A Much Needed Win With Kemba Looking Great Is A Pretty Big Deal

Nathaniel S. Butler. Getty Images.

After the Celts dropped the opener of this little mini series to the Hawks, you were right to feel frustrated. It was the same thing we've seen most of the year. Beat a good team the game before, hope and pray that maybe it would be the start of taking some steps forward, only to have an emabrrassing loss at home to a team they had no business losing to. While nobody could deny that there are holes Danny Ainge needs to fill at the deadline, it did feel like a lot of people lost a little bit of perspective. Yeah, the Celts lost that first game due to atrocious defense and Jaylen's off night. But any time you also wanted to point out that they were also missing three starters that may have impacted both ends, that was called making an excuse rather than stating a fact.

I know this because guess who looked a whole lot better and basically blew this same exact Hawks team out once they got 2 of those 3 starters back? You know the answer. And this is sort of my overall point when it comes to this team. Yes, they have underachieved. Yes, there are glaring roster issues that need to be fixed. But it's also true they've barely had any games with their main guys active. When they are, the team tends to play and look a whole lot better. All those things can be true. If the Celts are going to turn around their record, it's not just going to be due to roster improvements, also actually getting their normal starting players into the lineup will go a long way. 

But until we see a consistent stretch from this group, I wouldn't say their problems are fixed or they have snapped out of their funk. That comes over time. I'm just fucking relieved they didn't lose to this team again. Especially with Kemba and Theis back. Instead, we saw a group that looked awfully familiar, and that's about as good a sign as you could hope for.

The Good

- It took about 4 games of Kemba Walker struggling for the internet and many Celtics fans to jump ship. He was washed, they needed to trade him, he would never be the same. You could find it all when it came to Kemba. The truth is, he was awful to start. That part was real. 

On February 10th, I wrote this blog

The basis of it was to simply point out that we had already lived through the exact sort of 8-10 game slump from Kemba just last season. In fact, it happened twice, both before his knee injury. In the end, he snapped out of it right after around that 10th game. The point was to show you that you shouldn't overreact to this slow start, because those dips have been part of the Kemba experience dating back to his Hornets days.

Which brings me to last night

That's the All Star Kemba we all remember. This notion that his quickness isn't there? False. The idea that he can't blow by anyone anymore? Nope. The argument that he can no longer finish at the rim over shot blockers? Also not true.

Every single way you want to see Kemba score, we got in this game. The pull up three, stepping into his shooting pocket from behind the arc off a high screen, attacking the rim by blowing past his primary defender and finishing over a shot blocker (Capela) on a regular basis, getting to the FT line, it was all there. Here is his stretch over the last 4 games, where the Celts have gone 3-1

Now let me be very clear about something. We need to see this for a longer stretch, call it 10-15 games before you should say he's officially all the way back. But in order to get to that 10-15 you have to play 4, and Kemba's last 4 games have been right in line with his All Star production from last year. You could make the case that he has in fact returned to the player that this roster needs him to be as the third option next to the Jays. The scoring, the efficiency, the way in which he's scoring, his defense has been passable, it's easily been the best stretch of Kemba's season so far. If they get this version of Kemba, the team will be fine. It raises their ceiling. If that means they have to rest him and be smart about when he plays during the regular season that's fine by me because a rested Kemba looked fucking fantastic.

- Speaking of someone snapping out of their shooting slump, it sure does look like Jayson Tatum is doing the same

I get it, this is against the Hawks who don't exactly have what I would call a good defense, but I also don't give a shit because I need this team to secure any goddamn win they can get. I need to see Tatum back to consistently hitting jumpers, which he has done in these last two games. Who wouldn't take 25/8/6 on 10-21 shooting. The biggest difference this season for Tatum is obviously the increased playmaking and assist numbers, and really as soon as he gets his turnovers under control he'll really be cooking with gas.

This team will only go so far as he's able to take them, and I think we're seeing a player that was maybe embarrassed by his effort against the Wizards, because he's been great in the three games since. We see a much more engaged Tatum on both ends, and now that his shooting looks to be coming back around, we can all exhale a little bit. I'd like to see him take more than 2 FTA, but that's a topic for another blog.

- Is it a stretch to say every big that played last night was great? I don't mean that in terms of defending Clint Capela as a roll man in the P&R, that was a disasster. But overall, this team got great minutes from all their bigs. The two big lineup actually looked…….sneaky good?

I mean, if you're going to tell me that Brad can play both Thompson and Theis against a zone and that they somehow have this weird chemistry where they have a little two man game going on, well then I'll be damned. That two big lineup looked real bad to start the year, but maybe like with anything it just needed time to figure things out. Thompson was great last night finishing around then rim, being active on the glass, and as a high post passer. 

Theis made an immediate impact as a defender on John Collins and as added rim protection that was clearly missing in the first game. The man had 14/8/4 with 3 blocks and was a +20. You don't think him not playing in the first game mattered? 

- Then there's Rob. The coolest motherfucker in the entire league. 

I don't even know what to say when it comes to Rob. He's perfect? Even when he does stupid things it just looks so awesome. I'm very very very close to declaring this the breakout season that we all hoped Rob would have. For me, my goal for Rob was to have a similar Year 3 jump as DeAndre Jordan had in hisage 22 season. He went from around 4/5 with 0.9 blocks in 16 minutes to 7/7 with 1.8 blocks in 25 minutes. Well, let's see how Rob's doing

He's blowing it out of the fucking water. There's no denying at this point that he's their second most impactful big after Theis. He shot blocking ability makes an actual impact. That's the difference between him and Thompson. Tristan doesn't force guys to change their shot. Rob does. Doesn't matter if it's on a drive or a jumper. He's blocking everything. Not only that, but he's also going to pick Trae Young's pocket on the perimeter??????? 

We're seeing why he has so much potential and hype. He did all that yesterday and STILL played under 20 minutes. Only 16 in fact. Imagine what he's going to be doing when he gets 25 a night? If he can stay healthy, he's an impact rotation player. Not only that, he's insanely fun to watch. So far that looks like a decent pick at 27 imo.

- Nice bounce back effort from Jaylen as well. A nice efficient 17/4/6

His little 9 point in 15 seconds run or whatever was rather enjoyable, and I honestly think he should have touched the ball more down the stretch of this game. I'm just happy he didn't have another stinker and maybe start to form some bad habits, because that was the All NBA Jaylen we know and love.

- I don't think it was an accident that guys returned to the lineup and Brad was allowed to go back to tightening his rotation. Only 9 guys plus 3 minutes of Javonte. Grant and Teague didn't even see the floor. Let this be a reminder for when people get mad at Brad because he plays those guys when players are out. When he doesn't have to, he won't.

- It was refreshing to see this team play some actual defense after one of their worst showings in the last 10 years in the first game. That's not hyperbole either, it was the 5th best shooting performance for an opponent in the last 10 years. Things turned in the second quarter because the Celts showed a pulse on defense, they held the Hawks to just 19 points on 33/16% shooting and caused 8 TOs. There was your ballgame as the lead ballooned to 25.

- Aaron Nesmith plays with just the type of energy this team needs from a wing off the bench. He is EVERYWHERE. I don't even care about his shot right now if he's going to continue to make high energy and effort plays that impact winning. That shit is contagious and it's the easiest way onto the floor while playing for Brad. He has multiple fast break blocks at the rim, he's comes flying in on every rebound it seems, and it's no surprise he's gaining more confidence as he sees more minutes. 

The Bad

- I hate to do this to him, but this is a blog where we tell the truth. Sadly, we have to start here with Payon Pritchard's night.You go 0-7 (0-5) I'm not sure where else you could go. It's no big deal really, he's shown he can be a consistent player, this was just an off night. The worst shooting night of his young career, and he was a team worst -18. We can't just pretend like it didn't happen.

Which is why I will not stop talking about how reserve point guard is a major need on this roster. We all love FastPP, but he is going to have the normal ups and downs of a rookie season. That shit is normal. Since Jeff Teague is unplayable, they need to find another steady option at that position for the bench. Especially with Smart's injury and Kemba's load management. I don't see how you couldn't want that. It didn't hurt them last night because Kemba was great, but they didn't get a thing from that position other than him which is an issue.

- Only 10 FTA as a team which felt weird because I thought the Celts didn't really settle. Their 35 3PA was the same as ATL's 30, I guess the Hawks just did a better job at defending without fouling? The foul difference was 21-14, and I find that a little suspect. 

- So we can all agree this team has no answer for Trae Young right? He tore that ass up in these two games. Got where he wanted on the floor, it all looked easy for him. There was no trapping, guys couldn't stay in front of him, that has me a little worried. 

The Ugly

- Of course, because this team loves to torture us, they nearly blew a 27 point lead. In typical Celtics fashion, this came due to horrific play in the fourth quarter. First it was the turnovers, then it was the inability to defend without fouling, and then came the easy buckets. The Hawks shot 55/75% and scored 36 points in those final 12 minutes. They started the quarter on a 11-0 run or some shit. I think we were all prepared for one of the worst collapses of any team in the entire league. 

Tatum had a tough 2-6 fourth quarter with 2 TOs, Jaylen was 0-3, and if not for the Theis/Thompson connection we might have had a very different blog today. The only positive is I guess Brad has something to yell at them about even in a game where they played mostly great.

- The handles of the Jays has become a bit of an issue. Especially for Tatum. Another 6 TOs last night, this continues to be a problem. Their high usage players needs to take better care of the basketball. Finishing with 18 TOs as a team is going to get you beat. This has been a problem for a pretty decent stretch and I'm not sure what the answer is. Practice dribbling? I just need everyone to figure it out because these turnovers are coming in the fourth quarter which is only asking for trouble.

We now see this team maybe have their game on Tuesday against the Mavs get cancelled, and then it's back to another date with the Hawks. As know, we can't buy into a turnaround until we actually see this team turn it around, but all I know is if they play like they did last night, they'll do just that.