You tend to learn a lot about a team whenever they head out for a long road trip. When it's an Eastern Conference team heading out West for a 5 gamer, you really get a good look at what type of team they might be. There will be weird shit that happens, there most likely will be some tough opponents, and for the Boston Celtics as great as their 11-2 start is, there's still a whole lot we didn't know when this trip first started. We had no idea how this team was going to respond when things didn't go their way, we didn't know how they would respond to slow starts on the road against a quality opponent, and we had no idea if their defense would actually show up again. While all of those answers aren't completely answered as of today, last night did give us a good idea of what we're working with.
Coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Kings to snap their streak, this team could have carried that shit over to last night's date with PHX. That's certainly something we've seen this team do over the years. One bad loss and suddenly that turns into two bad losses and then the narrative begins to change and guys begin to press. Even with their horrific start last night, we saw a team that punches back. We saw a team that got back to their defensive roots and won on the road against a team that has already beaten some pretty legit contenders this season in that building. Good teams find a way to win even on nights where they don't look their best and that's exactly what the Celtics did. Game 3 of this trip is pretty much a swing game especially with LAC/DEN on deck so in reality it was a game they couldn't really afford to drop after losing in SAC.
I don't care how this team pulls it out, they could win every game ugly it makes no difference to me. I'm just happy we didn't see things snowball. Let's dive in.
- Switching it up a little bit here. Now normally we start this spot off with a player that was a cut above, but today we have to go with the #1 reason why this team won this game. Their defense. I don't know where it had been hiding over the last few games but last night's performance now has the Celts living with the 6th best defense in the league. I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and say the Suns have this unstoppable offense, but it is 8th in the league. They also have one of the most dynamic scorers the league has in Devin Booker, and when I say the Celtics put the clamps on everyone in this game, I mean it.
Take Booker for example. This is a guy we have seen drop 70 on the Celts before. Well, last night he had to deal with the duo of Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown and they completely eliminated him from the game. Complete nonfactor. That sounds crazy right? Maybe a little bit of hyperbole? No no, just straight facts.
Marcus Smart: 15 possessions, 39.9% of time on Booker, allowed 2 points
Jaylen Brown: 14 possessions, 33.6% of time on Booker, allowed 5 points
THAT is the perimeter defense I crave. You can add Booker to Smart's DPOY Hit List which basically consists of every star in the league and I can't stress how important it was to take Booker out of this game. Without him, who was going to beat you offensively? Kelly Oubre Jr? Fuck outta here.
As a team they held PHX to just 40/27% splits with 19 TOs. The Celts had 12 steals and 5 blocks coming from four players. They didn't give up a quarter of more than 23 points. This was the lockdown defense we are accustomed to and a level they are going to need to replicate the rest of this trip if they want to end it on a high note. Given the fact this defense had more holes than a sinking ship over the last few games, it could not have come at a better time.
- If we then want to talk about individual performances, say hello to a cool 26/11/3 from Jayson Tatum
Yes, it's still extremely frustrating that he still misses so many layups, he had a few more last night, but I'll take 8-16 shooting, 3 3PMs, and a very nice to see 9 FTA. He wasn't perfect, for sure a little sloppy with the ball with his 4 TOs, but the approach is exactly what you want to see. I had him down for only one bad forced long two, everything else for the most part was at the rim or in transition. I love his commitment to the glass, this was his second game with at least 10 rebounds this season and defensively as we know he continues to be nails. We're starting to see what can happen when Tatum actually gets to the line consistently, he can for sure live in the 22-26 point range which is just what the doctor ordered.
- It pays to play a team that's even worse than you are on the glass, but I'll take winning the rebounding battle, the points in the paint battle, and the second chance points battle. It's not often we see the Celts win all three of those areas but they usually happen in wins.
- Thank heavens his ankle seems fine, because make no mistake when Smart fell to the ground in real time my brain 100% assumed the worst. How could it not given this team's injury luck? It sucked because Smart was having himself a damn good night
and I think we're now at the point where we can't be surprised when Smart makes multiple threes in a game. This is the new normal. You add his defense and his playmaking and it's no surprise this is probably the best start Smart has ever had, and frankly it was a little bullshit that his first few buckets all consisted of the ball rolling around the rim and dropping. That's some sick shit from the Basketball Gods given what happened in SAC.
It wouldn't shock me if he sat tomorrow just to be safe, but man what a prayer he avoided anything serious with that ankle.
- The efficiency still isn't where you want it to be in a perfect world, but Kemba continues to be that steady offensive threat this team needs. He's showing to be perfectly fine with the young wings getting most of the shine, and then boom you look down and he has 19/5
He was a team best +22, and while his outside shot wasn't exactly working (1-7) and he led the team in FGA with 19, I wouldn;t say anything felt forced. Kemba pretty much got to the rim with ease, and I have no problem with him taking the most shots if they are mostly going to be layups. He held his own defensively allowing only 3 points to his primary assignment, and if his defense is going to continue to be this good he's going to make an All NBA team.
- I don't want to get ahead of myself here but I THINK Brad has finally learned when to call timeouts. It's early, I still need more time to collect the data, but all signs are pointing to him fixing this fatal flaw.
- Give the man credit, Brad Wanamaker has been gigantic off the bench for some time now. He's so consistent, you know what he is going to give you night in and night out and it's pretty clear why Brad trusts him so much
Did you know Wanamaker has finished with at least 50% shooting in 6 of the last 7 games? He's shooting 55/40% this month! For a unit that desperately needs offense and a player who may be asked to fill in for Smart in terms of minutes, what Wanamaker is giving this team right now is huge. Especially with Carsen being up and down, being able to rely on that production is huge.
- I continue to very much enjoy the leap year from Jaylen Brown
Just like Tatum everything is aggressive, his defense is so much better, he's committed to the glass, and we're even seeing some improved playmaking. He's improved his outside shooting to a respectable level (39%), and it's safe to say getting that contract extension might have been the smartest thing Ainge has ever done. It's unlocked a new level in Jaylen.
- It is becoming harder and harder to not fall in love with Grant
I mean a rookie shouldn't be this good defensively this quickly. It didn't matter who he guarded they did absolutely nothing, he led the team with a 61 Drtg (!!!!!!) and it's no surprise the Celts went on a 17-2 run the second he entered the game. It's getting scary how much he resembles Smart in terms of the loose balls and the extra effort plays that lead to extra possessions, we're at the point where this dude needs 20 minutes a night at a minimum.
- As good as the defense may have been, that's how bad the offense was. Just 41/29% shooting, a brutal 17 TOs, not exactly the offensive output that's going to beat many teams in this league on the road. The ball really didn't move all that well, and maybe part of it was their poor shooting but 22 assists felt kind of low. Outside of Wanamaker it was another tough offensive showing from the second unit and let's just hope this is a phase because they seem to be having trouble getting over 100 as of late.
- Not a great showing defensively from either Kanter or Robert Williams which we can all admit is a little concerning. It's basically why Kanter only played 5 minutes, and Robert had his issues with positioning and turnovers which resulted in him only playing 15. I'm interested to see how Kanter responds if Grant starts taking all his minutes, but it goes without saying they are going to need much more from both of those guys whenever they hit the floor.
- This was called a travel
I guess it was explained that the ref assumed Kanter had possession? Call me crazy but you shouldn't be making calls based off what you assumed happened, you should make them based on ya know, what actually happened.
- I fear that Carsen is going to get unhappy with how Brad treats rookie point guards. Just a weird feeling I have. It didn't look like he loved Brad getting on his case for that brutal three he took and considering he can't buy a bucket I get the sense he's getting frustrated.
- We obviously can't start anywhere other than the start of this game. What the shit was that. I don't care they scored 26 points, they shot 39/18%, started 1-10 (0-5) and were down 8 before you could even catch your breath. What is it with this team and refusing to get off to good starts? How many times have you seen back to back airballs from the corner to start a game? I don't know if it's Brad not having these guys ready to play or the fact that they love to torment themselves with early holes but christ I need them to figure this shit out. It's only been 13 games and I am losing years off my life.
- Nothing, and I mean nothing makes my blood boil than watching this team be careless with the basketball or as I like to call it their 3rd quarter of this game. Pretty tough to have 8 TOs and 9 FGM in 12 minutes yet the Celts were able to pull it off. They then followed that up with a 34/30% fourth quarter. So as you can see it's not like the Celts played all that well in this game on the offensive end, but man does it have to be so brutal to watch at times?
- I'll admit it, watching Aron Baynes do Aron Baynes things made me extremely sad. Miss that fucking lunatic.
As luck would have it, chances are it'll be the Celtics who are the first team to play the Clippers with Kawhi/Paul George both active. That's some shit luck, but also that's how West Coast trips go. They are a bitch and you have to earn every win you get. I think a split over these last two would be chalked up as a win, but if they win both? Well then my brain will start going to dangerous places. In the meantime the Celts are back to being tied for the best record in the NBA, they stopped the bleeding from SAC immediately and are now 6-2 on the road which is the second best in the conference and the second most road wins in the NBA. Not bad.