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The Celtics May Have Avoided Disaster, But Watching Them Play Basketball Is Emotional Warfare

Omar Rawlings. Getty Images.

As soon as the clock hit 0.0 and the Celts dominant win over the Phoenix Suns was complete, I think the brain of every single Celtics fan went to the same place. I shouldn't even have to tell you what I'm talking about because if you clicked on this blog you know what I'm referencing. Remember, this is a team that zigs when you think they are going to zag. That's why to a normal person who roots for basically any other team in the league, they might see a 7 win Magic team up next and probably get excited for nice little ride on the momentum train. Not us. Not after what we live through on a daily basis committing our lives to this team. I was terrified. If anyone was going to immediately undo all the good feelings we may have had coming off that Suns win, it was our beloved Boston Celtics. They can't help themselves. I guarantee many of you at some point from Friday to last night said either on the internet or to someone you love some version of

"Watch the Celts lose to the Magic now, because of course"

Nobody can blame you for feeling that way. It's the life of rooting for one of the most inconsistent teams you'll ever see. We're at the point where you not only don't know what this team is going to look like game to game or even quarter to quarter, but possession to possession. I haven't seen anything like this since I had to go on (RIPIP…I think?) to get the cliff notes version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde back in high school since I most certainly did not do any of the reading assignments in English class. Sparknotes was OK back then, but Pink Monkey was where it was at. Real ones know.

Anyways, the point is under no circumstances should you ever assume an outcome when it comes to this team. The thing is, you look at the schedule and you see two Ws next to PHX and ORL, yet, they were in no way the same. They count the same, but coming off of the PHX game I imagine you felt like a million bucks. I mean they were dominant in pretty much all aspects of the game. Last night? I felt more relief and embarrassment than anything else. As awesome as that comeback was, it was also extremely embarrassing to even be in that position in the first place. It's OK to say, the Celts finally got a prayer. I feel confident in saying if they play any other team in the NBA, one with actual NBA talent on the court, they lose that game convincingly. But you know what? It was about fucking time this team finally had something break their way. Sure their position to even need that prayer in the first place was completely self-inflicted due to playing some of the worst basketball you will ever see in your life, but who am I to turn down a prayer? They, and us as fans, need every one we can get right now. I don't care if they win in blowouts, I don't care if they win ugly, I just need wins right now. 

Ultimately, they avoided disaster, something they could not seem to do in 2021. That's what matters as we move forward. Before we worry about if they can build on that (ha!), I say we first relive what a wild night it really was.

The Good

- In maybe the most predictable thing on the internet, we begin with the play of Jaylen Brown. Listen, you do something that only 3 other Celtics have ever done in the history of the franchise, you get the top spot. When those players are Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Jayson Tatum, I feel like that's fair.

Jaylen's 50/11/4 came on 19-29 (5-10) shooting which is good for 65/50% splits in his 46 minutes. He had 24 points from the fourth quarter on, shooting 10-14 from the floor with just 1 TO. Safe to say he put the team on his back when they needed a franchise guy to step up. Overall, its hard to not love Jaylen's approach in this game 

and things look even better once you narrow things down to just the 4th quarter

Tell me that isn't exactly what you want to see. The reason this team was able to come back in the first place was because their best player had the right approach offensively, Everything was aggressive and at the rim for the most part. He got out in transition and somehow didn't screw it up, which might have been the biggest prayer of all. 

Considering how Jaylen started this game where he couldn't stop turning the ball over (more on this later), it was fitting that he was the one to carry them out of this hole since his early play is sort of what put them in it in the first place. He knew how important it was to not lose this game, and his play reflected that

That might be the most relatable quote a Celtic has ever given. I felt that in my core. 

- Ime took a timeout at 4:20 left in the game with the Celts trailing 96-82. This is where we were all probably at our lowest watching this game. Terrance Ross had just made a huge three and Wagner got an easy layup after a Magic OREB. We've seen this movie time and time again right? Wrong. The Celts closed on an 18-4 run. What a time for Ime to pull out the motivational timeout play. The Celts basically had to be flawless from that moment on if they wanted to even tie the game, and they were. Again, a huge part of that is the fact they were playing the Magic, but the Celts still had to execute. 

Ime even won a HUGE challenge in that stretch, their defense locked in, and as soon as they saw a sliver of hope they pounced. I dunno about you, but that was refreshing to see. There was no moping at that 4 minute timeout. No woe is me bullshit. They pushed things to the limit, were down to their last lifeline and they responded. If anything translates from this game, can it please be that? I'll say this about the 2021-22 Celtics. They play an infuriating brand of basketball, but this is not a team that quits. That feels different from last year. 

- If Jaylen's offense was what carried them offensively down the stretch, it was the play of Marcus Smart defensively that carried this team on that end. I'd go so far as to say this was as vintage a Smart performance as you'll ever see. He shot like absolute shit (3-11), but who gives a shit? People make fun of "winning plays" because that's what they hear sports radio do, but it's true. It's what he does and last night was the latest example. He finished with 17/7 with the biggest steal of the night and 2 blocks while also going a perfect 9-9 from the FT line. Smart finished with the second best +/- on the team at +11 in his 43 minutes. Remember, it was Smart's guarding of the inbounds pass that forced the 5 second call with 37 seconds left. It was Smart who had this gigantic steal right before that

Boy are they fortunate this didn't get blown dead with a jump ball. I feel like officials are quick to call that so they got a bit of a prayer there. 

The point is, Marcus found a way to impact winning despite shooting 3-11. It's why I don't understand the people that ignore everything he does on the court just because of his shooting. He's looked great since returning to the lineup these last two games, and they don't win either without his play. That's a fact.

- Then there's Dennis. What a rollercoaster this dude is. Another player that could not have started the game worse. The ball stuck with him early, the offense was stagnant, and he was missing WIDE OPEN plays like this

Given how well they moved the ball against the Suns, this was very frustrating. Well, as bad as Dennis was early, that's how awesome he was late when things mattered most

Schroder finished this game scoring 17 points on 5-7 shooting in the second half + OT. He finally realized that when Franz Wagner is guarding him, he could get to the rim with ease. Suddenly his threes started to drop in huge moments. Watching Dennis play is not for the feint of heart and it's basically a microcosm of this team. In the same game they can look disgusting and then a second later look fantastic. He was downright unplayable early, and they don't win without him late. Like I said, it's a rollercoaster.

- I don't want to be dramatic here, but this might have been the biggest make of Al Horford's season so far

Think of the situation. It was 110-109 with under a minute to go, the Celts couldn't get out of their own way and let the Magic back in it after going up 6 with about a minute left. Horford, who has shot the ball like shit for most of the year was 2-7 before that shot and had missed every three he took. Some were not even close. This was a shot that always felt like the Celts missed in these moments only to then give up a bucket on the other end. I said in real time it felt like a season saving shot and I still sort of believe that. It sealed the deal and prevented disaster. Who knows what the vibe would have been had this team lost at home to the Magic, and thankfully due to that three we didn't have to find out.

- The worst fourth quarter team in the league somehow scored 35 points and shot 58% while committing just 2 TOs. I don't care who it came against either. The Celts have been so bad in the final 12 minutes that we should celebrate any time they somehow don't look like the worst team in basketball to close out a game. A total of 22 of those 35 points came in the paint. What a relief.

The Bad

- I suppose we can start with the fact that the game even went this way in the first place. But since we already sort of talked about that, I guess we can touch on the fact that outside of Dennis, Jaylen, and Smart, the rest of the roster did not really show up. Grant/Al combined to go 4-13. The bench that was so good against the Suns went a combined 6-19. When you're facing the 27th ranked defense in the league while playing at home, that's not exactly good. 

A lot of their struggles offensively were because they did everything we hate. They couldn't stop turning the ball over, over half of their FGA were threes, and there was basically no movement. I get the defenses weren't exactly the same with the Magic not pressuring the same as the Suns which allowed for backdoor cuts, but there's still no excuse for the lack of movement. It was as if this team got hit with that Men In Black memory erasing stick or whatever. They completely forgot what gives them success in the first place. It's maddening. I put that both on the players and Ime. There were times the Magic went to zone, and where was the guy heading to the nail? Where were the off ball backdoor cuts? It wasn't even that long since the Suns game either, and yet it felt like they completely forgot how to play that way.

- Second half defense continues to be an issue. This is a trend that is going to cause way more losses than wins if it's not corrected, and we saw the Magic score 58 points on 54/54% splits. That's so bad. I don't know what happens in these second halfs but the Celts completely forget how to defend. They come out of the break and allow 35 points on 61/66% shooting in the third quarter. On what planet is that acceptable behavior. To make matters worse, they threw up a 31/14% with 5 TOs 3rd quarter themselves. It was the type of quarter that we see in basically every single one of their horrendous losses to bad teams. Jaylen went 3-5 in that quarter, the rest of the team was 3-14. Woof.

- Terrance Ross is one of the most prolific Celtics Killers that is still active in the league. I dunno what it is, but every time they play this dude he goes nuts. Last night it was 33 points on 11-19 shooting with huge three after huge three in the second half. He's a microwave scorer in a sense that all he has to do is see the ball go in once. You knew he was going to make those huge threes in the fourth because that's what he does against this team. Whatever the plan was to limit him, it most certainly did not work.

- I didn't really love Jaylen's game winner attempt. Especially since he had been so effective getting to the rim. I get why he pulled up but that doesn't mean I have to like it. I also didn't appreciate the fact that he left time on the clock. Even at 0.6 seconds, how many of us deep down were convinced the Magic were going to hit some sort of prayer? Between Khris Middleton and OG, the PTSD with that shit is real. There is no way any other fanbase feels that way in those moments, but for us it's all we know.

The Ugly

- Turnovers. That's really why this team was in a dogfight to begin with. They committed 21 on the night which led to 21 Magic points. It was the script we've seen time and time again. The Celts are beyond careless with the basketball, lose to a team they shouldn't, and then the postgame quotes are about how they gave the game away. I was positive that was going to be the result, mostly because very rarely do we see a Celtics win when they play like this.

A total of 7 players had at least 2 TOs. Jaylen by himself had 7 (!!!!!!!) which is beyond inexcusable. This turnover issue with Jaylen is legitimately becoming a problem. It's his 4th game in 10 tries with at least 6. Three of those have come in his last 4 games. How hard can it be to simply not pass the ball to the other team? It got to the point where players couldn't even dribble. Listen, I don't expect much, but I'm going to need whoever is on the floor to not pass the ball to the other team. That's Day 1 stuff really. From last night through the entire month of December, Jaylen has just 1 game with under 3 TOs. You're forever going to be inconsistent if you do not take care of the basketball. Careless play leads to losses. That's just how it works. 

So look. Yes, it was embarrassing that the Celts needed OT to beat a 7 win team. Who could argue that. Yes, it took a prayer. But this is life in the NBA. Anyone can get beat on any given night. This Magic team has already beaten the Nets, Nuggets, and Hawks. At the end of the day, the Celts survived and that is what truly matters. Tatum and Rob should be back on Wednesday, and hopefully they continue to build. January is a much easier month, and if there is going to be a stretch we see this team turn things around, we're currently in it.