I feel pretty confident in saying the loss to the Pistons right before the All Star break was wildly annoying for Celtics fans around the world. I think we all wanted that 10 game streak heading into the break, and now sitting here having to type that the Celts have won 11 of their last 12 instead of 12 in a row is easily one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. After coming back and kicking the shit out of the Nets JV team, we were on to our next challenge. Something that many people refer to as the kiss of death when it comes to Boston Celtics basketball. Early afternoon starts against a bad team. You felt it when you woke up yesterday, no need to try and hide it. Your brain said the Celts should be motivated given the pre All Star break loss and easily handle a Pistons team that doesn't really have a whole lot of those things called wins. But then your memory kicked in. You've seen the Celts blow early afternoon games to bad teams before. A whole bunch of times. Then you remember these same Pistons beat you, and then in their first game back beat the Cavs. It wasn't totally outrageous to think they'd have some confidence heading into Saturday's game.
What we got was basically the exact same game as the last meeting. The Pistons showed up ready to play and this thing went back and forth for the majority of the way. Give the Pistons credit, they've played extremely well in these two matchups. They gave a Celts defense that has been destroying the entire league problems. While true they only gave up 104, we'll talk about why that number is a little misleading. But this time around, the Celts should some actual resolve. They faced some late game adversity and found a way to win. You can go ahead and take a second to check off that box. Next up for me is facing late game adversity against a good team and see what happens. It's all about building a body of work that you can believe in. Do shit that contending teams do, and contending teams win the games they're supposed to.
The Celts have another opportunity today against the Pacers, but first let's talk about what gave us all a fantastic Saturday
- A good way to ensure you avenge your pre All Star break loss is by making sure your best players show up. I felt confident that if Jayson Tatum did his normal Jayson Tatum things, that we would all be happy with the result. It's good to know that shit still happens
Right away Tatum established himself as a passer to start this game. To be honest it was one of the better all around quarters we've seen him have. Look at how comfortably Tatum is as a passer in those clips. A nice little 8/2/5 on 3-5 shooting to start. He's reached the point as a passer where he's now anticipating defensive rotations on a consistent basis. He sees it before the defense even knows they're going to expose themselves in a certain area. Doesn't matter the type of pass either. Cross court to the opposite corner out of the post? No problem, Tatum is tall as shit and has an insane wingspan. He can get it over anyone.
This is all possible because his development as a passer has been a consistent thing all year. The only real difference is now his teammates are knocking down the shots. Tatum has always been a willing passer, despite whatever weird narrative there seems to be with him. You can tell those people aren't really watching every Tatum possession. This version of Tatum is what I see possible with his final form one day. When a player commands such an insane amount of defense attention, once he unlocks the passing it's a wrap. Just look at recent NBA history. When KD hit 24 and up, he suddenly became a lock for 4.5/5.0 assists and he won a scoring title. His passing took a leap starting that season. Kawhi in his mid 20s took a leap as a passer and won a title. Now he's a 5.0 assist guy. Same story with Paul George and his development timeline. Tatum will now have back to back seasons over 4.0 assists. He's right on track in my opinion and it's the biggest thing that if it unlocks, it substantially raises their ceiling.
- We saw the vision yesterday. The thought process of the organization played out in real time. Pretty much the entire world knows that ball movement and defense are the way to greatness. To bring in a more ball movement style, the Celts had to bring in a more ball moving player. To pay for that type of style, it cost a good outside shooter and picks. You make up for that shooting by inserting a career 40% shooter. This is then what can happen
Every single time Payton Pritchard shoots the ball I think it's going in. Every one. The ball looks so good coming out of his release I can't help myself. If I see him not even hit the rim on his first few attempts my brain goes to dangerous places. This right here is one of the biggest questions of the Celtics stretch run and potential playoff run. Can one of these young guys step up and knock down open looks. The roster needs it. Brad put his eggs in that basket that more opportunity will answer their shooting issues.
Last night, Payton Pritchard saved this team from another embarrassing loss. For it to happen in the fourth quarter is just icing on the cake. While a lot of the focus will be on his shooting and scoring output, let's not forget that there were multiple defensive possessions where Payton Pritchard had Cade Cunningham in jail. That was insane. So if you're telling me that Pritchard is going to be able to hold his own defensively while also knocking down his outside looks, well then let's go.
- Jaylen had a weird game. There were times where I felt like he had a little bit of tunnel vision and some turnover issues. But at the same time when I see that Jaylen has an extreme advantage over whoever is guarding him, I also want him shooting the ball every single time. It's a delicate balance. Attacking mismatches is the name of the game, especially when it's one of your best players, but you have to be conscious of falling into too much of a isolation offense. Overall, I thought Jaylen was solid
and when they needed him, he delivered. He had 9 in the fourth on 4-7 shooting and was 7-13 for 18 points in the second half. Jaylen carried because the Pistons kept putting Cory Joseph on him. That's not going to work out for you. This was definitely one of those Jaylen is a scorer first type game, and that's fine. Those are OK at times. He didn't have an assist and led the team with 24 FGA. Considering he just had 6 assists the game before, I'm not too worried about that.
- It took 3 quarters, but we finally saw this team lock in defensively in the fourth quarter. It felt like they couldn't get a stop to save their lives through the first three, and the point total matched it. Quarters of 26, 28, and 28 points is pretty sad for a defense that has been the talk of the town for two months. Then it came time to nut up and lock in and the Celts held the Pistons to just 22 points on 38/12% splits with 5 TOs. Ballgame. There was the defense I know and love. Finally they were getting stops, finally they were scoring on the other end. Everything about that fourth quarter was what I needed to see. When facing adversity, they delivered on both ends.
The crazy part is the lineup that got us there. I don't know what got into Al Horford, but this man played 37 minutes. He played every second of the fourth quarter. That feels insane, but it was clearly working. The group of
played 7 minutes in the fourth and had a 175 Ortg /108.3 Drtg /+66.7 net rating / 88% AST%
That's pretty good.
- Also good, a 15-1 record. What is that you might ask? Just the Celts record since Marcus Smart came back to the lineup on 1/23.
Imagine there are people in this world with real opinions that think Marcus Smart is not a good enough natural passer and playmaker to be the right fit next to Tatum and Brown. They see the natural vision and skill in that video above and then think "eh, they need a playmaker". It's bananas. I actually thought Smart was a little out of control to start this game but he rounded into form and took the baton from Tatum and continued the tone that this team was going to be an unselfish offense.
You can try and fight it if you want, but there's no real point in arguing a 15-1 record. We're seeing more and more evidence that suggest this collection of players work extremely well together when they are fortunate enough to share the floor.
- Every game this team plays, I have my eyes on that assist total. I think about the magic 20 number a lot. Get there, you're going to win. Yesterday? They hit 31. Three players with at least 6 and every single player that had an assist had at least 3. That is the type of balanced ball movement we all crave. To then only turn the ball over 10 times is pretty much the ratio you want. I'll take 3:1.
- I'm inching closer and closer to the idea that I would be totally OK if Brad had to overpay to keep Grant
I can't help myself. This version of Grant is exactly the type of role player this roster needs. It's not like he goes nuts, but 13/4/3/1/1 on 4-6 shooting and good defense? A guy who also stretches the floor and is having one of the best outside shooting seasons in the NBA? Pretty sure there's a spot on this roster for that moving forward. Oh and Tatum loves him? Done deal.
The biggest thing with Grant's season is the consistency with which he's been able to play. It's not as if we get a performance like this from Grant once every five games. This is essentially every night. He's bought into his role and the man is thriving. So much so that I'm declaring this Danny Ainge pick a hit. You get a legit role player/spot starter with the 22nd pick? That's a win any way you slice it.
- Not the best I've ever seen Derrick White play offensively. He was still solid on the defensive end and he did have 3 assists, but this was easily his "worst" game as a Celtic. To put that into perspective, he was a -1. So like, not even that bad, but given how awesome he's been to start his Cetlics career, this was a pretty obvious downgrade. The fact that he still found ways to make an impact was nice though.
It just felt like he was a little sloppy with the basketball. He finished with 3 TOs and had one brutal one in the fourth, and if he's not going to provide scoring because he was focused on moving the ball (which is good), he has to take better care fo it. Something tells me he will, but this was a rough one for him in that department.
- I'll say it. The Celts had no answer for guarding Cade Cunningham. Smart had him for 19 possessions and gave up 7 points on 2-4 shooting. He lit up Jaylen for 6 points on 3-5. Was 4-4 against Al/Grant. He killed pretty much everyone. I thought the Pistons really exploited a weakness in the Celts defense through the first three quarters and that was the middle of the paint/FT line. Look at the Pistons shot chart through the first three quarters
Whether it was Saddiq Bey or Cade or pretty much any Piston, they got to their spots at will. They attacked that middle of the paint/FT zone and it's what kept this game so close. For the second game in a row, the Celts really couldn't get consecutive stops until late.
Sure the Pistons hit some crazy shots, but a lot of them were pretty open pullups against some pretty soft defense.
- Tossing Diallo, the tech/Smart situation, missed clear blocks, just an awful game for this officiating crew for both sides. They lost complete control of this game after the Diallo situation
and as we're seeing all across the league, the officiating is becoming more of a problem than not.
- If you were someone that hated on Tatum's pullup three with 1:05 left in the third quarter (looking at you Mannix), I'm going to have to ask you to watch this because you clearly haven't seen it before
- We're still seeing this team have these brutal 3-4 minute stretches of disgusting basketball that allows their opponent to build momentum. This time it came in the third quarter. The Celts scored to go up 71-70 with 5:02 left. They did not make another shot or score another point until Payton Pritchard made a three with 2:39 left. Everything was slowed down isolation, some turnovers, and an inability to get stops. It's those type of lulls that will get you beat by any good team. We've seen it already cost this team games, especially in the fourth. While it was nice to see them dig themselves out of that predicament, I'd prefer a life one day where we don't even have to deal with it in then first place.
So here we go. The journey continues tonight against the Pacers and known Celtics killer Buddy Hield who has been on a roll. It's another weird tip at 5pm, so let's see how they handle things on a B2B. Rob didn't play down the stretch so I imagine he plays heavy minutes tonight. The Celts have a pretty big 5 game stretch on the horizon, so building even more momentum today would be pretty nice.