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The Celtics Passed Another Early Season Test With Flying Colors To Stay Perfect At Home

Let me start off by saying I am fully aware that the Miami Heat were coming off a OT win against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night. I am also fully aware that the Celtics were rested with 2 days off and at home. Both of those things play a factor in what we saw last night, anyone who wants to be honest can admit that. But let me also say this, I could give two shits. Just because MIA was on a B2B doesn't mean they aren't good. They didn't run out of gas late or anything like that. They have been as legit as any contender in the East not named MIL and we all said going in that this was going to be another good test for the Celts given how well MIA has been playing. Through the first 20 games, the Celtics have done surprisingly well with these early season tests. After failing the one on Opening Night, they've quietly been handling their business every time one of these situations comes up. Play Toronto? Win. Play Milwaukee? Win. Go out West and show you can actually hang? That's a passing grade as well. We'll see how they look when they have these similar challenges on the road, but listen given how stacked the top of this conference is, you have to protect home court and that's exactly what they've done.

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Let's also not forget where we were at this exact time last year. The Celts were 10-10, they were failing these very same tests, and everyone including yours truly was throwing out spinzone after spinzone that things weren't as bad as they looked. I didn't want to believe what I was seeing and neither did you. Well we don't have to worry about that this season, at least so far, and it's pretty damn refreshing. Instead we have a team that plays hard, plays together, and the young wings continue to flourish. This win put the Celts back in the 2 spot in the East and if they continue to play at this level or even get better, there's no reason to think they can't stay there.

With all that said, let's dive right in.

The Good

- One of the tests within the test of last night was how the young wings were going to handle being matched up against Jimmy Butler. I wasn't as concerned about what they would look like defensively because you know Butler was going to get his points, but instead I was curious how they would handle being guarded by him. Would they force bad shots out of frustration? Could they be effective and match his production on a night where they were without Smart and Hayward? The answer, at least for Jaylen Brown was absofuckinglutely

Given the way Jaylen started, with a ton of wild shots and a 2-7 first quarter, for him to finish with 31 points on 10-20 shooting (5-9 from deep) is pretty impressive. He was matched up with Butler on 11 of his offensive possessions and finished with 8 points on 3-6 shooting including 2-3 from deep. Those two were going back and forth and was a big night for those of us who were happy Ainge didn't trade Jaylen for Butler back when he was in MIN. Why trade for Jimmy Butler when you could potentially have the better player who is 7 years younger? For those keeping track at home Jaylen is now up to 19.9/6.9/1.9 on 49/38% splits with 2.0 3PM a night. That's All Star level production right there folks and it's coming as the 3rd option (and 4th once Hayward gets back). 

The threes are what stand out most about Jaylen's night, he continues to be so confident from the corner and with how this offense flows if that continues to be a consistent weapon for him then everything else will open up. You watch Jaylen play offensively and he's become so much better at his decision making when it comes to letting it fly from deep or instead using his athleticism to get to the rim with ease. His leap year might be the most impressive of anyone on this team not named Gordon Hayward, and you just love to see it.

- It's becoming clear that Kemba Walker reaaaaaalllly likes playing at the Garden. His home/road splits are pretty wild, and so far this season he's averaging 29.7/5.4/4.9 on 45/49% shooting. He's made 35 3PM in 7 home games and last night was no different with another 28/7 and 6 3PM

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The more we see Kemba play, I can't help but think how much it resembles what we saw from 2016 Isaiah. Especially the way Brad has adjusted his offense back to the way his point guard would get the high screen and then immediately pull up from three. Kemba has been so much better at that than I anticipated, and it's at the point now where I am beyond confident every time I see him go up for that shot. It's something they moved away from a little bit with the Kyrie/Horford pairing, and it's why people thought Kemba would thrive in Brad's system because it would allow him to go back to the type of offense that we saw dominate that Isaiah season. 

But we all know Kemba can score. It's awesome and this team very much needs that production, but what stood out to me most about his performance last night had to be his passing. This is something I don't want to get lost in all the shooting highlights. The way Kemba was finding guys was great, and I loved that he was such a willing passer while also not really turning it over (1 TO). This is the level of Kemba that can take this team up a notch and he's still holding his own defensively which is great. Safe to say Kemba has been everything we could have hoped for and more.

- Another game we see the Celts win the rebounding battle, the points in the paint battle, the 2nd chance points battle, the turnover battle and the FTA battle. Hard to lose at home when you check off that many boxes.

- I thought this may have been one of Robert Williams' best overall games. He only had 3 points, but his 10 rebounds were huge, and his activity, my word. Time and time again we saw him battling on the offensive glass, keeping possessions alive that they had no business keeping, and defensively there weren't that many mental mistakes. It was great to see Brad reward him with minutes and this is just a glimpse of what he brings to the table.

It's also hard to deny that when he's on the floor the ball moves so much better. I'm not saying he's Al Horford, but I am saying he may be the big with the highest ceiling as a passer to one day get somewhere close to what Horford brought.

- The efficiency is still big time dogshit, but it was Tatum's play in the second quarter that really helped the Celts open this game up and eventually pull away

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Tatum had his issues with Butler, he went just 1-4 against Jimmy in his 17 offensive possessions, but here's the thing with Tatum. Despite his horrific splits, we are seeing a guy remain engaged on both ends and make an overall positive impact. I mean he was a +31 in this game, was huge defensively and he did get to the line 6 times which I love. We just need him to figure out how to not shoot like an asshole and things are going to go up another level.

But the fact that we aren't losing Tatum mentally on nights he struggles to shoot is the best sign of all.

- I think we may be at the point where we have to accept that Semi is a legit rotation bench player. He played every second in the 2nd quarter when this team made their run, then he played basically every second in the 3rd quarter, and it's no surprise he was a +21 in his minutes. He gave his usual solid defense, he made 1 of his 2 open threes, and it's clear that Brad is starting to trust him. Semi has been very solid in the opportunities he's had since Hayward went down, and for a guy who is just looking to carve out a role, we may have found it.

- I blogged a few days ago about the Wanamaker/Carsen/Semi/Tatum/Kanter lineup that Brad has been going to with Hayward out and how it has been nails defensively, and guess which lineup started the second quarter and set the tone almost right away. The Heat scored just 16 points in that frame and it's clear what Brad's strategy is. He knows once we get to the bench unit that the Celtics might never score, so he is unleashing lineups that ensure you sure as shit won't either. They caused 6 TOs in that quarter and everyone knows a good defense is the best offense and it's clear that group can hold it down defensively. Even Kanter.

- Speaking of Kanter, great job by Brad in terms of his situational playing time. He got the best part of Kanter and then before things could go south he adjusted. Brad's been really good with that all year and it's why Kanter remains effective.

- It felt nice to be on the right side of a 32-17 FTA advantage and don't be fooled, it wasn't as close as that looks. I can admit that was pretty ridiculous but the Celts get boned so frequently at the line I feel like they were due for a game like this.

- When this team doesn't turn it over, they are nearly impossible to beat. Fact.

The Bad

- I'm still not totally comfortable with the fact that this team has basically no bench scoring. Wanamaker had his first non 10+ point 50%+ game in a while and nobody else had more than 5 points. Guys being out is a factor sure, but I still feel like this team is playing with fire when it comes to their second unit scoring. For this to happen at home too where the bench is supposed to feel more comfortable is a bit concerning.

- It should have surprised exactly zero people that the Celts came out in that first quarter and looked like shit despite the time off. It was so predictable they would have another brutal offensive start because that's just who they are. Worst first quarter team in the league and it's not even close. You don't have to like it, but you need to accept it. Slow starts are the norm and it's annoying as hell. To be a step slow defensively and then not be able to shoot after two days off shouldn't happen, but this is like the 2nd or 3rd time they've been rested and come out like shit at home.

- I don't want to nitpick, but way too many missed FTs early. Lucky that didn't come back to bite them

The Ugly

- Like I said, Jimmy Butler got his. The Celts had no answer for him, he had a career night from behind the arc because of course he did, and this is where I think they missed Marcus Smart. Just another solid body to get into Butler's airspace. 

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- It did feel like Tatum settled a little too much for my liking offensively. Maybe he was just trying to shoot his way out of his slump, but I would have liked to see him be even more aggressive. The 2-12 from deep is big time gross, and really outside of the second quarter I would say his offense was mostly a negative. 

The Celts do catch another break on Friday with the Nuggets also being on a B2B (but they play NYK so maybe not), in what will be another good early season test. Remember this team just lost to the Nuggets out in Denver after not being able to come back from being down 19, so this is a big response game for them. So far this season they've been great at these sort of challenges, and a win on Friday would be another feather in their cap. It's becoming easier and easier to believe in this team, and wins like last night are a great example why.