How impressive is the Celtics 6-3 start? Well, they've played more road games than any other team in the NBA to start the year and are 4-2. They have wins over the Bucks, Heat, Pacers, and Raptors. All teams that were in the top 5 in the playoff seeding last year who I was told all offseason got better while the Celtics did not. They've won 3 in a row and 5 of their last 6. Half of their 6 wins have come on game winners. That feels like a ridiculous amount of game winners to start a year. How many do you usually get in a full season? 3-5? If that? It's truly remarkable and a little concerning that every single Celtics game comes down to the final possession, but I will also tell you the Celtics lead the NBA in close wins with 3. They've been as good as any team in the league in these high pressure moments. All without arguably one of their best closers in Kemba Walker.
If I were to grade their start in terms of record, given their schedule I'd give it a solid B/B+. If I were to grade their actual play in these first 9 games, it's more like a C+/B-. I don't think they've even played all that well yet. Their defense still has a ton of issues, offensively they can't put together a full 48 minute performance, and they can't stop blowing leads. They've been anything but perfect so far, but the record is the record.
Now that a lot of the doubters are realizing they made a drastic mistake in how they evaluated this team in the offseason, you're going to see them try and change their tune. Sorry. You didn't believe in this team and when any of us who did tried to explain that they will still be a problem based on the free agent additions and the internal development of their best players, we were called "Green Teamers". Well look at what is fucking happening.
After what happened in the bubble, this was a pretty big game for the Celts. Despite it being early in the season, all of these matchups with the contenders in the East matter. I think we just have to accept the fact that whenever these two teams play, the Celts are going to get out to a 17 point lead, the Heat are going to come back, and the last 12 minutes are always going to be stressful down to the very last second. We saw this exact game six separate times in the ECFs, and I don't see it changing anytime soon.
Let's dive in.
- You know who was motivated for this one? Jayson Tatum. Given what happened in the EF, you could tell pretty much right away that Tatum was ready.
There was no messing around from Tatum offensively. Everything he did, he did with purpose. He found the mismatches and exploited them by attacking the rim. On no planet can Tyler Herro guard this man, yet the Heat kept trying it. You fools. If Jimmy Butler isn't going to guard Tatum, I'm not sure there is anyone on the Heat roster that can. What I loved is that Tatum didn't settle for fadeaways or anything like that when he realized Herro was on him. He used his strength and scored at will.
The final line was great, I mean who will argue with 27/5/4 with 5 3PM on efficient splits. But it was also his clutch play late, including a HUGE three right in Bam's eyeball late in the fourth quarter that made Tatum's night so impressive. He was the best player on the floor last night and came through when this team needed him. It was beautiful.
- And then there was Jaylen.
Jaylen had one of those nights where you don't think he's doing all that well and then you look down and he has 21/12/5 including 8 huge fourth quarter points. If this is a "bad" game for Jaylen then it just goes to show you how good his season currently is. He had 21/12/5! Add a couple steals to it and the fact that he held Jimmy Butler to 0-4 shooting, and it was another great two way performance for Jaylen. His two fourth quarter threes were huge and very much needed after the entire team went cold from deep after the first quarter, and there is just something about having two reliable studs in these big moments that brings joy to my life. When a team can't stop either? Well that's just the cherry on top.
- I thought the Celts were much more prepared for the Heat zone this time around, and it's probably why we didn't see Miami go to it down the stretch. That thing gave the Celts all sorts of problems in the bubble, but I never felt like they were unprepared over the course of this game. They knew what to do. They were deliberate with their actions, and they got into the paint. It's almost as if breaking a 2-3 zone is kind of easy or something.
- Have we gone on long enough? Can I talk about Payton Pritchard yet because I want to talk about Payton Pritchard
Did he shoot well? Nope. He was 3-10 (0-4). He also finished with 6 rebounds and 4 assists. He led the team with 4 OREB. None more important than his first career game winner. I'm not the only one who trusts this man with my life, Brad apparently does as well. If people thought Celtics fans overrated FastPP before, well just you fucking wait. How many other rookies have game winners yet? Oh, interesting.
Here's what I loved most about his game winner. It was all instincts. You either have that in you or you don't. Dare I say….it was a winning play mentality. I think that's the best way I can describe Payton's play. He has great basketball instincts. He just knows what to do and when to do it like he's been in the league 10 years. It's wild. Also, shoutout to Brad for the adjustment to bring him in for Theis with 38 seconds left. With all the heat Brad gets about his rotations, let's give him some love there.
I'd say it's a good sign that even on a night where he couldn't buy a bucket shooting the ball, Pritchard was still engaged and found a way to impact winning. Again, this was his 9th career game.
- Another solid 15 minute stint for Rob with 8/4 and a block. The Heat had no real answer for the two man game of Pritchard and Timelord, and I'm at the point where I need to see more of it. I thought defensively Rob was much more consistent, and it's pretty clear if you just lob it up to him he's going to finish pretty much everything at the rim.
- We also need to shoutout Grant. When playing MIA, you need someone who has good lateral quickness and versatility to stay with Bam. I thought Grant did a hell of a job containing Bam offensively. He guarded him on 13 total possessions and held him to 4-10 shooting. You wouldn't take that? Grant played 10 fourth quarter minutes, Bam had 4 points. He was solid on the glass, gave you a corner three which is always nice, and was very active defensively. He needed a performance like this because the start to his season hasn't been all that good, but Grant was solid last night.
- Just 7 TOs in this game. Crazy that you can beat MIA if you don't turn it over 19 times. Where was that in the bubble.
- I don't know who this Semi is, but I know that he's looking like an actual NBA player. That might not seem like a big deal to some, but for those of us who have watched his entire career, it is a very big deal. He's serviceable and maybe that might be underselling him. Semi has been great for the second unit this season and last night was no different.
- I'm pretty sure the second quarter of this game was one of the worst performances offensively we've seen from this team. They shot just 28/14% from the floor, Tatum and Jaylen went a combined 2-10, and instead of taking their early momentum and building on it, they did the exact opposite. This wasn't a situation where they couldn't stop turning it over, but instead the offense stalled. Everything that was successful in the first quarter was nowhere to be seen in the second. Guys were forcing shots, there was no ball movement, everything was iso bullshit. They need to burn the tape of that performance and never do that shit again.
- If we're being honest I kept thinking to myself how bullshit it was that the Celts lost to this team in the ECF. I couldn't help it. They should have won that shit in 6.
- Tough whistle for the Celts, no doubt about that. In a game they were actually aggressive and attacked the rim, shit wasn't even close. They finished with 23 fouls to MIA's 15, and the FTA difference was massive. I'm talking 26-12. The Heat made nearly 2x (22) the FTs as the Celts even attempted. You don't usually win games on the road like that, especially when you are shorthanded. They had 56 points in the paint compared to MIA's 40. They attacked, so why can't they get the same whistle as everyone else?
I just don't understand how this happens basically every game. I can get the nights where the Celts do nothing but launch threes, but that was not the case in this game. They were just as aggressive as MIA, yet the Heat never fouled? OK.
- Once again we saw this team have another dogshit third quarter. Did anyone actually think that 17 point lead was going to hold? Come on, watch a Celtics game for me one time. Of course the Heat would come out and shoot 63/55% and dorp 35 points in the quarter to regain the lead and make this a dogfight. Despite Tatum doing everything he could offensively, nobody else joined him. Jaylen went 1-6 in the quarter, Grant 2-5, and defensively there was no energy or effort. Everything was too easy for the Heat and it was the same old story. The Celts did not look ready to play and they paid the price. I cannot stress how fucking annoying that is.
- Make no mistake, this was the worst we've seen Marcus Smart play the entire season. He nearly lost them the game. I love him, but that's the truth. His shot selection went back to being poor, defensively he wasn't all that great, and that foul to end the half might be the worst foul you see in the NBA this entire year. It's great they won despite the worst game of the year for Smart, but I need him to be better. Too many hero shots from him late in the fourth quarter. From the air balled three, to even the game winning attempt that he missed (and got fouled), that's not what I need Smart doing in those moments. That's why this team has the Jays.
I can't praise him for the times he shows restraint and makes the right basketball play, and then ignore performances like that where he reverts back to the bad habits that get this team in trouble. I am fair. When he's good, I'll praise him. When he's really bad and nearly costs them a much needed win, well he deserves criticism for it. I'd say he did more harm than good, and he needs to be a whole lot better against good teams.
- I think I'm all set with Tristan Thompson isolation offense. You want to catch the ball and back someone down? Cool. But I don't need you dribbling into a floater. I've yet to see it go in.
- What the fuck was that last 1:10? You're up 10 points and you can't hold that lead? Instead you decide to give Duncan Robinson 2 good looks from three and then foul him on one of them? Then, to make matters worse, you can't get a rebound that allowed Dragic to nail a three to tie it with 9 seconds left? For fucks sake wake up and finish games strong. Don't complain about non calls, lock in and defend until the final whistle. This is happening way too often and it needs to stop.
The good news is we'll see this team again in a few days. The Wizards come to town tomorrow and they just dropped like 135 so it'll be another test for this defense, something that hasn't looked good basically all year. You know the Heat will be motivated for the rematch, but there's no denying the Celts are riding that momentum wave right now. Let's see how far it takes them.