It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see that yesterday’s matchup with the Cavs was a clear trap game with LeBron and the Lakers coming to town on Thursday. We’ve seen this Celtics team in this position before, only to look past their opponent, think they could just show up to the arena and that would be enough and then the next thing you knew there was another horrible loss on their record. But that was the old Celtics. One of the biggest frustrating parts of their start was they couldn’t beat bad teams and yet since 11/26, they’re 19-4 against sub .500 teams. They’ve figured that shit out and have cleaned up against lower competition, which is why the Celts been able to turn around their season. On the entire year, the Celts are 25-8 against teams under .500 which is the most wins in the conference. When you’re playing against a CLE team that has lost 8 of their last 10, you can’t dick around and come up short when you’re trying to get yourself into that top 2 seed tier. Thankfully, the Celts showed up and while it may not have been a 20+ point win like the previous two meetings, sometimes in this league you have to win ugly.
The facts are, the Celts have now won 5 in a row which is the longest active streak in the East, and 10 of their last 11. We waited all year for this team to put together a sustained run like this with a mix of both good wins and wins over dogshit, and it’s important for them to have this type of momentum with LAL/LAC/PHI/DET/MIL up next. The rest of February is a whole lot harder than what they just experienced in January so while you certainly shouldn’t be throwing a parade for beating CLE, we are seeing signs that this team is making progress and that’s where the excitement should stem from.
Whether it’s the Warriors or the Cavs we talk about em all, so let’s get started.
– The selection to start us off may surprise you, but I’m riding with the guy on the roster that more than any other player needed a confidence boost. With guys like Kyrie and Mook out, it was clear that other guys were going to have to step up and not only be productive, but be efficient. One player who did exactly that was Gordon Hayward
It would be foolish to come out and say that after his 18/6/5 on 9-14 shooting performance that Hayward is back so I won’t do that. I mean this was the Cavs. What I will say is that last night gave us flashes of the type of player the Celtics are going to need Hayward to be once the games start to matter. Remember that’s really the goal when it comes to Hayward. Can he be right come the Spring, and performances like this while they may seem like nothing, are all steps in the right direction. Common sense says Gordon should be able to play well against a stinky Cavs lineup, so really all this did was confirm what we knew he was capable of. That’s fine, because for a guy who has been up and down all year, getting him to a point where he can show a little consistency is huge. He stunk against OKC, there’s no denying that, but credit to him for not letting that turn into a sustained rut. He’s reached 12+ points in 3 of his last 4, and while that may not seem like a lot he’s only getting around 9.5 FGA a night over that stretch. In all three of those games we’ve seen him finish with at least 50% shooting and 60%+ in two of the last three.
The biggest thing that stood out for Hayward last night was simple how aggressive he was and the fact that he was looking for his shot. There was nothing passive about his approach last night, and finally we got to see what the second unit looks like when they actually play through Hayward. I do not find it a coincidence that Hayward had the highest usage on the second unit (3rd on team) and was 2nd on the team in AST% behind Al. Utilizing his passing is one of the biggest strengths of this offense, and watching him in the P&R was beautiful. Hopefully once everyone is back Brad doesn’t forget about this and we see more of it because it’s really effective. Defensively he was solid holding opponents to 2-6 shooting, and he had the 2nd lowest Drtg on the night.
– If there is one thing that Jayson Tatum has yet to really add to his game, it’s his ability to get to the FT line. He takes just 3 FTA a night, and has seen his FTr drop from .309 his rookie year to .234 this year. If he’s truly going to blossom into one of the elite scorers in the league, at some point he’s going to have to find a way to get to the line. Last night, we got an idea of what that may look like
Not only did he lead the team with 25 points on 6-13 shooting, but he also was a career best 12-12 from the FT line. I’m not saying I expect him to live at the line like he’s James Harden or something, but what I liked about his approach last night was he recognized the opportunity to draw fouls. He didn’t play away from contact, instead he sought it out. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but the way he was posting people up and then swinging his arms through contact was very Paul Pierce-esq.
Aside from the FTs, what really stood out to me was how engaged Tatum was on both the boards and the defensive end. Tied for the team lead in rebounds (7), blocks (3), and contested shots (14), deflections (5), those are areas where Tatum has made great strides since his rookie year. Both his REB% and BLK% are up since his first season, and over his last 5 games he has 3 multi-block performances. Opponents shot 5-17 against Tatum last night so this tells me that perhaps one of the guys that may have been the root of their early struggles against bad teams was fully engaged and took this game seriously. I think early in the year Tatum got into trouble just assuming he could show up and dominate, well now we’re seeing him actually not overlook anyone and that makes a huge difference.
– No Kyrie, no problem as long as this team has Marcus Smart. Another typical Smart performance where he does a little bit of everything, only now you can add efficient shooting to that list
6-10 from the field, another 4-5 from deep, it’s insane how teams haven’t figured out that this Smart shooting stretch is not a fluke. It’s turned into a real, consistent weapon for him and the numbers back that up. A nice 42% from deep in January with 2.4 3PM, so far in three games this month he’s shooting 54/56% with 3.0 3PM. If teams want to keep letting him shoot that’s fine by me because even if he regresses a little bit, that’s still way better than his 31% bullshit we saw earlier in his career.
You know what you’re getting defensively, last night was no difference as opponents shot 2-9 against Smart, but it was clear with the inconsistent Terry making the spot start that Smart was going to have to come out and be that reliable scoring option from the guard position. He’s not usually asked to do that, so it was nice to see him rise to the occasion.
– His FG% was a little jacked because of a bunch of missed put backs in traffic, but overall Jaylen did his job in his spot start and 28 minutes of action
I’ll take 13/7 with decent defense and really the one thing that stood out about Jaylen’s night was how well he was playing the passing lanes. He tied Tatum with 5 deflections, opponents shot 6-14 against him which isn’t terrible considering his top two assignments in Jordan Clarkson and Alec Burks combined for 4-9 shooting and 9 points on 29 possessions, and this was his 7th straight game with at least 10 points. What I like is even though his shot may not be falling, Jaylen is still being aggressive on both ends and not letting that mentally fuck with him, something that definitely happened earlier in the year.
– I’ll take another 29 assist on 40 FGM performance thank you very much. This is another trend we’re seeing over this stretch that should make you happy as a Celtics fan. This team is moving the ball every single night, even nights in which their star point guard and distributer is out. It sure as shit helps when you have someone like Al Horford who you can just run the offense through and he responds with 8 assists, but with 4 players totaling at least 4 assists, that’s the type of unselfish basketball that usually puts you in a position to succeed.
– You know how I mentioned Tatum had 12 FTA and it was awesome? The rest of the team had 2. That is not awesome in fact it’s almost impossible to do. The 2018-19 Celtics inability to get to the line is going to be studied for generations because it makes no goddamn sense.
– Sure they won, but it’s definitely not the best look to be in a dog fight with the Cavs. This game was close pretty much until the last 4 or so minutes of the fourth quarter, and while I appreciate the Celtics still giving Brad some material to yell at them for, I personally would have preferred a stress free evening. It had that feel after the Cavs dropped 30 in the first quarter that this may be one of those weird close games against a bad team, and next time I suggest just blowing it open early so we can get some legit Yabu minutes.
– We can say it, Collin Sexton took it to Terry Rozier. The same way Rozier gave him the business in their last meeting, Sexton was clearly pumped and Terry didn’t do much in terms of providing any resistance. He had 11 of his 27 against Terry which was the most against any Celtics defender.
– Starting to get annoyed with how sloppy this team is when it comes to taking care of the basketball. The 13 TOs doesn’t seem so bad until you realize it led to 18 Cavs points and that’s the type of shit that if you do it against a team with an actual pulse, it 100% comes back to bite you. This team isn’t suddenly good enough where they can be cool with gifting that many points to anyone, ever.
– Worst part of last night was the Celts inability to box someone the hell out and keep them off the offensive glass. The Cavs had 15 OREB which led to a 22-4 second chance point advantage, and really it was the only reason they were able to stay in this game. I mean I get that Baynes/Timelord didn’t play, but that is no excuse for the lack of effort we saw on the defensive glass. Again, these are things you do against a good team and you’re going to get waxed. For fucks sake nearly half of Larry Nance Jr’s 12 rebounds were on the offensive glass.
– As I mentioned, a prime Yabu opportunity was wasted because this team couldn’t blow out the Cavs. They should feel guilty as hell from robbing us of that basketball goodness.
Let me reiterate, beating the Cavs is absolutely no big deal. That is expected. But the trends we’re seeing in terms of the defense, the ball movement, the whole not falling for a trap game, those are the things that you can put stock in moving forward. Teams like MIL aren’t slowing down anytime soon, PHI just made a trade that has their fanbase once again screaming Finals, and meanwhile the Celts just keep on winning. Let all the other teams in the East get the publicity and the headlines, all we should care about is the fact that this team hasn’t even reached it’s potential yet and is playing some of the best basketball of their season.
With that said, feed me LeBron.