I want to start off this blog by reiterating something I said after we all watched this team dominate the Brooklyn Nets.
After a brutal Celtics loss I can't sit here and have the stance that it would be silly to think that result guarantees anything in the playoffs and then when the Celtics have one of the best offensive nights I've ever seen tell you that this means everything is fixed and they are destined to make a deep run. That's not how this works. This blowout win means the same thing in terms of their playoff chances. Nothing. It's not just because it came against the Nets (who just beat MIL maybe you heard), I will feel this way if the Celts drop 149 against the Raptors tomorrow. The results of these play in games really isn't all that important when evaluating this team. What matters is how they look. They can play well and lose and I'll be fine. They can play like dogshit and win and I'll be annoyed. For me these games are about finding a rhythm, getting in game shape, formalizing rotations and being mentally prepared for the playoffs. That's really it.
Well here we are. The Celts didn't drop 149 against the Raptors but they did have a 40 point lead at one point and I sit here today with the exact same feeling. This win against TOR means absolutely nothing in terms of potential playoff success or what a potential playoff series might look like between these two. Throw the score out, I don't care about the score, I mean I obviously prefer the Celtics win, but all I really care about is how this team looks. How does Kemba look, what's their energy and effort level like, can the defense improve, those are the things that actually do matter in the playoffs. Not the result of a "regular season" game.
Having said that, please take a moment and pour one out for all the haters and losers out there that said the Celts only looked good because it was the Brooklyn Nets. You saw the takes, you can smell the fear. They don't want to live in a reality where the Celts are starting to put things together at the right time. The Toronto Raptors were arguably the best team in the entire bubble with a #1 ranked bubble defense and a #2 ranked net rating. The Celts came out and whooped that ass from the opening jump. I'm going to go ahead and call this one of their best and most complete effort on both ends of the entire season and frankly it could not have come at a better time.
We have a lot to get to, I want to warn you that things will get a little erotic as you make your way down this blog. Don't fight the feelings you'll have as you get through it, you are not alone. While this may not guarantee anything for their postseason run, there's truly nothing like watching this team when they show up on both ends for a full 48 minutes. Let's dive right the fuck in.
- So where do you start when everyone on the roster plays well and this team has 7 players in double figures? Easy. You start with the person who has been the best player for this team in the bubble since Day 1.
That's Jaylen Brown for those who haven't been paying attention. It's been truly a gift from god to watch this version of Jaylen play in the bubble, in my opinion he's taken another leap from the leap we saw during the year which as a reminder was basically career highs across the board. He came out and went 0-3 from three, but his form looked good and his confidence was high. We went on to make 4 of his next 5. Watching Jaylen throw up 20/6 on 50/50% splits isn't even surprising anymore, it's simply the norm for him and its been this way in pretty much every bubble game so far.
I know Jaylen is locked in when he's also putting clamps on the defensive end, and that's exactly what happened. He dominated Siakam in his 25 possessions against him, holding him to 5-12 shooting and 1-5 from three. Did Siakam look like an All NBA player to you in this game? He sure didn't, and Jaylen is a huge reason why. Crazy what can happen when he doesn't get into foul trouble.
- When people talk about the Celts duos, a lot of people talk about Kemba/Jayson. No no, the dynamic duo on this is the two Jays and this was a game where both Jays showed up in a big way
Just like Jaylen, Tatum went 7-14 from the floor, had 18/7/4 with 2 steals and was a team high +34 in his 27 minutes. We got a little bit of everything from his offensive arsenal ranging from the picture perfect midrange pull up to his float game to his stepback threes. On the defensive end it was the same story as well, no Raptors had more than 2 points while being defended by Tatum, he spent the majority of his time on Kyle Lowry who finished 0-1 w/ 1 TO. Think about that for a second. The two Jays spent their night being efficient as hell on one end, and then on the other end effectively shut down the Raptors two All Stars. Who has two thumbs and a raging boner while typing that sentence? Me. The answer is me.
- I don't normally put him this high on the list, but this was the best I've seen Brad coach this team in months, maybe even years. His timeouts were PERFECT, his rotations were good, he had this team motivated and ready to play, the list goes on and on. Almost like he sort of fucks around against lesser teams but then is on his A game when it's against someone good. Kind of annoying but I was thankful he didn't fall asleep on the bench again. As soon as TOR started to make their run in the third quarter and cut the lead to 10 we saw an immediate timeout and boom. The blowout ensued.
Also, how about him believing in Rob and giving him legit minutes against a legit opponent? Who saw that coming.
- Speaking of Robert Williams, you'll have to forgive me and Celtics fans everywhere if we are a little Celtics Kool Aid drunk when it comes to Timelord. All we've ever wanted was for him to stay healthy and get some consistent minutes, just to see what he can do. The answer? Oh baby
The dunks and blocks are cool and all but that wasn't my favorite part of Rob's night. For me, it was his defense. This man didn't bite on a single shot fake it felt like, he stayed home and had great positional awareness. There weren't the same mental lapses we usually get which is probably why Brad is playing him. It doesn't mean he should be given 25 minutes a night or anything like that, he still has a long way to go to prove he can handle that. But the hype surrounding him is warranted after seeing what he's been able to do these last two games. The TOR frontcourt is no joke and he held Ibaka scoreless on his 10 possessions.
- My worried meter on Kemba is barely registering right now
Whatever the plan the team has in place for his knee is clearly working because this is the same old Kemba I remember seeing. The burst is still there, his jumper looks fluid, he's diving around the floor, this is the version of Kemba that the Celts are going to need if they plan on making a deep run.
I was also impressed with his defense on Fred VanVleet, a guard that has made it a habit of destroying his defenders. With Kemba, he held FVV to just 5 points on 2-5 shooting on 15 possessions. That's the good stuff. You factor in his offense is back to being the Kemba we need and I couldn't be more thrilled with how he's looked so far in the bubble.
- Let's be honest, it's pretty goddamn ridiculous that this team got up by 40 points, never trailed or never tied in this game. They didn't even shoot that well to start either! It wasn't like they came out and dropped 50 in the first quarter, they shot 34/8%! But after that first quarter the floodgates opened and we saw this team put up three straight quarters of 30+ points. Against the best defense in the bubble who had been shutting down everyone. Sign me the fuck up for that.
- When this team is locked in on the defensive end, they are almost unbeatable. All the dunks and threes and shit are fun to watch, but this right here is what really gets my blood pumping
This was important to see for a few reasons.
1. If they don't defend like we know they are capable of and at a top 5 level they were at all year, it doesn't matter who they play in the playoffs, they will lose.
2. Considering they were pretty much dead last in bubble defense, they needed a performance like this to help build that confidence and get rid of the stench we could all smell watching this team try to defend anyone. Every single player that touched the floor brought it on the defensive end, and that shit is contagious. If you want to talk about building momentum to prepare for the playoffs, it starts on the defensive end.
- We give them a lot of shit often times because it's warranted, but both Semi and Wanamaker were solid as hell off the bench
Where did Semi get that stepback from? Who knew he had that in his bag? I also think I saw him put the ball on the floor and attack the rim? Or was I just blacked out, hard to say.
- How about Daniel Theis knocking down some corner threes. Remember when there were real life takes on Twitter that we should move Gordon Hayward so that those minutes could go to Steven Adams or Hassan Whiteside? That was fun. Not only is Theis a great positional defender, but he opens the floor which is so goddamn important when you are loaded with slashing wings.
- It was great to see the resolve of this team to open that third quarter. The Raptors got out quick and this team didn't pout, they didn't fold, any of that shit. Brad took the timeout to refocus, and they came out guns blazing. That was the type of mental toughness I want to see at all times.
- I love Grande stat tweets. They give me life
- There isn't a lot to choose from, but one thing that did stand out that I wasn't thrilled about was Marcus' shot selection. I knew it was going to be a problem the second he came in and took that early three behind a screen. He finished 1-8 (0-5) and while he still was able to make a winning impact, that's the shit that he can't really do. There is a time and place for Marcus to let it fly from deep, but he didn't take a single FT. I would have liked to see him be a little more aggressive and attack the basket since his outside shot wasn't falling. Nothing major, we're all used to it by now, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
- Is it me or is Hayward a little turnover prone lately? Feels like he's around 3-4 a night and that's certainly not ideal.
- It's also important that we tell the truth when it comes to the Raptors just having an off night. Chances are they aren't going to shoot that poorly too often, so while part of that is due to the Celts closeouts, there were also waaaaayyyyyy too many wide open looks that the Raptors simply didn't make. If they don't shoot like absolute dogshit and instead are just kind of bad, it's a different game. I'd like to see that tightened up moving forward.
- Remember when Raptors fans wouldn't stop saying that OG Anunoby was better than Jaylen? That was cute.
- Normally I only do this when the Celts win 5 in a row, but this is bubble life and bubble life is weird so I'm creating a new rule. If the Celts at any point are up 40 points against a contending team, we are skipping this section.
Through the "tough" part of the Celts reseeding schedule they came out the other side 3-2 which very well could have been 4-1. Had Giannis not had 15 fouls, chances are they beat both MIL and TOR. There's no excuse for their effort against MIA, but if you remember my stance on their schedule was that I loved playing the good teams early. I wanted to see what this team was made of and how much we should believe in them. Sitting here after the performance we just witnessed, I'm jumping in the pool with both goddamn feet. I've seen enough to know they can hang with anyone on any given night. That doesn't mean they should be favorites or anything like that, but they can hang around and games can be decided by a possession here or there.
The goal now is to finish this thing on a positive note. Their schedule lightens up slightly but now the challenge is staying mentally focused and not taking steps backwards. They passed the first part of their bubble test for me, let's see them do the same with the second part.