The Celtics Have Gone Out West And Somehow Turned Into An Offensive Juggernaut

Sam Forencich. Getty Images.

You know how I always say whenever we watch this team go on a West Coast trip that it's almost a certainty that weird shit will happen? Sometimes it's a team making 27 3PM on over 50% shooting against you, but sometimes we get to see the Celts actually benefit from that weirdness. It's not often, but it happens and last night was one of those nights. I'm sorry, who is this team? Back to back 130+ point games by a team that is near the bottom of the league in offense? In a game where to starters and a rotation wing didn't play? On a back to back? That's weird. It's OK to admit that. You might even call it a prayer, I won't fight it. But you know what? It's about time some of my goddamn prayers start to get answered when it comes to this team. We've been through enough of the other end of these types of games so far this season we earned this. It's almost as if the Celts got a contact high from sharing the court with the Jazz the night before and that juju carried over with them into Portland. May I suggest it makes the trip to LA? I also wouldn't mind if it joined them in PHX too. My parents are there right now, they say the weather's great. 

All kidding aside, this was clearly the game on this trip that everyone looked at and thought the Celts had to have. But coming off a B2B, there was for sure the very real potential of a letdown performance given what happened against the Jazz the night before. Is it so crazy to think the Celts would be capable of such a thing? I don't think so. Thankfully, what we actually got was what the team desperately needed. Remember, if you want a 3-2 West Coast trip that meant a 3-1 finish. Who knows if Jaylen plays this entire trip so when you have an opportunity to snag a win you have to do it. They failed at that to start the trip but came through and then some in this one. 

While certainly not perfect, a win is a win and they're officially on the board for the trip. Now they just need to find 2 more, but before we worry about that let's first relive the fun we had last night.

The Good

- Declaring Jayson Tatum "back" is tricky business. Even more so given his start to the year.  You want to fully commit to it, but we've been hurt before through the first 24 games. What I ask of you, the fine reader of this blog, is to first look at the tape

After you do that, I then want you to look at the data

(31.3/10.7/3.7 on 48/36% with 3 3PM and 8.7 FTA)

So now let me ask you. Is Tatum back, or is he just following his normal season progression? If you'd like we could even extend the same to the middle of November, the difference here though is we're getting every box. Scoring total, efficiency, threes made, rebounds, assists, FTA, this is the exact version of Tatum that we all dream of. How he is currently playing in the month of December is what this entire thing is built around. First are foremost, he's remained a willing passer. In fact, he's actually been one of their best ball movers in the entire season. That's just not as fun and sexy to actually write about. Tatum has shown great improvement in being able to pass out of the post, especially under duress when teams send a double. On the offensive end, we're seeing a player be much more aggressive and strong when he now shoots at the rim. Improving his FG% at the rim was crucial to any potential turnaround. He was shooting like 45% at the rim or some shit. 

To me, this looked more and more like All NBA Tatum, which is a player we've been waiting all season to see. Fully committed on both ends, an efficient unguardable offensive player, and one that shows up when they need him to. If this is the version of Tatum they can have moving forward, it raises their ceiling.

- As someone who has lived through the Marcus Smart Experience, not even that has me experienced enough to handle the Dennis Schroder Rollercoaster. I mean holy shit. I find myself experiencing every single emotion during each one of Schroder's possessions. Not games, possessions. It's a wild feeling when you see him dribble for 20 seconds and you hate your life but then he somehow just blows by his defender and makes the layup and then you're filled with elation. Then there are the threes that you want him to absolutely not take as you see him unleash it, but then it drops and you're happy he did. The scoring upside is so high, but so are the chances that he turns it over or does something extremely frustrating. Last night, we got the good version

There is no denying the fact that multiple times when Jaylen has been out that Dennis Schroder has found a way to have massive offensive performances. That type of secondary scoring, and to do it on 10-21 shooting, is so important when this roster has guys out. Someone has to step up and help Tatum, ideally it would be multiple people. Schroder has not shied away from that challenge and then you remember you're getting that type of production for $5M this season and you feel even better.

You could make the case that Brad has to flip him at the deadline because his value will never be higher and they won't be able to afford him this summer, but part of me also says fuck it just ride it out. Both sides help each other for a year and then shake hands and say thank you. Unless there is a real return which there probably won't be, I don't mind this OKC Schroder 6th man super sub role. As long as he remembers he doesn't have to do everything to end games and that Jayson Tatum actually exists, I'm good with it.

- It's not like the Blazers have all that good a defense, but it's also not like the Celts have shown us they can be anything close to a good offensive team. So when they go out and drop 130 against the Jazz and then back that up with 145 on 56/56% shooting with 21 3PM, that's a pretty big deal. I can't exactly say I foresaw the Celts becoming an offensive juggernaut when they headed out West, but if there was ever a time for this team to find their offense, it's the month of December. As long as you remember that we could absolutely see them score 83 points in their next game, I say enjoy the ride. 145 points? In 48 minutes? That's simply a ridiculous number.

- I was very happy for Payton Pritchard last night. At first, I thought it was just because Ime actually played him a little bit early in the game and he knocked down one of his first threes. I figured for a hometown guy that was a pretty cool moment. Then the Celts blew this thing open and we had ourselves one of the best early moments of the year

This season has to be hell for Pritchard. Coming off his really promising rookie year, shooting over 40% from deep and then looking awesome during the summer, out of nowhere came Dennis Schroder and that was that. Now Payton barely plays. Not only that, but his shot struggled big time to start the year. So to see him back at home go nuclear Steph Curry was awesome. I really wanted him to hit some of those last threes, but you could tell this was a HUGE exhale moment for Pritchard. He knows he can shoot, we know he can shoot, and now hopefully Ime sees that he can shoot. That was the vintage FastPP that we saw last year who had the confidence to bomb it from 35 feet and drain it in your eyeball. 

- Pretty interesting reaction from the bench too. You see, that was confusing to watch because I was told this team hates each other and does not root for one another's success. 

I cannot stop reading that quote and then watching that video. It feeds my soul.

- How about Aaron Nesmith coming off the bench and showing life! Great energy on both end like always, but this time his three was actually dialed in. I am literally begging Ime to give him consistent run, especially with Romeo/Jaylen out. His shooting has the potential to be exactly what the rotation needs, but he has to play so we can see. If he continues to make the most of his minutes like he did last night, I hope Ime rewards him.

Watching Nesmith, he looks so much more comfortable putting the ball on the floor. We saw him both go into his shot and make some nice passes off the dribble which is a positive sign in his development. Being able to attack closeouts is so important for a player like Nesmith. He has the size and the athleticism to live in the paint/at the rim if he chooses, so being able to A) actually dribble and B) make the right decision once he puts the ball on the floor opens up so much for him offensively. 

- Ho hum, another game of Marcus Smart doing nothing but accepting and thriving in his role. On a night with 2 starters out, Smart finished 4th on the team in FGA with just 10. Of those 10, only 3 were 3PA. Instead, he lived in the paint and finished 6-10 from the floor

Those who do not like Smart or think Smart doesn't work often say things like "If only he did X, then he'd be great" but then when he is currently doing "X", they refuse to see and accept it. This has been the reality with Smart since his comments on November 2nd. He's done nothing but back that up with his play. His shot selection and decision making has been everything people have begged him for. He's back to being an All NBA defender on a consistent basis. He's been one of the best passing point guards in the NBA since November 2nd both in terms of AST totals and low TOs. You want to focus on his shooting? He's shooting 43.5/31.5% since November 2nd. Not awesome, but passable. That area of his game has drastically improved from where it was to start the season as well. So, he's taking better shots and is making more shots.

Last night Smart recognized right away that he could take it into the paint against any of the Blazers defenders and he didn't shy away from it as the game went on. That was my favorite part of his night.

- Shoutout Enes Freedom and his 9/15 in 22 minutes. Enes really had to step up with Rob getting some early fouls, and he continues to be a solid rotation big off the bench. If were being honest, the defense actually hasn't been that terrible. Part of that is for some reason teams do not attack him on that end, but that's fine by me. If Ime can steal minutes where Kanter dominates the glass and 2nd chance points and isn't immediately giving those points back on the defensive end then so be it.

- Crushed on the glass (47 vs 31), had 50 points in the paint, dropped 38 points in the first quarter shooting 94% at one point, and finally no quarter under 26 points. That's all the stuff you love to see.

The Bad

- On a night where pretty much everyone played well, the same cannot be said for Juancho. He was a team worst -15 in his 12 minutes, and I think we've seen enough. He's salary filler, I think we all know that, but the minutes he got were not great. It's not his fault, the guy barely plays and I imagine the speed of the NBA is pretty crazy, but the facts are his play contributed to that Blazers second quarter run.

- Don't let the 145 distract you that the Celts still gave up 117 to a pretty undermanned Blazers team. This is after they gave up 130 to the Jazz. I just hope they don't think their offense is always going to be this good and they can relax on that end. No, no. The only way this team has a chance is if they defend, so I haven't exactly loved what I've seen on that end these last two games. I want to see them get back to keeping teams in the high 90s low 100s. After that first quarter, the Blazers had 35, 26, and 33 points in each of the following frames. That's nowhere near good enough for a team that wants to be an elite defensive unit. 

- Part of those struggles ended up allowing 32 FTA. Rob really struggled to defend without fouling which has been rare this year. On the road you're going to lose those 50/50 calls, so I'm interested to see if this is going to impact their mindset. A less aggressive defense won't work.

- If I'm going to get on Schroder for turning the ball over, I also have to do it for Marcus. He's been so good with that for a month, but a 4:4 assist to turnover ratio last night was not great. No other player finished with more than 2, and overall the team was great at taking care of the basketball. I just need Smart to clean that up a little bit as we move forward during this trip. 

The Ugly

- You would think with a score like that there's no way anything could this bad right? God no. Remember what team we're talking about right now. We could start with the fact that the Celts blew a 21 point lead in this game. That felt pretty bad. As great as that first 12 minutes was, that's how bad the next 12 were. Suddenly the Celts couldn't make a bucket and defensively they fell apart pretty quickly giving up 35 points on 54/60% splits. Thankfully they were able to end the half strong to go back up 6, but I think deep down we all knew that early 21 point lead wasn't going to stick. It sucks that we have to feel that way but it is our destiny. No lead can be trusted with this group, especially with so much time left. We can't even trust 17 point fourth quarter leads how am I going to trust a 21 point first quarter lead. 

Now we turn our attention to a back to back in LA. LeBron is back for the Lakers who are up first, and man would it be great to sweep that season series. Feels like we'll probably get a Scott Foster/Tony Brothers appearance in that one though. Ideally you would like to split but the Clippers just lost to the Kings so who knows, maybe both could be had if this team plays to their potential. We know Tatum always shows out when he plays in LA, so I imagine we'll see more of the same. Buckle up.