A lot can happen over the course of a month. Think of how you felt when the month of November first started. Probably pretty shitty since we all witnessed the Celts blow a 17 point fourth quarter lead to the Bulls to drop to a disgusting 2-5. As expected, the takes came. Marcus Smart was a team cancer and had to be traded. Jayson Tatum doesn't have "it" and cares more about his personal stats than winning. The Jays should be split up. Ime is an idiot who is in way over his head. They had an ineffective team meeting and it didn't look like things could be salvaged. We got it all in those first 7 games as it tends to happen when this team underachieves. I said it and the time and I believe it to this day. If you didn't want that narrative to exist or that type of shit to happen, play better. Win games. It's that simple. You win and none of that shit exists.
Fast forward to November 23rd. The Celts have won 8 of 11 and have been one of the better teams in the league since that November 1st meltdown. Their defense is atop the league, their 8 wins are near the top, and Jayson Tatum has found his groove. Suddenly, I imagine you feel a lot better about things. A 10-8 record is still a work in progress, things aren't fully turned around just yet, but that's certainly the trend we're seeing. At 2-5, we all prayed that this team would figure it out and start to stack wins. Real ones too, not just the fake ones where we aren't mad at losses because they came in 2OT or on a game winner. I'm talking wins that actually go in the W column. For the Celts to do just that while also missing two pretty important starters was even more impressive.
Part of this is beating teams you have no business losing to. Something the 2020 Celts refused to do, but the 2021 Celts have figured out to start the season. They are now 5-1 against teams .500 or below which keeps pace with BKN (8-0), CHI (4-1), MIA (3-1), WSH (4-1), CHA (3-1), MIL (6-2), PHI (5-2). Good teams take care of business against teams that stink. When you're in a position where you need every win you can get, winning games like last night against HOU are important. It may not seem like it now because it's November, but screwing around in those games and finding ways to lose will always come back to bite you in the ass. Just ask the 2020 Celtics. This is especially true in a more competitive East where seeding is once again going to be tight.
The Celts did a great job of digging themselves out of their early hole. That we can all agree on. But the work isn't done. The month of December is when we'll truly get a sense of how good this team is. Essentially every single game that entire month is against a really good team. That is not hyperbole, that's just the reality of the situation
So yeah, this current 8-3 run to close out November is pretty important. Hopefully, some of that early season panic you may have felt after the first week is starting to subside. This team has the talent. We know that when they play to their potential they can hang with any team in the league. Now it's about becoming consistent over a prolonged stretch.
We have another great opportunity to add to this momentum tomorrow night against BKN. That'll certainly be a little different than facing a team on a 15 game losing streak. But before we get there, let's first talk about what we saw last night.
- It was hard for Jayson Tatum to start the year off any worse. I mean we've seen him have slow starts before, but nothing like what he was throwing up on a nightly basis over the first few weeks. Guy could not make a shot to save his life, it didn't matter where he took it from. Well, I think Happy learned how to putt
For a guy who literally could not score for the first month, Tatum is currently tied for the league lead in 30 point games. If that didn't give you a tingly sensation in your areas we do not speak of, how about when I tell you he's doing all this while shooting 50/38%. The efficiency is starting to come around. Is anyone surprised the Celts have won 3 of 4 of those games? It's not crazy to suggest that when we see the version of Tatum we all expect, the team wins.
While his scoring was nice, what continues to stand out to me is Tatum's passing. During those struggles, you kept hearing over and over how Tatum is a selfish player because of his assist averages. That just told me you weren't actually watching the games. Tatum continues to move the ball exactly when he's supposed to. Last night was a perfect example. You might see his 3 assists and 22 FGA and think it was more selfish hero ball. Incorrect. Time and time again we saw Tatum make the right pass, guys just didn't make their shot. While he finished with 3, Tatum had 9 potential assists in this game. At no point watching his performance did you get the sense that he wasn't a willing passer or wasn't looking to create for his teammates. From an approach standpoint we're starting to see Tatum be more aggressive and finally get to the line. Another 9 FTA last night, he's starting to find ways to actually draw fouls on his drives and look at what it's done for his scoring. It's not exactly rocket science but damn is it good to see Tatum playing at this level again. We knew it was coming, and it looks better than ever.
- I didn't have that high of expectations for Jaylen's return, mostly because when a guy misses 8 games there's usually some rust that comes with a return. That was true for how Jaylen started. You could tell he was maybe a little too amped which is certainly understandable. But then he saw his first one drop and the rest was history
I'll take 19/3 on 6-13 (3-6) in 22:47. Watching him take over in the third quarter was intoxicating. It reminded us all that you know what? It's actually pretty cool to have BOTH Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on this team. Maybe instead of trying to make it seem like they don't work, you spend that time actually appreciating how lucky this team is to have them.
This apparently was Jaylen not even "fully" normal either. I'd say that's pretty encouraging. His defensive quickness wasn't all that great, especially moving laterally but again it was his first game back in weeks. That'll come around. What I cared about was that he was still aggressive offensively, the burst was there and he had his legs under him when it came to his outside shooting. We'll see how his body responds tomorrow, but in terms of a return, I'd say that was pretty close to an ideal scenario. Thankfully this team didn't piss their pants in the fourth and Jaylen only had to play 2:54. That was a relief.
- The game obviously changed in that third quarter. The Rockets were hanging around in the first half, and the Celts came out with a nice 24-3 run and that was that. What a motivational halftime speech from Ime I guess. The Celts finished that frame with 34 points on 50/50 shooting and 6 3PM and defensively they held the Rockets to just 16 points on 25/18%. That's the good stuff right there. When you're playing these type of teams, you need to have a stretch where you step on their throat and end things. That's what the Celts did in the third. They said enough was enough and locked in on both ends. I'll always be in favor to not playing with your food and ending all hope a team might have, and that's what we saw in that quarter.
- Moving back to the bench with Jaylen back, Dennis Schroder continues to thrive in his minutes. I think ideally this is the perfect role for him. His production comes with volume. The best chance he has to get that volume is to be the 6th man/super sub. With Jaylen back, Schroder still got his 15 FGA and what's nice is that it didn't come at the expense of any starter.
This is basically the OKC version of Schroder, which I think we can all agree was the best case scenario for this signing. Schroder and Smart have found a way to coexist, he's been that reliable scoring guard this roster needed, and he can still be effective whether he's starting or coming off the bench. What a signing.
- Shoutout Rob for coming back from his knee issue and grabbing 15 rebounds. He's just so impactful whenever he's on the floor. Whether it's hitting the offensive glass (3 OREB), protecting the rim, passing the ball, there's a reason all the Celts metrics are better when Rob is on the floor. He owned Daniel Theis in his matchup (19 possessions, 4 points) and the best part was Ime was able to keep his minutes down to just 22. Despite that, Rob was still a team best +28. Not bad!
- Ho hum, just more solid play from Marcus Smart. What else is new. Another example of Smart accepting his role (7 FGA, 3 3PA) while leading the team in assists and continuing his All NBA defense. It's why I never understood the narrative that Smart refused to accept his role just because he had to shoot more when guys were out last year.
He'll continue to make mistakes, he's human. But there is no denying that Smart has backed up his comments with his play. It's one thing if you're going to do that and then play like shit. But Smart has been solid this entire month. Second on the team at +24 and 4th in FGA. Isn't this exactly what people wanted to see? I think it is, so he deserves his proper credit.
- I don't care who it is, holding a team to under 100 will always be good. In fact, the Celts have held teams to under 93 points in 6 of their last 11 games. What do I always say? If this team doesn't defend, nothing else matters. Now, even with their offense still being pretty gross, they are able to win games because they are locking in defensively. We knew this roster had the ability to be elite defensively which is what made their poor start on that end so frustrating. But as they've had more time to get familiar with Ime's system combined with some slight tweaks, they look a whole lot better. That's translating to wins, which seems connected.
- I'm not sure any player on the roster needed to see their shots drop more than Aaron Nesmith did with his back to back threes in the fourth quarter. Right off the bench, immediately nailed a three on his first touch. He still has a long way to go to earn minutes, but anything that gives him any sort of confidence is something I can support.
We're also starting to see Romeo make the most of his opportunities
He gave us a little bit of everything in his 19 minutes. Crashing the glass for big OREBs, defending his position well, and making his open threes. You can see why Ime trusts him to be the first wing off the bench with JRich out. The strong play from the Summer League is carrying over, and every night when he gets his opportunity we are seeing Romeo's potential. I'm just relieved that there wasn't any sort of injury that limited him to just 8 minutes the other night. Given his history, that had me a little concerned.
- Still too careless with the ball for my liking. Against a bad team like HOU, you shouldn't be turning it over 15 times. I didn't exactly love the fact that Schroder had 0 assists and 4 TOs. That wasn't great. The Rockets had 20 points off those turnovers and it's why they were able to hang around early. This matters to me because it's honestly been a trend we've seen far too often this season, and you do that shit against the Nets they are going to blow you out.
- Payton Pritchard looks broken. There's no confidence in his jumper, and I'm pretty sure Ime is going to give him hell for that behind the back pass turnover in the fourth. I dunno what it is, but Pritchard's inability to make a shot this year is pretty fucking wild.
- Considering Armoni Brooks had never had a game this season in which he made more than 1 3PM, I'd say it was fairly annoying to watch him go 5-8 from three. There's always some random dude that turns into Steph when playing the Celts, and last night it was Brooks. He's like a 23% three point shooter this year too so that was gross.
- Maybe it's just me, but has anyone else noticed how Al misses essentially every jump hook he takes? It's so weird because they are clean looks from like 3 feet away, yet whenever I see him take one I know he's not going to make it. On the season he's just 6-27 on hook shots (22.2%). It breaks down to this
Hook shot: 3-11
Driving Hook Shot: 1-9
Turnaround hook: 1-5
Turnaround bank hook: 0-1
Hook bank shot: 1-1
That's shockingly terrible if we're being honest for a guy who has had a great start to the year.
- I'd say the first quarter qualifies here. Just 22 points on 33/28% shooting against a terrible defense, that's not exactly how you want to start the game. The annoying part was Tatum started great (10 points on 3-5 shooting) but nobody else decided to help out. Again, playing the Rockets this shit will fly. Playing anyone else with a pulse, the Celts are probably down double digits with that type of production.
- To be honest, the fourth wasn't all that better. Just 22 points on 40/20% in those 12 minutes too. We all got a little nervous when the Rockets cut it to 17 early in the fourth, I think it's OK to admit that. We're tortured souls when it comes to watching this team in the fourth. They are literally one of the worst teams on the planet in terms of closing out games. To have a 29 point lead and only win by 18, I mean that's a little unsettling.
Nobody is going to cue the duckboats because the Celts beat the Rockets. That's not what this is about. This is about continuing to build positive momentum in an effort to turn around their season. Winning 8 of 11 is good no matter when it happens or who it comes against, and now this team heads into a battle against BKN with all the momentum in the world. Take that game and let's keep this shit rolling all the way through the rest of the month so we can put that 2-5 start officially in the rearview mirror.