If it seems like the Celtics always play the Pistons on a back to back, it’s because they do. You’ll remember the last time these two teams faced each other it was mid December in a back to back on the road with the Celtics being without Al Horford. They lost that game and it was the start of a pretty embarrassing 3 game skid. The time around they faced DET coming off the heels of their win in Philly, only this time were without Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier, Aron Baynes, and Robert Williams. Going up against a gigantic frontcourt like DET, this certainly was not going to be the easiest final game before the break. In what was the last meeting of the season series the Celtics shockingly didn’t do what they normally do which is take a step backwards after a big momentum win, but instead beat the Pistons at their own game and ended the first half on a great note. Of course the Celts shouldn’t get too much praise for beating a team they were supposed to beat at home where they are an impressive 23-8, but given who was out and how that could have potentially impacted this specific matchup, it was nice to see this team give a complete effort and walk into the break winners of 12 of their last 15 games. They sit just 1 game behind IND for the 3 seed and 5.5 behind TOR for the 2 seed, but remember this team plays both TOR/MIL immediately after the break.
It’s been an up and down first 58 games that’s for sure, but a lot of what we saw in this win over DET is hopefully something that this team can use over the second half. Guys are rounding into form at the perfect time, and while they’re still most definitely not perfect, there’s no denying that after the past week this team had they head into the break with a completely different mindset than what we saw just a week ago. But before we all begin what will be the longest week of our lives without Celtics basketball, let’s talk about everything we saw last night.
– There’s no denying that history has shown us that when Al Horford matches up against big beefy opposing centers, he tends to struggle. That’s why someone like Aron Baynes is so important to how this team plays. Well with Baynes unavailable the big question was how would Al Horford hold up on a back to back night after immediately manhandling another beast of a center in Joel Embiid. The answer? Like a gooddamn superhero
Not only are we seeing what a healthy Al Horford looks like, it’s also pretty damn close to Playoff Al which we know is one of the best big men to ever lace em up. It’s really shocking how much of the load Horford carried last night. With no Kyrie, Al had to be a primary facilitator and he responded with being tied for the team lead with 8 assists. With no Baynes or really any other true big man help it was on him to keep pace with Drummond on the glass. Something NOBODY would ever expect him to do. He responded with 14 rebounds. Then, when things were falling apart and this team needed a big momentum bucket to stop the bleeding, it was Horford who hit the gigantic three, his third of the night.
On the defensive end, it was even better. Horford matched up with both Blake Griffin and Drummond for a total of 47 possessions. He allowed just 8 points on a combined 2-10 shooting. You want to talk about dominating on both ends, well that’s exactly how I would describe what Horford did. The fact that he did all this, including a team best +26 in just 31 minutes makes me even happier. That’s totally a manageable number coming off a back to back with a week off on deck, and I think we’re all seeing the value that a healthy Horford brings. When he’s playing like this, the team is completely different.
– Let me ask you a quick question. If over a 5 game stretch a player was averaging 17/5.2/4.8 on 61/50% splits over their last 5 games, you’d probably say that was pretty good right? Well then what if I told you the person who is doing that is Gordon Hayward
Coming off his great performance against PHI, Brad went with Hayward in the spot start and boy did he deliver almost immediately. He definitely set the tone in that first quarter and never really looked back. What this spot start gave us was another picture of what this offense can look like when they play through Hayward. Not only was he efficient going 5-8 from the floor, but he was aggressive. His 8 FTA led the team, and you pair that with his 8 assists and you’re seeing what a healthy and improving Hayward gives you. Listen we all know he truly isn’t back to his UTA form just yet, but we’re getting closer. The mindset and the approach is starting to get to where it needs to be for a guy that is truly the wild card on this roster. If we get this version of Hayward consistently, this Celtics team is as good as anyone.
When you look at Hayward’s shot distribution everything was either at the rim, or behind the arc. Defensively opponents shot 5-12 against him and he did a much better job staying with the DET shooters on the perimeter. What’s really insane about Hayward’s strong night was it differed from what we saw in PHI because he only had a usage rate of 16%! That’s the 6th lowest usage of anyone who played last night, despite his team high 34 minutes. Imagine what might have happened had the Celtics actually used Hayward more? Given his up and down season, I find it impossible to not be over the moon with what we’re seeing from him right now.
– I look and see the Celtics won the rebounding battle 47-41, had 32 assists on 45 baskets, and destroyed DET in points in the paint 52-38. The assists are something we’re used to, but to own the Pistons on the glass and in the paint like that with really only one true big is simply incredible. Especially when you factor in that their only other big in Daniel Theis didn’t do much of anything.
– You know who else is quietly starting to replicate the player we saw in the playoffs last year? Jayson Tatum. How do we feel about 20.4/7.8 on 47/46% splits with 1.4 3PM a night over his last 5? He’s been able to get back to being that reliable secondary scorer, and with Kyrie out has really stepped up and been that go to guy. I love his aggressiveness in that he once again led the team in FGA with 18, and if his three point shooting is going to stay consistent like this, watch out
He led the Celts with a 25% usage rate, and also had the second lowest Drtg on the team at 92.8. Having a locked in Tatum on both ends like this is going to be crucial if the Celts want to climb the standings over the second half, and getting these type of performances on back to back nights heading into the break was great.
As always it usually comes down to Tatum’s approach, and I am happy to report that 11 of his 18 FGA came from 15ft or closer. Shot selection can often times get the best of him, but we had no problems with that last night.
– Remember when this team couldn’t score? It feels so weird now to see them put up all these games with 50% shooting, 16 3PM and 118 points. Had this shown up on November the Celts probably wouldn’t be stuck in the 4 spot right now. Crazy what this team looks like when they make their open shots isn’t it?
– After what I would call a bad outing against PHI, props to Jaylen for coming right back and having one of the best showings of the night off the bench.
Much like Tatum a lot of the frustration with Jaylen on the offensive end comes with his approach. Guy loves to take bad shots when he should just be aggressive and drive to the rim, well I think we can all agree that this is an approach worth praising
Jaylen’s first half was a huge reason why the Celts went into the break with a lead, and despite one or two defensive mistakes, overall he held opponents to 4-11 shooting which certainly is acceptable. His most frequent matchup in Wayne Ellington had just 6 points on 2-5 shooting and I thought for what Jaylen’s role was in this game he for the most part fit the bill. With everyone out they needed that type of production from him and it was clear early that DET didn’t really have anyone that could guard him.
– I don’t know what to say about Marcus Smart. It’s exhausting trying to figure him out, so don’t waste your time. Only he could miss a billion threes in a row and then go on a streak of making 4 straight, he gave the Celts a little bit of everything in his 31 minutes and by now we know all you can do is hold on tight and pray things work out in your favor. It’s the ultimate roller coaster ride
He did a great job on Reggie Jackson holding him scoreless on 25 possessions, and while they shouldn’t have needed it, his huge 14 points on 5-6 shooting in the second half is ultimately what gave the Celts their separation and really made up for his carelessness with the basketball.
– Speaking of carelessness, 16 TOs is way too many. Smart had 6 by himself, and this led to 16 DET points. The whole reason this became somewhat of a game again was because the Celts couldn’t stop throwing the ball away in the second half, and this is the risk you run when you don’t have Kyrie on the floor. I feel like guys try and force things a little too much and as a result things tend to not work out. I normally love Smart as the primary facilitator because I believe in his passing, but last night was not the best showing from him in terms of point guard duties. Can’t have a 5:6 assist to turnover ratio.
– As expected, the Celts didn’t really have an answer for Blake Griffin. A healthy Blake Griffin might be one of the most terrifying players in the league. How he’s adjusted his game is truly incredible and he’s just such a monster. He can now kill you from 30 feet or he can take whoever you have on your roster on the block and overpower them for an easy bucket. I know they are undersized, but seeing him manhandle both Smart and Semi in the paint, two of the strongest humans to ever walk this earth, was shocking.
– Speaking of Blake, I didn’t like this sequence one bit
I don’t think Blake was doing anything dirty, I think he was just running to go get the ball and Hayward hung on the rim a little longer than he probably thought, but even still my heart does not need shit like this. It was like everything slowed down for me as it happened and my life flashed before my eyes. I don’t know when this will go away in regards to Hayward, and maybe it never will but man was that stressful.
– Imagine calling a flagrant foul on Al Horford? When has Al ever done anything flagrant in his life? The officials should be embarrassed with themselves.
– Is it sad that everyone knew once the Celtics got up by 28 that there was no way they were going to maintain that lead? Probably, but we all knew it was coming. Of course what did the Celtics do? They immediately blew that 28 point lead, it got down to 10, and the starters had to come back in and close it out. If they had blown another 28 point lead just days after doing it against the Clippers against another shitty team I don’t know what I would have done. Probably something I regret. Fort the second half I have just one wish, if you’re going to get up by over 25 points, please do not make me stress. My heart is already weak enough, I don’t need that shit in my life. Figure it out.
– Sadly, no Yabu. I don’t know what the deal is here, but with all the players out there’s no excuse for Brad to not give us Yabu minutes before the break. That was some absolute bullshit.
Overall, a win that was expected but also very much needed. Especially with PHI beating the Knicks last night it was important for the Celts to keep pace and head into the break with some positive momentum. They’re starting to play their best basketball of the season which is why it’s annoying we now have to go a week without seeing them play, but if the first half told us anything it’s that this group looks entirely different rested. Given the fact that they open things back up again on the road in MIL, I hope everyone takes this time off to prepare both mentally and physically. This final 24 games pretty much defines their season, so do what you have to do to survive the next 7 days and make sure you’re ready for next Thursday.