Just 10 FTA for the Celts, 0 for Tatum and Rozier and no starter had more than 4. I know it’s not a huge part of their game but my god how can one team be so inept at getting to the line?

    The Ugly

– Did Gordon Hayward play in this game? Nobody knows. This is one of those games where the numbers don’t tell the whole story. You look at the box score and you see he was a +11, but anyone watching this game knows he wasn’t all that good. Just 2 points on 1-6 shooting and 3 TOs in his 20 minutes, it’s clear that he’s in a slump. What I don’t understand is why Brad doesn’t just look at some film of how he was used in UTA and run some of the same stuff as a way to maybe get him going. Right now he’s standing in the corner and is reactive instead of running the second unit and being aggressive. We’re at the point now where everyone understands he’s recovering, but it’s also fair to expect more than 2 points every time he plays. I feel like it can be both, you can be patient with his journey back but also expect him to produce like an actual NBA rotation player. So far, we’re not getting that and it’s a problem there’s no two ways about it.

– I did not enjoy watching BKN snag 16 OREB and drop 29 second chance points. Celts got lucky there.


Now that they showed us they could put GS behind them and bounce back with a solid performance, I feel great about how this team looks and their situation currently. They have CHA/NYK/OKC/CLE/LAL up next, so now’s the time for them to make a run and climb the standings. It’s been an up and down season no doubt, but it does look like maybe, just maybe they are starting to find a level of much needed consistency.