7 in a row. 9 of their last 10. 14 of their last 18. Or in other words…
With each game the Celts play, they continue to take steps forward. Can we just stop for a second and appreciate that fact? We waited for it. And waited for it. And waited for it. When things looked bleak and the team was at its worst, this is why so many of us stayed committed. Our heels dug in despite what was maybe popular at the moment on Twitter or on the radio or on TV where it seemed like everyone got their rocks off by slandering this team and the talent they had. Every other day I had my mentions filled with people calling this the most un-fun and unwatchable Celtics team in years. Worse than 2018-19. The Tatum slander was outrageous. People wanted Ime fired after 30 games. None of it made sense.
Now, as the games go by it is becoming more and more clear that this team is starting to figure it out. I think we're at the point where you can say they have turned around their season. From 18-21 on to 32-25 in a little over a month. The team had just lost to the fucking Knicks on a RJ Barrett prayer to drop 3 games under .500 on January 6th. They've now gone 14-4 since. If that isn't good enough for you to call this a turnaround, I dunno what else you need to see. For really the first time all year, they look like a cohesive unit. That's what winning will do. Guys will continue to play the right way, the vibes continue to be immaculate which translates to better play, and they do it more consistently because it brings the results everyone wants. The reason we didn't see it in the first two months is because they didn't win at this rate. They got healthy, they finally got the type of schedule the rest of the East had during the first two months and now they are winning at a clip that's as good as any team in the NBA. We'll do it one more time for the people in the back. Since December 31st, here's how the Celtics are doing
Record: 16-6 (3rd most wins)
Offense: 113.0 (13th)
Defense: 101.3 (1st)
Net rating: +11.7 (1st)
AST%: 61.7% (14th)
TS%: 57.9% (9th)
+/-: +11.1 (1st)
Now let's talk about sample size. The Celts have played 57 games this season. They've now been playing like this for 22 of them. That puts this at 38% of their season and counting. Not exactly a small sample. Their normal intended starting 5 is now 16-6 on the season (.727) which is a 59 win pace. This is what a lot of us have been screaming for TWO YEARS. When this team can actually play they intended to have, they can hang with anyone in the league. It's why whenever you heard someone give the classic radio troll "the Celtics are .500 over the last two years, it doesn't work!" you knew that's all it is. This is why context matters and you're seeing the proof of that on a nightly basis.
When this 4 game stretch of BKN/DEN/ATL/PHI started, we all agreed it was going to tell us a lot more than beating the Kings and Pistons of the world. The Celts have now guaranteed at least a split. In my opinion the bigger games are still yet to come so we'll see how they do there, but you know the drill. Before you look ahead, we first must look back and relive how much goddamn fun last night was.
- One of the challenges over this stretch of playing teams with an actual pulse was the Celts best players were going to have to show up. It's not like the Nuggets have an elite defense, it's about middle of the pack, but given the fact they have an elite offense (7th), we went into this game thinking the Celts were going to have to score. That meant guys like Jayson Tatum were going to have to show up.
Narrator: "He did"
Another all around beaut from Jayson Tatum. The shooting wasn't what I would call great (8-19, 1-8), but everything else?
Near perfect. Engaged defensively (3 steals), he got to the line (8 FTA), and when it came time to make plays down the stretch in the fourth quarter of a close game, Tatum delivered. The best part? It wasn't all about his scoring in those final minutes. What I want to focus on with Tatum is something that I think truly raises the ceiling. His passing. Remember how loud the noise was that Tatum was selfish and doesn't make his teammates better? Not quite sure why the respect is now not as loud as that disrespect was.
Over the last 11 games, Tatum is up to 5.6 assists a night. Pretty good! How good? Well, over that timespan Tatum would rank 11th among all forwards in the NBA. It trails Giannis by 0.1. It also includes DeRozan as a forward because I don't care what All Star voting says. He's a forward so his 5.9 counts in this. If you want to have him be a guard, move Tatum into the top 10. In those 11 games, Tatum has finished with at least 5 assists in 8 of them. Celts are 9-2 over this stretch. Seems related.
- It was only one game, but holy shit I think Brad may have done something here. Just watch and we'll regroup after your change your pants and we can talk this out
Hopefully, you read my blog about the Celts trade deadline and what I thought it truly meant
I say that because in our very first opportunity to see these new look Celts and chosen style, it was essentially a crystal clear demonstration of the vision. You just saw what Brad's brain creates. It took literally 2 possessions for Derrick White to confirm everything we hoped about this trade. The fit is so seamless it's almost scary. That makes some sense since Udoka and him have history and he and the Jays have Team USA history. Think of what we saw. Derrick White showed up 2 seconds ago and played 13 straight minutes to close this game. He played every second of the fourth quarter. Oh yeah, and the closing lineup was fucking insane
8 minutes / 122.2 Ortg / 77.8 Drtg / +44.4 net rating / 80% AST%
Every single one of those numbers is flat out ridiculous. That's largely due to the fact it was 8 minutes, but it tells you the story of how lethal this combination has the potential to be. Remember, the Nuggets had 60 in the first half and is a top 7 offense. Look at how that group handled it.
Why is this significant? All 8 of those minutes came in the fourth quarter. Before, we couldn't play Dennis/Smart for 8 minutes together in the fourth. Are you kidding? That would be a disaster. Now? Now Ime has a two headed monster who are both plus playmakers on the perimeter of his defense, and god forbid they get beat they are meeting Robert Williams at the rim, who is only one of the best shot blockers in the entire NBA. Marcus said it perfectly
This is the vision. You want to know why Brad made this trade? Two plays stand out. First, the two man game with Tatum
then the best possession of the night to take the lead in the fourth
The value of Derrick White is he's the type of combo guard that has the ability to attack the paint and he does it quite often. The difference in this type of point guard compared to the previous one is despite driving, White is still a willing passer. So what do we see? Unselfish play is contagious. White had set up Tatum a few times and Tatum then returned the favor. That's huge.
Then in the fourth quarter, this is it. This is what the whole point of the deadline was. A total of 5 passes, everyone touched the ball, everyone kept it moving, and it ends in a dunk. Perfection. That is the perfect possession. White knows to get to the corner so he can not only be an easy outlet for Tatum but also make sure the defense has to rotate. The ball in no way sticks in his hands and it pops to Jaylen, do does what he does best. At that point, there's no defense and it's an easy lob.
- So, people are going to address the fact that Rob just went toe to toe with probably the MVP right?
The Celts do not win this game without Rob. His block at 100-97 pretty much saved the game. Defensively, he did about as good as you can humanly do on Jokic. That guy is straight up not real. Thank god he gets tired and has to come out or I'm not sure the Nuggets ever lose. But he shot just 9-20, and Rob had a lot to do with that. It was pretty obvious that the Nuggets aren't used to seeing Rob, because they had no idea that he can contest any 3PA he wants. He repeatedly baited them into taking threes that he knew he could challenge, he did, and the Celts were off.
One of the biggest reasons the Celts came back in this game was because they finally got their shit together on the glass. A large part of that was the work of our beloved Robert. Rob had 10 of his 16 rebounds in the 2nd half, with 5 coming on the offensive glass. They kept the Nuggets off the glass, and held them to just 19 total rebounds over 24 minutes.
- This was a good test for a Celtics defense that had been feeling themselves, and it looked shaky early. Giving up 60 points isn't exactly what an elite defense looks like. The 39 points on 34/18% splits and 7 turnovers certainly does. In total, the Celts forced 21 TOs, held the Nuggets to basically under 100 when the game was in balance, and 43/25% splits overall.
The Nuggets offense had been rolling heading into this game, and the Celts defense needed to see how it stacked up against a team with a legit ability to put up points. I imagine things are only going to get better as White and Theis get more familiar with Ime's scheme. If this is where we're starting, how could you not be excited? This is as legit defense as you'll find in the NBA, and it's showing up every single night. The consistency is what I care about. There has been no letdown. They are suffocating EVERYONE.
- Every year I have to hear about Marcus Smart being traded. Every year he isn't, and then everyone remembers why that's actually a very good thing.
Marcus had a turnover problem, we all can admit that. Very careless with the ball, but it comes via trying to make plays for others, so fine. Other than that, Smart had a great floor general game. He finished with a team high 7 assists, also had 5 steals and then did what he could to pick up the needed scoring with Jaylen struggling and finished with 22 points. Another game where Smart accepts and thrives in his role. The defense we already know is going to be elite, but his overall play continues to be so valuable since returning to the lineup on 1/23. We made it through the deadline and he's playing the same way. That's big.
- Not for nothing, but Pritchard's three might have been the biggest shot of the night
Outside of that shot I thought Payton was having a pretty brutal night but man, that's a gigantic shot in that moment. To get it down to 4 and the momentum start to swing, it gave the Celts new life. They were pretty terrible to start that fourth, and that shot sort of gave them the confidence to start their run.
- Al is starting to look like early season Al again. Big on the glass with 11 rebounds, and he's back to blocking the shit out of everything he sees. Guards somehow think they can drive past him like he hasn't been sending that shit off the glass all season, and he finished with 3 more blocks last night. This is the version of Al they need. Make some open looks, rebound, and defend at a high level. Feels good to have that back.
- No other way to really say it, a pretty nightmare game for Jaylen. Just 12 points on 4-17 (0-6) with 2 TOs. He went 0-6 in the fourth. One of those games you just burn the tape and move on. I feel pretty good about Jaylen's chances of bouncing back, so I'm not all that concerned about it. With that said, he obviously needs to be better. Celts caught a bit of a break and it didn't cost them this game, but it will. Jaylen is too important to lay eggs like this so the hope is it's a one time thing. It certainly wasn't the best we've ever seen him play, and if the goal is to beat ATL/PHI, we need a much better version of Jaylen.
- If the Celts had lost this game while missing 8 FTA I'm not sure I recover. Holy christ was that bad. The #1 FT shooting team missing 8 FTA at home against a good team cannot happen. All their good shooters too which makes it even more annoying. Thankfully it didn't matter but that's playing with fire.
- It goes without saying, but if this new look Celts idea is going to work, Payton has to knock down his open looks. Especially the wide open ones. Those have to be automatic. Last night, they were not. That's the risk of this whole plan. Can the young guys find a way to start to consistently make their open looks. If they do, everything changes. If they don't, things get dicey real quick.
- Didn't like anything about this team's first half defense. Nuggets were getting whatever they wanted around the rim, they were making things way too easy for Jokic in terms of doubling and forcing him into passing lanes, and it felt like we never saw consecutive stops at any point. Maybe that was the two days off, maybe it was the shock of actually seeing a good offense, but we know what elite defense looks like and that was not what we watched in the first half.
- Winning a game against a good team in which you shot 39/27% makes no sense. Celts had lost 17 straight shooting 39%. They almost never win shooting under 30% from three. For those that are concerned about the Celtics #1 glaring need, last night didn't make you feel any better.
You get a 1-14 from three performance from Tatum and Brown, I don't know how you survive that. They were not even CLOSE on their threes. That is usually the kiss of death.
- NOT TODAY SATAN!! SEE YA NEVER
I think it's safe to say the Derrick White era could not have started any better. But let's not lose sight of the reality. Celts are still in 7th. They've lost to the Hawks twice. Philly is probably debuting Harden on Tuesday. The Celts are about to enter the toughest part of this 4 game stretch. They're playing as well as we've ever seen and are riding a wave of momentum that hasn't existed all year. Now is their chance to continue to show us things are different. So far, they've answered every challenge. Here are two more that they could really use. Buckle up