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In A Surprising Turn Of Events The Celtics Finally Didn't Choke Down The Stretch Of A Game And Bounced Back Against The Knicks

Brian Babineau. Getty Images.

One of the good parts about the NBA is when you find yourself on the wrong end of a close game, you don't really have to wait long to get that taste out of your mouth. Sometimes you can even be playing the next night. That was the case for the Celts last night. Coming off an emotional and tough loss against the best team in basketball because they couldn't shot shooting themselves in their own foot, a game against the sliding Knicks was important for a few reasons. First, all of these games are important for a Celtics team that needs to start stacking wins. I don't care who they come against or how they get em. They just need wins. Looking at their 5 game homestand, this was one where they couldn't really afford to drop. Both sides were shorthanded, both sides have had issues when it comes the underachieving, and plus there's the motivation from the opener that I'm sure the Celts remembered. Add in Kemba/Fournier's return for the first time and there's even more juice.

In typical Celtics fashion, of course they couldn't make things easy on themselves. Why would they? But at the end of the day, they found a way to win and not choke. That's a step in the right direction if you ask me. Lord knows this team loves being inconsistent and losing when they shouldn't more than you love your own family. It's maddening, so it was nice to see them actually not blow a game like this. A relief if you will. 

I keep stressing it, so I will continue to do it here. Perspective is important. In the short term, 15-15 still kinda stinks. It has them in the thick of things in terms of the East seeding, but it's not exactly something I would call "good". Here's the thing though. When the Celts hit that 2-5 bottom, we ALL said they needed to show us they were capable of turning things around. Well, we've seen 23 games since that 2-5 start. Here's how the Celts are doing in relation to the rest of the league

7th in total wins

17th in offense

5th in defense

8th in net rating

Are all their issues resolved? Of course not! Have they shown enough for us as fans to believe in their consistency? Fuck no! But maybe, when you take a step back and look at the larger picture, you can see a team that has started to recover from that 2-5 start. That maybe, just maybe things aren't as bad as the Twitter trolls or radio hosts want you to believe. There are only 3 teams in the East with more wins since that 11/2 date. Those teams are BKN/MIL/CLE. I'll remind you the Celts are 3-2 against those teams so far this season.

They are by no means out of the woods yet. They still need to keep this up and continue to win games before the narrative around them will truly change. That's fine, they put themselves in this position, so it's up to them to dig themselves out. I just think it's important to realize when that digging might actually be happening. 

With that said, we can begin

The Good

- I don't know where else you possibly could think we would be starting today. Did you see Josh Richardson's performance? No? Maybe you were watching the Pats. OK, I get it, not everyone has a sickness like me and has to watch every second of this team play in order to live. Go ahead and see it for yourself if you missed it

Quick question. Who is that? I know it says Richardson on his jersey, I know it looks like Josh Richardson, but again I ask, who the hell is that? Because I was told Josh Richardson could not shoot. In fact, I even looked up his numbers and they sort of backed up that claim. Is it more of a case that maybe the Sixers and Mavs just didn't know how to use him properly? Here's the reality when it comes to JRich. He's having a career year shooting the basketball. Now 30 games into the season, he's shooting at a 47/40% clip! Read those numbers again! 

JRich has been exactly what I think Brad and the coaching staff were hoping for. He's certainly exceeded all realistic expectations we may have had as fans after seeing him play these last few years. I was expecting a combo guard who could use his size and athleticism to get into the paint and finish in the midrange while being a capable NBA reserve. Not only is he doing that, but he's been a legit solid three point shooting option as the year has gone on. Even if we're simply in a peak right now and might eventually hit a valley at some point, it's coming at a VERY important time with so many players in the protocols. 

The thing that has really stood out about his three point shooting is the moments in which he's making these things. Normally with JRich it felt like he was making all the ones you didn't want him to take but yet somehow couldn't make the ones the team really needed him to in a tight situation. That was not the case last night. Not only was he making shots, he was making BIG shots. This is all important because who knows what his future looks like. If he's going to be traded, his value has never been higher. If he's going to stick around until the offseason, he's proving on a nightly basis to be a legit rotation piece. What a homerun that signing has been so far.

- If the Celts have any hope of turning things around and getting out of this .500 bullshit, it's going to require Jaylen Brown to look and play like the Jaylen Brown we all know and love. Now in his third game back, he's starting to do just that

23/4/5 with 2 steals, the next thing I want to see Jaylen do is be better at cutting down his turnovers (4), but overall we're seeing what a fully healthy Jaylen looks like again. Love that guy. I loved his willingness and impact as a passer in addition to his scoring, I love that he's back to unleashing that midrange turnaround fadeaway once he gets into the paint which is legit unguardable, and most importantly I love that we're not seeing Jaylen favor his leg or play with any sort of hesitation. You can tell when he's out there he's not even thinking of his injury, and that's a great sign moving forward. 

We're also seeing Ime put Jaylen in sets that allow him to take advantage of the defense. Here's a great example of that

I feel comfortable putting Jaylen in this type of set because you're not asking him to do too much. Teams obviously have to respect his jumper, so he's then able to use a hesitation to get to the rim with ease. You can tell he recognized that Gibson was a little too far to truly contest at the rim, and it's not hard for Jaylen to get past his initial defender. This is what I talk about when I say Ime has to do a better job getting his stars easy looks. This isn't a complicated play, and it worked. Imagine that.

- The Celts defense in the 1st and 4th quarter was the stuff dreams are made of. Both quarters they held their opponent to under 20 points. In the first, the Knicks shot 30/12% and in the fourth, it was 44/16%. This tells me a few things. First, they were ready to go right from the jump in this game. That's not exactly something we always see. Then when it came time to win the game, they did it through defense first. We know their offense is unreliable, we know they can have scoring droughts. But what they should always be able to do is fall back on their elite defense to win them games. That's what good teams do. 

It's not exactly complicated. The magic number for the Celts is 110. Keep a team under it, they win. Don't, and they lose. These last two games are a perfect example of that. GS? 111 in a win. NYK? 107 and a loss. It will ALWAYS come back to how this team defends. 

- Watching Payton Pritchard make shots brings me so much joy. I'm honestly just happy for the guy given that his Year 2 has to be the exact opposite of what he expected coming off a strong rookie year. Inconsistent opportunities, an early shooting slump, seeing Payton get back to doing shit like this

was awesome. He should continue to get run while guys are out, and the spacing he provides cannot be understated. We all knew he didn't forget how to shoot, he just needs to get his legs under him. He needs to see the ball go in the basket a few times. Last night he did and look what happened. 

- One of the biggest things I push back on when it comes to Marcus Smart is this idea that he doesn't accept his role. It drives me insane when people use old narratives to describe what is currently happening. Take this game for example. Smart only took 3 FGA (made 2), finished with 5 assists and continued to make the right decision offensively. He kept the ball moving rather than stop and launch threes. He's defending.  

Yet you don't hear SHIT about it from those who are Anti-Smart. They focus on his boneheaded foul against Curry instead of how he played the rest of the game and then last night. It's just not consistent. For all this talk about how he doesn't work next to Tatum/Brown, the record and production do not match that claim when all three play together. You might see the box score and see Smart only had 4 points and your take might be he had a bad night. In reality, it was the exact opposite. 

How many times did we see Smart handle Julius Randle on the block by himself by fronting him so effectively that the Knicks repeatedly had to move away from that option? How many point guards are doing that? If you were ever looking for an "impact over stats" performance from Smart, this was one.

- Look, it was important for everyone to see a Celtics team actually execute in a fourth quarter down the stretch of a close game. Their clutch numbers stink out loud both from a record and production perspective. So the fact that they showed up when it mattered most was nice to see. They did it through defense and being aggressive offensively. That's how they got to 55% shooting and 28 points. Some timely threes were huge, but it was a relief to see them not fumble a game away. Lord knows that tends to happen from time to time, and honestly way more than it should. 

- I don't know how else to describe it, but every night Rob finds new ways to just do cool shit when he's on the floor. That's not really next level analysis or anything but it's the truth. Every night he does something that breaks your brain

The Bad

- You might notice there was a certain player missing from that top section. Where's Jayson Tatum? Well, I don't really think Tatum was all that good in this game. The box score says 25/9, but I don't think he played all that well. After getting off to a good start, Tatum basically abandoned driving to the rim in favor of settling for threes. He finished just 9-24 (3-13). Once the game got late he attacked and that was great, but it was pretty annoying to see him settle the way he did when it was pretty clear he could get to the rim whenever he wanted.

It was almost as if that 3-5 from deep in the first quarter impacted his approach the rest of the night. I make a big deal about Tatum's approach because it's the key to pretty much everything they do offensively. This is even more true with 4 rotation guys out. They were able to survive an inefficient performance because it was the lowly Knicks, but that shit won't work against anyone good. If you were to ask me what a bad Tatum approach looks like, I would show you this

He took just 4 FTA all night, which isn't anywhere close to enough. My guess is someone on the coaching staff brought this to his attention, because of his 7 FGA in the fourth quarter, only 1 was further than the FT line.

- It's probably the least surprising thing of all time that Kemba and Fournier had a combined 63 points. I mean who didn't see that coming. Kemba hasn't played in a month so naturally, he goes for 29. Evan Fournier is averaging 30 against the Celts and 11 against everyone else.

It's both funny and rather fucking annoying. Stop letting these type of players kill you. Why is that is that so hard? Every other team in the NBA seems to be able to figure that shit out, yet the Celts stay getting crushed by these players who stink out loud whenever they play a different team. I just don't get it. 

- This was another game where you really saw the impact of not having Al and Grant. Their absence has meant more Enes, and Enes has not been delivering in his opportunities. He's back to getting roasted defensively, he's not rebounding, and I'm yet to see him catch a ball cleanly. We're at the point where he's even missing his putbacks. It's been brutal. 

Kemba getting Enes in drop coverage was an automatic bucket. Shit, anyone who gets Enes in drop coverage is an automatic bucket. It's why I never understand when teams don't do it every possession he's on the floor. That's been then biggest part of missing Al/Grant. Their defensive versatility is so important, don't even factor in their shooting ability. 

- 7 TOs from your two best and highest usage players is simply too many. Played with fire last night and survived, but the Celts best players have to be much better with the basketball. 

To that point, the Celts had 6 TOs in the fourth. That's gross.

The Ugly

- If this current roster situation is time for guys to show Ime they deserve more minutes, Aaron Nesmith's shooting has not really done that. Other parts of his game have been great. His energy is impactful, he's been solid on the glass, the defense wasn't a total disaster etc. But Aaron needs to be the sniper this offense and spacing needs. That's his role before anything else, and it was a tough 0-5 (0-5) performance last night. Some were clean looks, there was that one time where he hesitated and sort of pump faked before going into a three, it's just not that great.

Some of that might be taking time to get more comfortable, but if there's one thing I don't want Aaron to do is to start thinking before he shoots. Fuck that. Grip it and rip it. Everyone knows that as a shooter, the second you start to think about your shot before you take it, it's not going in. That's what I feel like Aaron is doing, especially in this game.

- Where else can we put the 3rd quarter? I mean you go from a 15 point lead to down 6 and give up a 23-5 run, that's pretty pathetic. It was everything we hate about this team. No defense, turnovers, they did nothing but settle for threes (10 of their 22 FGA), and the turned the ball over. For a Knicks team that had 47 at the half, they put up 41 in those 12 minutes. To add insult to injury, it was Kemba/Fournier doing all the damage.

There's just no way that is at all acceptable., Did the Celts think the game was over and that the Knicks had quit? Did Ime not go with the motivational halftime speech? Just once I would like to see a complete 48 minute performance. Every game it seems we get a quarter like that, and that's why they are .500. You're at home, you have a nice lead, and you come out that flat? Grow up.

So here we sit. At 15-15 and 2-1 on this current homestand with the Sixers up next tomorrow. Every one of these matchups is bigger than the last as the Celts try and finish this month strong. The East is still all bunched up and these H2H matchups could go a long way by the time we get to the Spring. If the Celts continue to take care of business at home, they'll be just fine.