Boy did we all need ths one. Considering what happened the last time these two teams played on Sunday and then the OKC debacle, we needed a game like last night. The Celts had to find a way to stop the bleeding after the terrible 8 days they've had and stop blowing these very important and very winnable games. Every game of these final 9 is magnified, the Heat are not going to go away and they are right there to jump you in the play in, the Hawks injuries are starting to catch up with them and the Knicks are about to head West for a 6 game trip. This final stretch is their last chance to not only potentially find a way into the top 4/5, but also make sure they avoid the play in.
It doesn't mean all their problems are fixed. Let's not do that. But it was nice to see them come out with some goddamn fire after these last few games. It wasn't perfect, there were stretches where we all got a little nervous that they might blow things again, but the two best players on this team put everyone else on their backs and carried them over the finish line. That's what I want to see.
The reality of this team is we have no idea what they'll now look like tomorrow, but we can worry about that tomorrow. All I know is if they play like we saw for most of last night, things will be OK.
- We are currently watching one of the best stretches of Jaylen Brown's young career. It's been beautiful to watch
The good news is there isn't any sign that his knee issue is giving him any problems. What a relief. Instead, he's doing shit like this
Just a cool 38/7/4 on 13-23 (7-13) the night after dropping 39. I'd say that's pretty impressive and very much needed. Jaylen outscored the entire Hornets team by himself in the first quarter, and I'm ready to declare that the cure to the Celts slow starts to games is simply giving the ball to Jaylen early and often. He and Tatum are sort of opposite in that regard. Tatum usually starts slow and then picks it up in the second half. For me, I would basically run everything through Jaylen to start games. The numbers don't lie.
He leads the team in first quarter points (7.3) and is shooting 50/45.5% in first quarters this season. That's easily the best of any regular starter. Jaylen also makes the most threes of any Celtic in the first quarter. About 6 of his 19 FGA come in the first 12 minutes, and I wouldn't hate if that number is even higher. In this game Jaylen was aggressive early, played inside/out and it helped open up his three point shot. I wish everyone could play with this approach. You got the sense watching him that Jaylen was not going to let a repeat of Sunday happen. He led by example which is exactly what a leader does.
- We then can't forget about what Tatum did. His 33rd 30+ point game on the season, this performance now enabled him to pass Paul Pierce for the most by any Celtic before turning 24. Listen I've said it time and time again. If you do some shit that puts you in the same sentence with Celtics legends, that matters
35/8/8 for Tatum, the first of those type of games in his career on 12-23 shooting, the stand out part is obviously the passing. With Smart/Kemba out of the lineup they needed to find ways to have facilitation come from other areas. I cannot stress how important Tatum's passing is going to be in the Spring. He is going to command so much attention defensively that his ability to read defenses on the fly and make quick decisions is going to be a huge barometer of how this team will do. They need his scoring sure, but defenses will tighten up in the playoffs. If he can pass like he did last night, that'll go a long way.
Tatum was nails in the second half (20 points) and didn't miss a shot in the fourth quarter (3-3). The Jays combined for 73 points on 25-46 shooting and made 11 3PM. You cannot tell me you didn't love to see that.
- You know what I also loved to see? The play of Aaron Nesmith. This kid plays hard as shit. He's always around the ball, he's always making things happen, and his defense has gotten wayyyyyy better from what we saw earlier in the year. For a team that sometimes has an energy problem, I cannot see a reason why Nesmith would not be given a legit chance at rotation minutes. He's starting to find his footing and you can see why Ainge liked him
Easily the best performance of his young career, I just think there's something to the idea that the Basketball Gods reward guys/teams that play hard and play with energy. The ball finds those guys. That's what Nesmith does. He's also not a complete zero on the offensive end. He's shooting just under 37% from three this month and is around 35% from three since February 1st. Nesmith made some big ones last night, but we're also seeing him be able to put the ball on the floor and score in other ways. His 9 rebounds last night were pretty much all effort plays, something that this team always needs.
If his defense can continue to be at the level we saw last night, he's won the battle with Romeo for this backup wing spot. There are signs that Nesmith can actually give you something offensively which is not something we've seen from Romeo so far this season. When I watch Nesmith play I get early rookie Jaylen vibes. He goes 1000000 MPH, he's a little out of control, but he brings that energy and effort defensively to where Brad will start to trust him more. I see no reason why we can't see what Nesmith can bring over these last 9 games and maybe you found something for the playoffs in limited minutes.
- Is there any doubt as to what Rob means and brings to this roster? Instant impact. He only played 16 minutes in his first game back and only had 4 points on 3 FGA, but he also had 9 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 VERY loud blocks
In the games Rob missed it was pretty clear there was no other big on the roster that could do any of those things. That second chasedown block is my favorite. Yelling the whole way down for Nesmith to stop the ball, he realizes that's not going to happen so he says fuck it and takes matters into his own hands. That's the energy and effort that this team misses when Rob doesn't play. He owned the paint last night even in his limited minutes.
Nobody should say Rob is the savior or anything like that, but you're either lying to yourself or not watching if you cannot see the very real impact that he makes every time he steps foot on the court. It's why keeping him healthy is so important.
- Crazy what can happen when you don't miss all your shots. Sometimes it's just as simple as not going 11-49 from three.
- When the Celts play a team without a true big man, those are the games I need Tristan Thompson to feast. That won't really be the case in the postseason, but it sure as shit will be the case over these next 9 games which is all I care about right now. Give me more performances like this
Nothing fancy, nothing pretty, just high energy and high effort. 7 OREB is not an accident, shit like that happens when you are outworking your opponent. I get a little nervous when they play through Thompson offensively because he can be a black hole at times, but I thought he was great last night. Gave them just what they needed from that spot.
- It disappeared at times which was annoying, but overall we saw this team finish with 26 assists on 44 FGM. I can live with that number. Anything around 30 is good enough for me, and wouldn't you know it, the Celts won! Almost like moving the ball and making defenses rotate actually works. That's what allowed them to feast in the paint (54 points) and helped them get off to an early 20 point lead. They had 9 assists alone in the first quarter and shot 56/45%. Again, that's not an accident or a new concept. You play the right way, you play with the right energy and move the ball and good things will happen.
- Man, Evan Fournier is really struggling as he makes his way back from covid. It's a situation where you can't fault him, Brad talked postgame about how he's dealing with some shit from it, but man this dude is struggling big time. Another 1-7 last night, he almost looks as if he's afraid to fuck up or miss every time he touches the ball. He's playing 30+ minutes a night so that's pretty important. The only way he's going to get out of this rut is to shoot his way out, so I want him to stay aggressive. Watching him offensively it doesn't seem like he's even looking for ways to score. These struggles are clearly messing with his head, and I just want him to forget that shit and play.
His role as a secondary scorer is too important for him to be giving this team nothing on a nightly basis. His defense isn't the best, we've seen him get attacked repeatedly on that end these last few games, and this team needs him to make up for that by giving them at least something offensively. You can totally understand why he's struggling and it's valid, but that doesn't mean it's not bad.
- We did not see the same type of intensity on the defense end in the second half, which is probably why we watched a 20 point lead get all the way down to 3. That half it was the same old story. Not the best ball movement, a collection of terrible turnovers (9) including 4 in the fourth quarter, you could make the case the Celts got a little lucky to not blow this game. Wouldn't that have been some shit. A new low right after reaching a new low the night before.
- It was very confusing watching Cody Zeller become this unstoppable force off the bench. Cody Zeller. I can live with guys like Terry or Devonte Graham or Miles Bridges being a problem, I'm not sure I can accept an inability to limit Cody Zeller. That wasn't great.
- If the Celts are going to be a switch heavy team, they can't be soft about it and they have to be smart when they do it. Can't switch when there's no help on the weak side, can't switch and then not pressure the ball so it's easy for a guard to find the mismatch with an easy pass in the paint. Too often we saw CHA run a simple high screen to exploit the mismatch and then the guy with the ball felt no pressure. Good teams in the playoffs are going to eat that shit alive.
- I thought Tremont was mostly fine through the first 3 quarters, but man were his 3 fourth quarter TOs very bad. I think if you do have to play Tremont he's better with the starters, but I also think he has some issues with trying to do too much. Don't be fancy, just make the easy and right play/pass. Especially in the fourth quarter when the game is still in the balance. He was the only starter to finish with a negative +/-, but he did have 6 assists and a couple steals. Like I said, outside of his brutal fourth quarter he was mostly fine, but those turnover were killer and cannot happen.
So now that the bleeding has stopped for the moment, the question now becomes can this team continue on the right path. It's been up and down and up and down and up and down all goddamn year that nobody can say for sure. But with the teams around them finding ways to win, it's imperative the Celts do the same. Before their set with MIA they go SA/POR/ORL/CHI, and I need at least a 3-1 stretch in those games. Despite everything that's gone on this year their opportunity is still right in front of them, they just have to actually seize the moment.