The Celtics Finally Won A Game At Home And They Looked Great Doing It

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Finally. It may have taken much longer than any of us preferred, but the Celtics finally won at home. To a lot of teams in the league that's no big deal, everyone wins at home. But for the Celts, I think it's OK to admit we were all getting a little antsy about it. You have to take care of business on your own floor. Period. Sitting at 0-3 with each loss coming in embarrassing fashion, this team needed the win not just for their record but for their psyche. Shit, I needed to see it for my own psyche. We can talk about how this team is starting to look better and play at a higher level, but ultimately it comes down to wins. Real ones. Ones that actually count in the standings. So, to see that the Celts have won 3 of their last 4 after the Bulls collapse and that could very well be 4 in a row if not for a Luka prayer is about as encouraging as it could possibly get. Their average margin of victory in those 4 wins is 15 points which I dunno doesn't feel too shabby to me. 

The record, is a work in progress. 5-6 is still not what I would consider good. But they aren't magically going to wake up with a better record. They can only go as their schedule goes. But I will say this. The team we've been watching since the Bulls collapse is a much better defensive team than we saw to start the season. That will translate to wins if they are able to maintain this level of defense which shouldn't be too crazy of an ask. Turns out that when the Celts aren't losing in 2OT, blowing 17 point leads or losing on game winners they are actually pretty decent. Who knew! 

This was also a game the Celts had to have given what happened in their home opener. It probably meant more to them than the Raptors and frankly, I don't give a shit. We needed to see this team respond with the type of effort and fight that we saw last night after the Raptors came in and punked them on their own floor. That tells us a lot about this group the same way it would have if they laid another egg and got blown out. 

It's also important to keep perspective. Beating the Raptors will always be fun, but a win against TOR doesn't mean your season is saved. You really only get a true sense of how you're doing when you're matched up with the "elite" teams. That's what tomorrow vs the Bucks will be. The same way going on the road and kicking the shit out of the Heat was a bigger deal than beating the Magic, being able to take care of the Bucks will tell us way more about this group than beating the Raptors. But until then, we'll focus on what happened last night because boy oh boy was it very much needed.

The Good

- OK, I don't want to overreact here but I just have to say it. Rob is blossoming into everything we ever hoped for him and more. His extension looks better and better by the second and he is showing no signs of slowing down. For the first time in his entire career he's getting consistent run, his body is holding up and holy shit the results are both real and spectacular

I thought Rob set the tone early in this game and the rest of the roster followed. With the Raptors going small, it was imperative that Rob dominate. He needed to make his presence felt on both the offensive and defensive glass and he immediately took advantage. His 3 OREB in the first quarter helped establish what type of night we were going to have and it's no surprise that he finished a team best +20 in his 32 minutes. Rob finished with 8 OREB, a couple steals, a block, and was 8-11 from the floor. Watching him play is such a joy because we're seeing a player reach his potential in real time. The best part is Rob can get even better!

When I talk about setting the tone, one play in that video that should stand out to you is when Rob contested the Siakam jumper (miss) and then beat everyone down the floor for the easy dunk. That's your center. The shit Rob can do defensively is intoxicating and with just 1 personal foul on the night he's starting to figure out how to stay on the floor. The double big lineup has been so fucking good defensively and a big part of that is when we get aggressive Rob the team just feels different. He spoke before the game about getting revenge and then he backed it up himself. Impossible to not love that.

- Did last night feel like a game in which Jayson Tatum went 8/24? Honestly you couldn't tell if you watched him play. Despite his shooting struggles Tatum was extremely engaged on both ends, he really hit the glass hard/focused on playmaking early and honestly this may have been one of his better all around performances of the season

I don't think I'm on an island when I say this is the type of performance we all want to see even on the nights when Tatum's shot isn't falling. There was no sulking. There was no complaining and not getting back on defense. There was no forcing his offense while ignoring the rest of his teammates. In fact, it was the exact opposite. On a night where the Celts needed to say enough of the bullshit and actually win at home, their best player showed up. That's the expectation, but it was nice to see Tatum live up to it.

If you want to dig even deeper, you could argue that Tatum's line should have been even better. Finishing with 7 assists in a game Jaylen didn't play is great, but Tatum actually finished with 12 potential assists. Guys knock down some open looks and this is a triple double night for Tatum. Defensively, Tatum's top two assignments (OG/Gary Trent Jr) finished with a combined 4 points. Last night we saw a version of Tatum was made a tangible impact despite his scoring. Yeah he led the team with 22, but it was a QUIET 22. His work as a rebounder/passer/defender is why they won this game and that feels incredible to type incase you were wondering.

- Celts won the rebounding battle, the points in the paint battle, the second chance points battle, never trailed even for 1 second and their largest lead was 18 points. All while holding another team to under 90. You do all that, not even this team could blow it.

- Which brings me to their defense. If this team is ever going to turn things around, it starts on the defensive end. If they don't defend, nothing else matters. Well, you woke up this morning with the Celtics owning the 10th best defense in the league. Since the start of November, it's been the 3rd best defense with a 100.8 rating. You look at their last four games you see scores of 88, 107, 28, and 79. That's about as elite as you can get. It should be no surprise that they are 3-1 over that span. Looking at their start to the season when they couldn't hold a team to under 115, their record sucked ass. Sometimes it's not that complicated.

So what changed? Well just like we hoped, guys are feeling more comfortable in Ime's switching. They've tweaked their approach some which has helped by switching less and then other times not switching 1-5, but overall we're seeing much better communication and effort. Those early season mistakes aren't showing us as much and the results have been immediate. It also doesn't hurt that their guard defense has been tremendous and their frontcourt defense is arguably among the best in the NBA right now. You put those pieces together and you see a team on the rise defensively.

- He's the new scapegoat for obvious reasons, but I do hope things are just as loud in terms of praise for Marcus Smart as they were after the Dallas blunder which caused everyone to demand he be traded immediately. To me, this was also one of his best all around performances. His shot selection/volume was once again fine, he finished with 6 assists and 0 turnovers to go along with 16 potential assists so the ball was moving, and defensively he was everywhere. He spent most of his night on OG, and he won that matchup holding him to 2 points. 

On the season, he's still shooting 31/28% which is what I would call bad. But this month those splits are 40/34%. Nobody will convince him for Steph Curry, but those are much more acceptable splits that are more in line with his career averages. He has a 12:2 assist to turnover ratio these last two games. His defense looks more like the All NBA version than the 2020 version. Not to mention, Smart's on/off splits are undeniable. The Celts have a +5.7 net rating when he's on the floor and a -10.9 net rating when he's off. That's one of the largest differentials on the entire fucking team.

This is why I get so confused when I hear people talk about how Smart is a cancer and he's killing the team. The actual production tells a very different story so why is it so hard for people to accept? Yes, he is not perfect. Yes, he makes boneheaded mistakes. But he's also been a pretty impactful player when it comes to this team playing well whether you want to admit it or not.

- As crazy as the Marcus Smart experience can be, we're learning the Dennis Schroder experience isn't all that different. On a night where he really struggled in certain stretches, you look down and he has 20 points on 8-15 shooting

Give him credit, when it came time to close in the fourth quarter, Schroder delivered. He tied Tatum with 5 FGA and finished with a team best 8 points on 3-5 shooting. His speed and ability to get to the rim in undeniable. If he can consistently hit that little midrange pullup, it makes him that much tougher to guard. Defensively the pairing of him and Smart has proven to be one of the best defensive guard pairings in the league. Schroder knocking down his open threes in this game was a huge relief considering we knew someone was going to have to step up in that department with Jaylen out. 

- Can we shoutout Romeo from the corner? Honestly, people tell me I'm crazy for paying attention to Summer League and preseason and all that, but I told you this was coming for Romeo. You could see it starting in Vegas when he hit his game winner from the corner. He looks so much more fluid and confident in his jumper and the results speak for themselves. Romeo is shooting 50% overall from three on the season and is 7/14 from the corners. It's real and it's a weapon. I love the fact that he's not hesitating whatsoever once he gets the ball in these situations too. He's going right into his shot and him having a reliable three point shot is something that ultimately will elevate his ceiling in terms of what type of player he could develop into.

The Bad

- I'm trying, but I can't ignore the fact that this team is missing way too many FTs. They missed another last night and they are 28th in the NBA this month in terms of FT% at just 71.9%. That's awful. It's hard enough for this team to actually get to the line, once they are there I need them to actually make their FTs. It didn't cost them last night but it has in the past so please save me the pain and just make your FTs.

- If it feels like every single game there's a play where the Celts get completely boned by the officials, it's sort of because they do. Last night it was the BLATANT goaltend that they decided to just not call. See for yourself

The ball very clearly hits the backboard before Precious touches it. That's a goaltend every single time. The fact that there's a ref right there and he still misses the call is inexcusable. What are you even looking at? Is it so crazy to ask that we have one game where this team doesn't get boned? First, it was the NBA admitting that Tatum actually didn't foul Montrezl Harrell. Then it was the NBA admitting that Porzingis actually did foul Smart. Now this. Honestly clean it the hell up.

- Remember how good Grant's three point shooting was to start the year? Yeah that shit is over. It's disappeared. He's now 2 for his last 16. Doesn't matter where he's shooting it from or how open he is, that shit has come crashing back down to earth. Granted you have bigger problems if ultimately Grant's three point shooting makes or breaks your night, but they need him to get back to begin somewhat respectable as an outside shooter.

- It's technically not good, so we have to throw Tatum's 8/24 in here. Ultimately it didn't matter, but we're still waiting for him to put together a string of efficient shooting nights. That hasn't happened at any point this season so it's something to monitor.

The Ugly

- There's really only one thing that fits this section and it's the 8 Dennis Schroder TOs. That's simply way too many. Now it should be said that not all TOs are created equal. There are some I can live with like that one he had to Rob where he simply threw the ball too hard. At least he was trying to create for others. But some of these other ones are just so bad. Schroder has a big time turnover problem when it comes to isolation (18.5% TOV%), and considering the one thing you can't do against the Raptors is turn it over to give them transition points, Schroder couldn't help himself. I can't imagine we'll see too many 8 TO performances, but that shit was painful to watch. Luckily Ime did a good job of calling timeouts to break up the TOR momentum, but Dennis needs to be much better about taking care of the ball.

All in all, good win. A much needed win. But now I need to see it against the Bucks who are starting to round into form. I think it's perfectly acceptable to be excited about what we're seeing in the moment while still acknowledging the Celts aren't over the hump just yet. A win tomorrow night will go a long way to getting them there though, that's for sure.