The Celtics Actually Not Taking A Step Backwards Last Night Was Such A Goddamn Relief

Ron Hoskins. Getty Images.

Well, would you look at that. Now I want to say something that is both a relief and good to see, while also sneaky being extremely pathetic. It was great to see the Celts find a way to not do their usual bullshit and take a step back after winning a few games in a row. They've won 5 of their last 7 including 3 in a row. That's the good part. The embarrassing part is this is just the second time all season in which the Celts have won 3 games in a row. They've never won 4. That's not so great considering we are 42 games into the season, but given that we can't really trust this team yet to beat any team in the league regardless of record, I am certainly not going to thumb my nose up at a night like we saw last night. One of the more relaxing evenings I've had in months watching this team play something that finally resembled basketball. Dare I say we as fans deserved a night like this after the hell this team usually puts us through on a nightly basis. I can't lie, I didn't hate the change of pace.

I don't have kids, so I can't truly speak on this from experience, but watching both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum flourish like they did in this game had me feeling like I imagine a proud parent would. All the Twitter troll nonsense I put myself through, why I am so stubborn at times, this was an example of why I do it. Because I know what this team can be when they play to their potential regardless of the opponent. That's all I am asking of them. Just play to your potential on a consistent basis and look at what can happen.

For this entire month basically, it's important that the Celts take care of games like last night. They not only need to stack wins, but they also need as much positive momentum as they can get before they play the few good teams that find themselves on this January slate. That's why last night was important for me. Get guys rolling as you head into a pretty big back to back weekend of PHI/CHI. I would put a little more stock into those matchups than I would someone like the Pacers, but the overall point remains the same. This team just needs to find ways to win. They dug themselves an early hole through inconsistent and underachieving play. Blowing leads and collapsing every other night has put them in a situation where all of these games are important. It's nice to see them actually start treating them as such. There was no fake confidence that all they had to do was show up last night and they would win. What a relief that was. 

Does last night really change all that much? Not for me. It's not as if their issues still don't exist all because they beat the Pacers in back to back games. I just want wins. That's it. We got one last night, so let's talk about it

The Good

- Before we begin, myself and Jalen Rose would like to remind you of something

A night like last night is just the latest in the MANY examples of why you do not split up Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. I don't care how hard ESPN (outside of Jalen, looking at you Bobby Marks and Perk) tries to make this happen, Brad isn't a moron. I get it, when the Celts lose it's an easy thing to do because people for some reason have amnesia when it comes to these two. I've had dudes in my mentions type things out like "Jaylen Brown isn't anywhere near a franchise player" or some shit, and mean it! It's bizarre behavior. 

Let's start with Jaylen. Why? Because the man has been on a complete tear for some time now. Tatum returned against the Spurs, but look who has been leading them pretty much every night

Look at a certain name you see in all three columns repeatedly. Last night, it was more of the same

In the even you were curious, here are Jaylen's averages since he came back for good from his hamstring injury

15 games: 27.3/7.7/3.7 on 46/39% with 3.4 3PM 

That's creeping in on All NBA level type production folks. Not just All Star level. While his work as a playmaker is most definitely still a work in progress, we're starting to see real signs of other leaps when it comes to Jaylen's arsenal. Did you know Jaylen is now shooting 40% on the season with pull up threes? Last night was a perfect example of that improvement. Part of the reason the Celts were able to avoid the collapse was because Jaylen ended that shit with back to back pull up bombs. For reference, Jaylen shot just 30% last year on that same type of shot. That's a MASSIVE improvement. Last season he took 55 of them, this year he's already taken 35, so this isn't a volume issue where the percentage only looks good because he hasn't taken a ton. It's now a legit weapon in his arsenal. Remember how brutal of a shooter Jaylen used to be when he first entered the league? The man put in the work, improves his game every single season in multiple areas, and now he's playing at an All Star level on a consistent basis. That growth should be all you need to know when it comes to the future of this pairing. They are still getting better.

It was pretty clear from the jump that the Pacers had no answer defensively for either Tatum or Brown, so it was great to see both of them consistently bury their opponent. There was no disappearing. There was no issues with them coexisting. They just played and the results were pretty damn good.

- I would say this was easily one of Tatum's most engaged performances on the season. It wasn't just his 33 points on 11-19 (4-7) shooting, he did everything. He hit the glass (7 rebounds), he facilitated (4 assists), he played solid defense (2 steals and 2 blocks) and when it came time to showing up in the 4th, Tatum delivered

As soon as his first couple shits didn't even tough the rim, you could tell he was locked in. Usually it's Jaylen that gets things rolling early, but finally we saw Tatum's jumper show up. If this is going to be the case, I'd say that's pretty important. So many of these brutal losses honestly come down to Tatum doing some 6-20 bullshit. If he can get back to his normal career averages? This entire offense looks different. A lot of it is Tatum just making his open threes and layups, so it's not even that outrageous of an ask really. Just be the player you've been your whole career. Don't have the worst shooting season of your career and look what can happen!

I thought Tatum did a much better job of mixing in his jumper with attacking the rim, and ended up with a shot chart I think we can all get behind

This approach also led to 8 FTA, and as we know these type of big nights usually happen in games that Tatum finds a way to get to the line. Outside of some turnover issues (what else is new!) this was easily one of Tatum's best performances of the year in my opinion at a time when they needed their two best players to step up and make sure the team didn't go backwards.

- For some reason, I have a feeling that these quotes won't go as viral on the internet. Sports talk radio shows probably won't even mention them. Anonymous sources suddenly won't talk about it. Why is that? I think we know the answer

You want leadership? There it is, staring you right in the face. Whether you want to acknowledge that is your own choice. 

- Let's also tell the truth a little bit when it comes to this game. The Celts had one of those prayer shooting nights that we always saw other teams around the league get. Things look a whole lot better for any team in the league when most of your shots go in. They finished with 51/47% splits with 18 3PM. We all know that's a bit of an outlier for a team that has a larger body of work of not being able to shoot for shit. But you know what? It was about fucking time they got a break like that. Lord knows they've been on the other end of these type of performances enough this season, it was nice to see how the other half lives. Personally, it's what makes those 4-42 performances so goddamn frustrating. They have the talent to be slightly below average at shooting threes, so just do that!

- Last night was easily the best Dennis Schroder has looked in a month. No question about it

but he was someone who probably benefitted most from that paragraph above. I think it's OK to admit you can't really expect a 7-11 (4-5) performance every night from Dennis. He's not that type of shooter, and that's fine. What matters is that he was able to provide that 3rd scoring punch to help support Tatum and Brown. Below are his splits in terms of starting and coming off the bench

Starter: 19.7/3.8/4.9 on 48/36%

Bench: 11.3/2.8/4.0 on 35/30%

Obviously, he plays fewer minutes as a reserve, and things like opponents and who he is filling in for impact how he has to play. Remember, he's now started 20 games and the Celts are just 10-10 in those games. So for those who watched this game and then declare that Dennis should be the starter, I'd push back on that a little bit. But I would say if you are an opposing team looking for point guard help, there are worse options out there.  

I say it in every blog and that's because it's true. Each and every night Rob does something incredible. Last night? I present to you this dunk

Rob was a team best +21 in his 22 minutes and he scored just 5 points. All the man does is make an impact on both ends and pull off insane plays. You have to love it. 

- It doesn't happen often, so I beg you to appreciate when it does. What am I talking about? Watching this team NOT completely shit their pants in a fourth quarter. In fact, we saw one of the best 4th's from this team all year

That's a real graphic! I didn't photoshop it or anything I swear. It actually happened. We have physical proof that this team is actually capable of not being insanely pathetic in the last 12 minutes of a basketball game. Can they do it again? Most likely not, but maybe! You can't completely rule it out!

- Boy was it nice to see Al finally knock down some shots. His play to start the third quarter was what helped the Celts get off to that quick 6-0 run and rebuild their cushion, and it's just so important that they find ways to get any sort of offensively production (in an efficient manner!) from Al. I thought his approach was great, and he finished shooting 4-8 from the floor. I would love for those threes to start dropping, but it's just as important that he find ways to convert those in the paint shots

I also like that Ime is starting to keep his minutes down. No problem with that if it helps keep Al fresh. That's what is most important right now. It's also important that they continue to find Al in spots where he can succeed. If his outside shot is still broken, find ways to get him easy looks by the basket. That's how you get his confidence up, and then comes the improved shooting. The more high percentage looks the better.

- Feels like forever since we've had a game the Celts never trailed at any point. Only 1 tie in this game too. I bet you can count that on one hand how many times that has happened. You might not even need all your fingers. 

- He only scored 3 points, he only took 2 shots, but Grant's defense in this game was superb. Elite even. On 15 possessions against Sabonis, Grant held him to 0 points and just 2 FGA. He was great at staying with quicker players like Brogdon off the dribble, forcing them into TOs. I would say Grant played like a guy that filled his role to perfection. Keep the ball moving, be nails defensively, and just don't have any boneheaded mistakes. He's made such an improvement from Year 2, I just wanted to shout that out on a night where he really wasn't a factor offensively. Just goes to show the type of value he brings as a reserve. His impact isn't reliant on scoring.

The Bad

- If you're maybe a little angry that Ime had such a short rotation in a January game, I think that anger is misplaced. Be angry at why he has to do it. That tells us that this team, and their coach, are desperate for wins. That's bad. That's due to their inability to not throw games away. If they didn't do that all year, the kids could play more. But that's not the reality right now. They need to stack wins, and playing the guys he can trust is how they are going to do it. Will it backfire come Spring when everyone is burned out? Most likely. But you can't worry about that right now. At 21-21, this is not development time. This is win however the hell you can time to dig yourself out of your early season hole.

- This may have been overlooked a little bit because everyone made their shots, but as a team they finished with just 23 on 40 FGM. That's not all that great. I suppose on nights when Tatum and Brown are cooking like they were you're going to see more iso and that's fine. No problem with isolation offense in certain spots. There were certainly possessions that included great ball movement and three players finished with at least 4 assists so it's not like the ball never moved, but their overall assist total was a little low for a team that shot 51/47%.

- I'd still love for Tatum and Brown to find a way to not be so careless with the basketball. Together the combined for 7 of the 11 TOs, and that's playing with fire. Tatum has 12 TOs in his last two games. That's way too many. I think that's the next step for these two. Given their high usage, they need to cut down on giving away the basketball. Their offense is not good enough to continue to give opposing teams so many easy transition/scoring opportunities. They figure that out, things will look a whole lot better.

The Ugly

- Whatever the hell that second quarter was. It was pretty much everything we hate. A shit ton of TOs (5), they didn't score for nearly half a quarter

and it basically undid everything positive this team was able to do to start this game. Ideally we'd have a night where one of those droughts doesn't exist, but I know that's wishful thinking. I'm just glad it didn't snowball.

- I love Grande, but sometimes his fact bombs make be very upset

Only the Celts could be losing games on the road while outscoring their opponents. That feels totally normal and not frustrating at all. 

So here we go. A big weekend is on the horizon against two of the hotter teams in the league. The Bulls just got demolished by the Nets and the Sixers finally played a real team and lost at home to the Hornets last night to end their streak. Both will be tough games. Take care of business against those two and you can really start to feel better about the direction of where things are going. The sad news is we have no idea what to expect or which type of Celts team will show up. Just mentally prepare yourself, that's all I'll say.