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Payton Pritchard Is The GOAT

Giphy Images.

Coming off their heartbreaking and frustrating loss on Sunday to the Pacers, last night was about as important of a game as you can have just four games into your season. With the condensed schedule, the head to head matchup record potentially determining seeding down the road, momentum, this may have been an early season game but it was one the Celts desperately needed to win. You can't keep messing around and dropping games that you have no business losing. It's important to have a little perspective. The Celts have played like dogshit for long stretches of these first four games. They are not nearly as good as they need to be and they have a ton of bad habits they need to get rid of. But at the end of the day, they are 2-2. The same record as the Nets, Lakers, and Bucks and are the only team that was a top 4 seed last year that has only played playoff teams to start the year. One of their losses was by a single point. All without Kemba. 

That's not so bad.

It could be much better in a ton of areas, we all agree there, but last night gave us a glimpse of what this team can be when they really show up defensively and play with actual effort. They shouldn't need to find a way to come back from being down 17 because of their infuriating play, but this team didn't quit. They clawed back, executed well down the stretch, and now enter a much lighter part of their schedule like what other teams have had to start the year. With MEM/DET/DET/TOR up next, there is a chance for the Celts to really build some momentum.

But before we look ahead we first have to talk about what we saw last night

The Good

- This my friends is the Jayson Tatum we all know and love

Tatum took a lot of flack for his stepback game winner attempt in the first matchup, and to me it was pretty important that he show up in this game and assert himself as the best player on the court. He did that with his 27/11/4/3 performance on 9-17 shooting. He was unguardable in the fourth quarter with 14 huge points, and the biggest thing we saw from Tatum was him actually get to the FT line. I'm not kidding, he took 10 attempts, he was aggressive and really utilized that step through move in the post to perfection. He can score whenever he wants when he goes to that move, it's like watching Hakeem Olajuwon or something. 

When things got close in the fourth quarter, after an early midrange jumper everything else from Tatum was at the rim. You tell me if this is where you want Tatum to live every night because if you say no then you aren't paying attention

A much more engaged effort on both ends, Tatum also led the Celts with 7 deflections. This was more of the type of complete performance we aren't only used to seeing from Tatum, but something he's going to have to consistently do for this team if they want to win. It was good to see him bounce back with this type of efficient two way performance after the first game, and not a situation where he just settled for stepbacks/tong twos as a way to make up for the one he missed. That shows me growth.

- And then there's the real reason the Celtics won this game. The GOAT. Those are Jaylen's words, not mine

Make no mistake about it, Danny Ainge was heavily mocked for taking Payton Pritchard with the 26th pick while other guards were on the board. Well, who is laughing now? Not only has Pritchard earned Brad's trust, it's pretty clear the kid can play at this level. I don't hear those same people who killed Ainge for this pick now complaining that Pritchard is 3rd among rookies in total points and 9th in points per game. That's right. He's basically been one of the best rookies in his class to start the season. 

He was taken 26th.

His energy changed this entire game at the end of the third quarter/fourth. The Celts looked dead, things ballooned to a 17 point lead and they needed someone to give them a spark. That's exactly what Pritchard did and he did it in like 2 minutes of action. The lead was gone before you knew it, Payton was blowing by people off the dribble and finishing over bigs at the rim, he was pushing the pace, it was about as close to perfect as you can get. I also love that either Fast PP or 8 mile (which Tatum calls him), works so perfectly. That's a big factor in determining start potential. Nicknames are important. 

Nobody is saying he's an All Star, but can he be a shot of energy off the bench? Yup. He's shooting 55/59% to start the year! He shows unreal poise in the P7R, I love how he always keeps his dribble alive, it's like I'm watching Steve Nash dribble around and find guys. I know he'll have his issues defensively given his size, but that's OK. You can hide that. There's no denying that right now outside of Smart he might be the best point guard on the roster until Kemba is back.

- Jaylen Brown continues to have a very very very very very good start to his season

He's efficient (7-13), he's attacking the rim, he's showing development in his handles and ability to put the ball on the floor and beat people off the dribble, he's active defensively (4 steals), and he had the biggest play of the night with the game sealing steal. This is easily the best we've ever seen Jaylen Brown look, and what stands out to me is the consistency. This is just who he is now. I cannot stress how important it is for the success and ceiling of this team that this is the type of version of Jaylen that we are getting. 

Did you know he spent 15 possessions on TJ Warren and held him to 2 points on 0-0 shooting? Or that he then guarded Oladipo for 12 possessions and held him to 2 points? Jaylen is locked in on both ends right now and it is truly beautiful to watch.

- I was much happier about how active the Celts were defensively, especially to start this game. They got off to a good start mostly because of their defense, their hands were much more active and they finished with 10 steals. When you can sometimes struggle to score offensively, being able to defend well and get out in transition is important. The best way for the Celts to fix their offensive issues is to get easy bucks on the break, because they have some of the best fastbreak finishers in the NBA. It was good to see them get back to that.

- Lot of Myles Turner/Tristan Thompson talk this offseason, and you saw what each of their strengths are. Turner was good in these two games and last night was another showcase of what he can do. But the same is true for Thompson

You're telling me the Celts don't need a big capable of going for 14/10 with 7 OREB? Someone who held an All Star big in Sabonis to 3-7 shooting and Myles Turner to only 1 point? Call me crazy but I'd say that's pretty important and something this team desperately needed.

- I am in love with the way Marcus Smart is playing right now. Yes hew was 3-10, but it was under control. He was 3-6 from deep and made some big time momentum threes, and I loved how he was aggressive and got to the line (10 FTA). But more importantly, I really love what he is doing as a facilitator. He finished with 5 more assists and 0 turnovers and has 24 assists and 5 TOs on the year. His shot selection truly is better and it's making a real difference.

- I also thought Rob gave the Celts great minutes. He only played 10:46, but once again made an impact the second he stepped o the floor. I think this is the version of Rob we are all hoping to get consistently, and that's only going to happen if he continues to play like this. The way he challenges shots is a big deal, I thought his energy and effort on the glass was a big part of why they were able to change the momentum in this game, and I wouldn't say he made too many defensive mistakes. it looks to me like a player who is starting to figure it out.

The Bad

- What the hell happened to Jeff Teague? Where did the buckets go. He's like 2 for his last 18 or some shit like that. It's not like he's taking bad shots either, he's just missing bunny after bunny. Did we actually get Minnesota Jeff Teague? That's not great if that's the case because this team NEEDS him to be an efficient bench scorer. That was the whole idea and he's been pretty brutal since the MIL showing. 

- I still think Jayson Tatum needs to take much better care of the basketball. Given his usage rate and how important he is to the offense, he needs to stop turning it over 4-5 times a game. He really struggled figuring out what to do when Sabons kept hedging on the P&R, and that will come with reps. The more he sees it as the primary ball handler the more prepared for it he'll be, but last night was pretty rough.

- I don't think it was an accident that Grant only played 5 minutes and had a quick hook from Brad. He hasn't looked all that great so far to start the year.

- We see what happens when the Celts don't pressure the ball. Guys like Oladipo are able to get to the rim at will. The Celts need to be much better at owning their space and making the offensive player feel their presence defensively. Be proactive and not reactive. When they hunker down and show that life defensively, things work out for them. They cause turnovers and score in transition. When they sit back and don't play with that same effort, you could fucking score on them.

- Still no minutes for Aaron Nesmith. It's bizarre, don't ask me to explain it. I guess he's not doing what he needs to do in practice or something because last time I checked this team could still use shooting. How bad could it be defensively? Hopefully on the back to back tonight we see him actually play.

- On no planet is it even remotely acceptable for this team to go 17-27 from the FT line. What the hell is that? Jaylen missing FIVE, Tatum missing two, Smart missing two, honestly what the fuck. There was no need to sweat this game out like we had to if our good FT shoots would just make their FTs. Now we're missing in the fourth quarter? Grow up.

The Ugly

- What else can we put here other than this team's effort in the third quarter. You entered up 1, and 10 minutes later you were down 17. Once again it was a disaster that should have lost them the game. I don't get it, I really don't. How is it possible game after game to continue to look SO BAD to start the second half? I knew as soon as they turned it over and Oladipo hit that three on their first possession how things were going to go. It's maddening. There is no excuse for them to come out and play so lifeless. It's not about what Brad says at halftime. It's about the players showing up and playing with effort. They didn't enter the half with a big lead or anything. There was no reason for them to be asleep when the second half started.

4 TOs, no defense, a bunch of fouls, this is not a random fluke thing. This is now a trend and it is one that is going to ruin their season if they don't figure their shit out. It dates back to the bubble and it's pretty clear nobody has any idea how to fix it. All I know is that there is no way I can ever trust this team to not completely shit their pants in the third quarter. Maybe that'll change but right now that's the expectation.

Last night was waaaay too much Theis in the third (1-5), and not enough of the Jays (Tatum 1-2, Jaylen 2-3). Meanwhile on the defensive end they showed no signs of stopping TJ Warren or Oladipo. It's a problem, it has been a problem, and I need it fixed immediately. 

But like I said. 2-2 is 2-2. They are keeping their head above water while Kemba's out and that's all we asked for. They've played arguably the three other best teams in the conference to start the year, and have been competitive in 3 of the 4 games. you can certainly start the year off worse than that, so now let's see them build some momentum as the schedule lightens up.