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The Celtics Couldn't Stop A Nosebleed And Had To Win Ugly But You Know What? I Love It

Brian Babineau. Getty Images.

I think it's important to remember that games like this are much more an example of real life than the run we all experienced where the Celts were kicking the shit out of everyone they played by 20+ points. That stuff isn't normal, and I would still say it's unsustainable even if the Celts did sustain it for a few months. That's just not really how the NBA works which is what made that run so insane to watch. A night like last night is way closer to the bone of what things might be like. The Celts are going to have to continue to show they can win ugly. They are going to have to grind out games and find ways to execute down the stretch in high pressure situations. We're all going to have to get used to the life of sweating out fourth quarters again. That's the reality.

When fully healthy, the Celts have proved to be virtually unbeatable. They do shit the league hasn't seen in decades. But the second you take out one piece of the puzzle and it doesn't matter what piece that is, could be Smart, could be Jaylen/Tatum/Rob/Al, they turn from unbeatable into a really good team who will now make you sweat out games. They're still really good, but it gives us a much different viewing experience. The feelings I had watching the Celts/Pacers last night were similar to how I experienced early in the season games. Stressful as hell. Watching random nobodies make 35 footers repeatedly. A 48 minute game where the Celts never seem to find a way to get any legit separation, careless mistakes, bad defense, you name it and we got it last night.  

Now, you may be thinking this is a big time concern as we enter the postseason. I look at it more like this. Living in this new post Rob world, I want the Celts to get as many high pressure reps in as possible over these last 5 games. I don't care if it's a game like MIA where they clearly shit their pants or a night like last night where they execute very well down the stretch and win. Simply getting those types of reps with this group ahead of the playoffs is the most important thing. I actually prefer games like this rather than blowouts the rest of the way for that exact reason. It's impossible to truly replicate the playoffs in the last 5 games of a season, but it can't hurt to have this group exposed to those types of high pressure situations so they feel more comfortable when they come up in a game where the stakes actually matter. 

While winning by a billion is always more fun, there can be benefits to winning ugly too. These last handful of games have been a little bit of a reality check for this team, and it gives Ime something to get on them about to close this year out. A humbling moment if you will. An opportunity to come together and refocus. A win is a win no matter how you slice it, so let's get into it

The Good

- Everyone is aware of what Jaylen Brown is currently doing correct? If not, boy are you lucky you clicked on this blog because it would be a pleasure and an honor for me to tell you.

Jaylen is playing the best basketball of his season right now. Shit, maybe even of his career. Last night marked the 8th straight game we've seen Jaylen finish with at least 25 points which is the longest streak he's ever had in his career. It started on 3/16 on the road in GS and since then over these last 8 games Jaylen is putting up 28.5/5.6/3.0 on 55/46.9% splits with 2.9 3PM. Pretty good!

In this game, I think most would agree this was one of Jaylen's more complete performances of the season. He once again got things started with a tremendous first quarter (14 points on 6-8 shooting) and this should surprise exactly no one. Jaylen has been this team's best first quarter player for like 3 straight seasons and the best part is it usually comes in an efficient fashion. This year, Jaylen leads the Celts with 7.3 points on 52/42% shooting in the first quarter and there's a reason he also leads in first quarter FGA (5.1). I believe I heard Gorman say last night was the 10th straight game the Celts have won the first quarter and Jaylen's production is a huge reason why.

It became very clear early in this game that the Pacers did not have a player on their roster who was going to be able to stay in front of Jaylen and prevent him from getting to where he wants to go. I personally love when that happens because more often than not Jaylen will immediately recognize that and make sure his approach offensively takes advantage. That will always be the biggest thing for me with Jaylen, he's such a different player when he attacks first, and here's how things looked

Tell me that's not a perfect approach. Go ahead, I dare you. Here's the thing though when it comes to Jaylen's night. It wasn't just about his finishing. Let's not forget, Jaylen led the team with 7 assists. He did everything, and what I care about most was his play in the fourth quarter. Jaylen was aggressive, yet didn't have tunnel vision. That's the shit that can get him into trouble in these high pressure moments late in games. Last night, he had his head and eyes up. He found teammates for easy dunks after commanding all the attention on his drives. That's the shit that will matter come the postseason. if Jaylen is able to consistently be aggressive while avoiding his bad tunnel vision habits in late game moments, the overall team execution is going to skyrocket.

- This is where you also remember that the beauty of this basketball team isn't just that they are blessed to have a player like Jaylen. It's the fact that you can take that caliber of player and then pair him with Jayson Tatum.

For those keeping track at home, this was now the 8th game in which Tatum and Brown both drop at least 30. You might have just said to yourself "Oh, that's it? Only 8 times? That doesn't seem like a whole lot". I would tend to agree, on the surface 8 total games doesn't seem like a ton over an 82 game season. But then you learn that it leads the NBA

Hm, that seems good! I can't say for sure, but I do think leading the entire NBA in something is what you could classify as good. The best part was to start Friday we were treated with this

so to then see them both immediately have a dominant game was a level of satisfying I can't really explain. Each day I thank every God imaginable that these two are on the Boston Celtics. 

When it comes to Tatum's performance, it wasn't the most efficient thing I've ever seen. 10-24 doesn't exactly get the blood flowing to a certain region. But when it was time to win the game, Jayson Tatum won the game. So much of the Celtics success is going to come down to how Tatum plays in the fourth quarter. If he struggles or is taken out of a game, things can get real ugly real fast. That's sort of what happened against the Heat and they paid the price. On Friday, Tatum was that guy. A total of 8 big points on 3-4 shooting, some big threes and even better plays at the rim to seal it. It's not like the Pacers play good defense so it was what I think we all expected to see. Those are the games where Tatum has to step up and refuse to allow his team to lose. In a game that required them to execute multiple late game possessions, Tatum was able to do just that. 

- As we approach the end of the season, I'm starting to wonder about something. I know seeding is tight and these games still matter and all that so maybe this isn't even something to waste brain cells over but here it is. I'm starting to think Ime should find a game or two for an Al rest day. Why? Because when Al gets rest he travels back in time. He becomes 29 year old Al Horford, it's ridiculous

This might have been the best Al I've seen all year. You want to talk about someone who is stepping up in Rob's absence, Al has certainly met that challenge. His rebounding as of late has been rock solid and that was definitely one of my concerns with Rob out. Watching Al all I can say is he looks fresh, and when he has his legs under him everything changes with his energy and jumper. So while I know wins are still important, a healthy and rested Al for the playoff run is even more important. The Celts need their frontcourt to overachieve while Rob recovers, and having Al be the best version of himself would help that. 

- You'll never see me thumb my nose up at putting up 128 points on 54% shooting with 29 assists. Yes, I am fully aware the Pacers defense is hot garbage coming in at 28th in the league. The Celts should have no problem against that type of defense and they didn't. No quarter 28 points, 32 points in the fourth, they got whatever they wanted offensively. Here's the thing though, this isn't really a fluke thing that only happened because the Pacers stink.

Since the All Star Break, the Celts have the #1 offense in the NBA with a 120.8 rating. That's a span of 18 games. They are 5th in AST% over that same time period. The point is, we're starting to see a little bit of a shift in how this team is winning. Now, their offense is starting to hit a run. We do have to mention though, the Celts have been 26th in offense over the 3 games without Rob. That's why it was a relief to see a non Rob roster have a good offensive showing.

- I really liked the pace in which Derrick White played with in this game, especially late. This was one of those classic quietly effective performances. Nothing flashy, nothing jumps out to you in the box score, just solid defense with a few charges and a block, great FT shooting and big plays in big moments in the fourth quarter. How huge was that 4th quarter pull up three? Then his perfect late game drive and finish with the way he used his body? That's the good stuff. Not to mention he's starting to figure out that Theis lob. This offense needs to keep the lob threat alive and Theis can do it, you just have to throw it slightly lower than you would with Rob.

- Honestly, everything offensively in that fourth quarter was exactly what you want to see. It was another situation where the Celts had to come through with qualify offensive possessions because on the other end they could stop shit. In the playoffs against good teams, chances are those teams are going to score in the fourth so it's really important that the Celts execute on that end. Here's how they did

it may have gotten close, but we never saw a tie or a lead change over the final 12 minutes. That tells me the Celts consistently responded offensively. Everyone seemed to fill in and thrive in their role, and good on the second unit for coming up big late. Tatum and Brown both had much better fourth quarters than what we saw against MIA, and really my only complaint is the turnovers. You can't be that sloppy down the stretch of a close game, we all know that.

So much of their success was because they were aggressive. Everything felt like it was at the rim and when they did take threes it was within the flow of the offense. Finding ways to take shots from high efficient areas is the name of the game when you get down to these high pressure moments. Especially when Rob isn't there to clean up your poor shot selection. You have to be smarter about your approach and last night is what it can look like when you do that.

- I still hate his shot distribution right now (9 FGA, 7 3PA), but the Celts don't win this game without the two way impact of Marcus Smart. Once he stopped turning the ball over he was back to making a positive impact on both ends. Whether it was charges late, or possessions like this where he had to handle a center by himself with no help

Defensively, he was back on his DPOY shit

and at this point I'm not sure this race is even debatable. Sorry, Bam doesn't have enough games played. My only thing with Marcus is cleaning up his ball security and I would like way more balance between 3PA and 2PA. The defense, that's been consistently dominant.

The Bad

- I can't really explain what the hell happened on those 4 straight first quarter possessions that ended in turnovers. It was as if everyone on the roster forgot how to play basketball all at the same time. It was incredible but in al the worst ways. They couldn't do anything! You know what, let's run through em

What on earth was Marcus thinking. Those are all so bad and in no way defensible. Not else where you would put 4 straight TOs other than this section. This is how you give a bad team confidence and find yourself in a dogfight. One of the biggest issues as of late seems to be turnovers and more importantly points off turnovers. The Celts gave up another 24 points off their 15 TOs. You want to talk about the defense not looking as great lately, well start there. Stop giving up a billion easy points because you're careless as shit with the basketball. We're seeing this type of shit in the first quarter and fourth quarter. When you hear people talk about the Celts not being crisp, this is what they mean. For it to come from the starting point guard, that's not exactly great.

- We saw TOR do it, we saw MIA do it, and we saw IND do it. The book is out. With no Rob in the lineup, the way to beat this defense right now is with the high pick & roll. If you want to be concerned about something heading into the postseason, that can be at the top of your list. The Celts are BBQ chicken the second anyone runs high P&R right now. That needs to be fixed immediately. All you have to do is look at what Tyrese Haliburton did

For the third straight game the Celts really struggled here. They seemingly have changed how they're defending the high P&R with this new lineup and I'm not sure I love the results. Too often we saw them move away from switching and the communication obviously wasn't the best considering it was the first thing Ime mentioned postgame. That second Haliburton layup is a good example of what a miscommunication looks like.

We can all agree that giving up 123 points and great shooting splits is not going to cut it in 2 weeks. This team being elite defensively is the backbone of their success. It has to be the one constant because their offense is the very definition of streaky. What I watched last night was not an elite defensive performance, far from it. 

- I'll say it, I am growing slightly concerned about Grant's outside shooting slump. Another 0-3 last night, Grant is now shooting just 27.5% from three over his last 18 games dating all the way back to 2/24. That's…..a bit of a problem. Let's say you wanted a more recent sample, OK. Over his last 6 games, Grant is shooting just 18.8% from three. His ability to knock down his open looks is pretty damn important as a secondary scorer. For a little over a month now, that's been nowhere to be found. 

The Ugly

- I've noticed a little trend recently that I can't say I love. It feels like over these last three games the Celts have really been unable to take advantage of their initial separation. They get up by 5-7 and there hasn't been that immediate next punch to extend it to 12-15. Instead, they are giving it right back, often times via threes. That's some December shit. When this team was destroying everyone it felt like once they got that initial 7 point lead it wasn't long before it was double digits. They stepped on throats. 

This game was a perfect example of that. How many times did we see the Celts get up by 7-9 points only to not be able to clamp down and extend it? Instead it was an immediate 6-0 Pacers run to make it a dogfight again. That's where the defensive lapses are killing them. Offensively they are doing their job to create that separation, but now over these last 3 games it feels like more often than not they are wasting that. 

- Here's another thing I'm not crazy about. I'm not sure the Celts win this game if they don't find a way to foul Haliburton out. He was 10-11 from the floor and was literally unstoppable. I'd like to take this opportunity to tell the Kings they can go to hell. I'll never forgive them for sending this dude into the East. You assholes. Smart had some success I guess but when a guy goes 10-11 I'm not really comfortable suggesting anyone shut him down. He got what he wanted when he wanted and there didn't seem to be an answer. Having the benefit of playing almost the entire 4th with no Haliburton certainly was a prayer.

But hey, an ugly win is a win all the same. One more "tune up" game against the Wizards before a pretty huge closing three games of CHI/MIL/MEM. I can't think of a better caliber of teams to prepare you for the playoffs, and we'll have to see what happens in terms of rest, especially with MIL being a B2B. All I know is this though. The Celts need to figure their shit out defensively or things are going to get pretty ugly pretty quick.