After the Celts win over the Pacers the other day, I walked away from that game saying that I thought it would maybe be a good thing if all their remaining games to close out the season were close. You see, now operating in a post Rob world, I think it would be valuable for this team to have those high pressure reps together as we prepare for the postseason. Regardless of how they may end, getting those minutes and reps together as a unit can be useful.
While I still believe that today, I would like it on record that I am also in favor of 42 point wins. In fact, I might be the world's biggest 42 point win fan on the planet. I love em, can't get enough of em and if you think I give two shits about who a 42 point win comes again you are sadly mistaken. Do the Wizards stink? You bet your ass they do. But they had won 4 of their last 5 including wins over the Warriors and Mavs so it's not like they can't catch anyone on any given night. Winning by 40+ is hard to do in the NBA even if it comes against a lottery team and at a time in the NBA calendar when most lottery teams are already thinking about their vacations.
Let's also not pretend like the Celts are some sort of unstoppable beast in these early start time games. In fact, they usually suck ass. How many times have we seen this team shoot 32/18% in these 1pm tip offs and score like 85 points. They used to be their kryptonite if we're being honest. I would dread each one when I saw it on the schedule. To think they were capable of a 144 outburst with the type of offensive showing we saw is something that not even my extremely demented Celtics Kool Aid infested brain would ever come up with.
But it happened, and it was glorious. So much so that we may as well dive right in.
- We are witnessing the best basketball of Jaylen Brown's career and I have to tell ya, I find it extremely enjoyable to watch. Game after game, regardless of opponent, we see shit like this
You saw the video, which was awesome, so let's now look at Jaylen's run a few different ways. Here's a picture
and here's what that picture tells you. It shows that over Jaylen's last 9 games Jaylen has at least hit 25 points in all of them (which is a career high) and over this span that is quickly approaching one month, Jaylen is averaging 28.9/5.8/3.2 on 56.7/50% with 3.0 3PM a night. Those are #1 option type numbers that are coming from a #2 option. Make no mistake, Jaylen is only a "#2" because of another fella on this team, and not because of talent. Jaylen has #1 talent and we're seeing it every night lately. It's what makes him so fucking awesome, this reality that Jaylen can absolutely dominate and carry a team like any other franchise's #1 guy.
Once again it was Jaylen who set the tone in the first quarter (13 points on 5-6 shooting) and once he gets going there hasn't really been a defense that's been able to stop him. Watching Jaylen offensively a few things stand out.
1. He has mastered the James Harden stepback. You saw it make an appearance in that highlight video.
2. He feels way more comfortable pulling up for three off a high screen. I refer to it as the Jayson Tatum special.
Those two shots tell me one thing about Jaylen. He's been in the gym. He's put in the work to expand his offensive arsenal and become even harder to guard. The second you play up on him to maybe take away that three? He's already finishing at the rim before you know what happened. If you give him space? Did you see the part where I told you he's currently shooting 50% from three?
The you add in how much better he's been these last two games at not playing with tunnel vision on his drives, and this is exactly how we all want Jaylen to look heading into the playoffs. He's been aggressive, his shot is in a great spot right now, he's defending, and most important is the consistency. This isn't a once in a while thing, this type of production is an every night thing.
- This is now where for the millionth time I remind you how incredible it is that the Boston Celtics employ both Jaylen Brown AND Jayson Tatum. You see, despite what a bunch of fucking morons wouldn't shut up about to start the year about how these two don't work and need to be split up, everyone with an actual functioning brain knows that this is the best duo in the entire NBA. Sorry if that offends.
Yesterday was more of an all around type of game for Jayson. He didn't really score (just 22 points) but he was 9-17 from the floor which is good. This was more about not forcing things and just taking what the defense gave him. He finished tied for the team lead with 7 assists, he only had 2 TOs, and outside of missing 3 FTAs I really didn't have too many issues with what we saw. He played under 30 minutes so my guess is if he played the 4th he most likely cracks 30 again. Tatum is playing with such a level of confidence right now that he can still make a massive impact even if his three isn't falling (1-5). That's pretty big. If you remember, early in his career if Tatum would miss his first couple threes, that would sort of fuck him up mentally. He wouldn't be as aggressive for some reason. Now? You can barely tell when he's struggling from deep because he's still able to make an impact in so many other ways. That's growth.
- Listen, I can't explain 144 points on 61.5/52.3% with 23 3PM. Even knowing how bad the Wizards may be defensively, those are still outrageous numbers. We can all agree with that right? Like, it's not normal to drop 144 in regulation with those shooting splits. Here's what I will say though. For as much play as the Celts elite defense has gotten, we have not talked enough about the reality of their offense.
Since 12/31, the Celtics own the 3rd best offense in the NBA (44 games). Since 1/22, or the last 32 games, the Celts have owned the #1 offense in the NBA. Essentially, for over half of their season they've been one of if not the best offensive groups in the entire league. This isn't my homerism talking, this is just what the real life on court production says. Over this span, they have the 2nd best TS% (60.7%) in the league.
So while performances like this may be a bit eye opening, the reality is the Celt have been elite on the offensive end for over 3 months and half their games. Admit it, you learned something just now.
- Everyone knows the key to my heart is ball movement. I'll do anything for it. Good ball movement is what gives me a reason to live. So when I see the Celts already hit 20 assists in a half, let's just say I had more than a half chub. When I then see they finished the game with a season high 39 assists on 56 FGM I basically turn into this
Look, maybe you're a boob or a butt person. I'm a ball movement guy. We don't judge in 2022. I see this team move the ball like they did in this game, where everyone who touches the floor seemed to take some sort of vow to play unselfish basketball and it gets the blood flowing. How could it not? The one thing we know is the Basketball Gods reward good ball movement so when I look up and down this roster and see four separate players finish with at least 5 assists and a total of 8 players finish with at least 3, yeah, maybe there's a little cum everywhere. That's not weird, you're weird.
- We really should spend a quick moment and address how well both Al and Theis have done filling in for a lineup without Rob. I'm especially looking at Al because one thing that has really stepped up these last few games is his passing. The Celts getting ball movement and playmaking from their 4/5 spot is so important to the flow of this offense, and Al has been tremendous in that department
Dating back to the 3/21 win over OKC, in the 5 games Al has played we're seeing him average 5.2 assists. He's hit at least 6 in 3 of those 5 games. Having a big be able to bring the ball up and pull his man away from the rim is what helps open everything up. Al's ability to throw dimes on backdoor cuts to either Jay is a legit weapon.
With Theis, he's giving you exactly what they need. Good rebounding, good defense, the same sort of ball movement required from the center spot, and some reliable finishing around the rim. There are certainly areas where they struggle, for example nobody is really afraid to attack the paint against these two like they are with Rob, but there's no denying that both Horford and Theis have done a good job of holding down the fort so far as we all wait for Rob to get back.
- It was nice to see the defense stop fucking around and get back to actually stopping people. I will say it took a little while, giving up 59 first half points isn't exactly good, but they woke up in the 2nd half and gave up just 43 points on 41/22% splits. I can live with only giving up 102 points a night, especially with how this offense is rolling right now.
In 3 of the 4 quarters we saw the Celts hold their opponent to under 24 points. That tends to be a recipe for success.
- While I still don't live his shot balance (6 FGA, 4 3PA), yesterday was a much better all around performance in terms of point guard duties from Marcus Smart
His shot selection and decision making was held in check, he was tied for the team lead in assists with 7, and any time he finishes with more AST than FGA I think we all chalk that up to a win. While I'm not someone who has a problem with Smart's shot volume (more his shot approach), there's no denying that this style of Smart's play is how this team usually blows someone out.
You then combine that with everything we saw defensively
and that my friends is why he's the perfect starting point guard for this group.
- Alright, let's talk about the bench. There's a chance we will never see the second unit play better collectively than we did in this game. It was rather insane if we're being honest and not exactly something I would call sustainable but also who gives a shit. Let's group them all together. Go ahead and run through the domination
The numbers legit seem fake.
Let's go through each
Grant Williams - Boy was it nice to see Grant finally snap out of his three point shooting slump. He had been down to around 18% over his last 6 games, so the 4-4 performance from him was a huge relief. Everyone knows that his ability to knock down his open looks is maybe one of the most important responsibilities of this roster. It opens everything up. I will say he looks way more comfortable putting the ball on the floor and finishing at the rim, but it really all comes back to that outside shot.
Derrick White - We're seeing Derrick get more comfortable by the game. Here's something that I think will make you feel even better when it comes to DWhite. We all know how much he's been struggling offensively, but there are legit signs that he has broken through those struggles. Over his last 7 games, White is shooting 45/44% from the floor while putting up 13.9/3.6/4.7 in his 31 minutes. He's touching the paint first to gain confidence, and he's not even coming close to second guessing his threes. He's gripping and ripping and it's made a huge difference. If he starts making shots in addition to everything else he's already providing in terms of defense and ball movement, that's a game changer for that second unit.
Payton Pritchard - Yup, still automatic. Nothing new there.
Aaron Nesmith - I am going to be as stubborn about Nesmith as I am about Smart. There is something there with Nesmith and I am not moving on my stance that with a consistent run, he will prove to be a draft day hit. The signs are there. The defense is getting better and better, his energy is undeniable, and that three point shot is clearly something that gets better with more opportunity/confidence.
- Some of these numbers don't even seem real. The Celts won the points in the paint battle 60-42. They won the fast break battle 32-4, they had 39 assists and just 7 TOs, they made 23 3PM. That all seems pretty good.
- As well as this team played, the 2nd quarter is sneaky still an issue. Maybe it's because this is the time where we get our first bench look, but something needs to be figured out here. In this game it was allowing 37 points on 61/71% splits. That's horrible. It's unrealistic to think the Celts are always going to counter that with a 35 point/70% shooting performance themselves, so they need to find a way to not completely fall apart in this quarter. It's happened a lot recently and against good teams in a playoff series, that's playing with fire.
- You can attribute most of that damage to someone who is rapidly rising the ranks of All Time Celtics Killers. Shit, he may even be the leader. To put it simply, Ish Smith owns all of us. He owns this franchise. I can't explain it, it's Ish Smith for crying out loud, but that's the truth. They have no answer for this dude no matter what team he's on. He cooks the Celts in a way that I haven't seen since LeBron in Game 6 in 2012. It's remarkable really but in the bad ways.
- I was deeply saddened to see that Sam Hauser missed all three of his 3PA. On a day when nobody missed, I honestly can't believe he came up empty. He's always locked and loaded so I couldn't believe what I was watching.
I will say this though, his Maine connection with the Murder Kornet is real. Nobody has film on that and it clearly shows. An unstoppable duo not seen since Kobe and Shaq in my humble opinion.
- I need Brad to institute a rule. He needs to make it clear to Ime that if over these final 3 games we see the Celts are up by 20+ at any point in the fourth quarter, it's time to take everyone out. I don't care if there are 10 minutes left or 3 minutes left. Stop messing around. If he doesn't, make it a $500,000 fine. I'm not sure if that's possible but I would like it to be. There was no reason for any of the rotation players to be in a game up 30+ points in the fourth quarter. You're just asking for another Rob situation. I'm pretty sure the team can close games like yesterday out and I would rather not spend that fourth quarter praying everyone comes out healthy. I'm talking about guys as deep in the rotation as Pritchard. Sit them all, give the ball to the end of the bench guys and tell them to get some cardio in. The playoffs are 12 days away, we don't need anything else coming up in a blowout.
So here we go. A few days off before a CHI/MIL/MEM stretch to close. The Celts woke up this morning in sole possession of the 2nd seed and we'll see how things shake out while they're off. Tie breakers are in their favor which is nice, but to me it's more about how they look on the court than what seed they finish at. If they play to their potential, there is not a team in the East I fear. I welcome all challengers. Now it's about closing the regular season strong, staying healthy, and letting the chips fall where they may. What a wild place to be given where we were 3 months ago.