Not all losses are created equal. For example, I imagine you felt much better about the TOR and MIL losses than you did say, the MIA loss. Different sets of circumstances leads to different reactions. Let me ask you this. Do you feel more or less confident about a world where the Celtics potentially see the Bucks in a playoff series? My guess is you probably feel a little better after last night, despite the loss. So while I don't exactly love the idea behind a "good" loss because by definition losses are bad, I will say that last night was definitely a "confidence building" loss. Did I just make that up? Perhaps. Maybe someone has said that before but I feel like that's a pretty good description of how we all feel. There's part of me that is annoyed they lost this game, mostly because it came via self inflicted wounds and careless play, but the rest of me walked away mostly happy with what I saw.
Since before the All Star Break to today, the Celts have 6 losses. Of those 6, 4 have come on a B2B. I can live with that. I can live with on the second night of a back to back missing 3 starters (2 that are playing) going into MIL who is fully healthy and taking them down to the wire. There are things I think they need to clean up for sure, but overall I don't know how you could complain about their effort. They showed up and fought just like good teams do. That tells me way more about the makeup of this team than the result does. I can't sit here and tell you I wouldn't have preferred a win, because that would be a lie. I have made it very clear that I have a full blown wins addiction. I need them. But I have no problem with a team that goes down swinging. They could have mailed it in, but they didn't. They punched back.
Does it put a little more pressure on Sunday's finale if the Celts want the 3 seed? Sure does. But maybe that's not the worst thing in the world as we enter the playoffs. My entire stance over the last 3 months has been I wanted the Celts to put together a body of work that we could trust and believe in when it came to thinking of them as a contender. That has happened, and I think last night was a pretty good example of it. No matter the situation, we know this team is going to scratch and claw and frankly they're still pretty good even when missing 60% of their starting lineup!
With all that said, we have a lot to get to with this one so we may as well get right into it
- I don't want to be a prisoner of the moment or fall into recency bias so I won't say this game was the best I've ever seen Marcus Smart play in his entire life, but holy shit is it close
I almost couldn't believe what I was watching and I fancy myself a Marcus Smart stan. The passing didn't really shock me, everyone with a brain knows Marcus is an elite playmaker. I couldn't imagine being someone who said out loud and with conviction that the Celtics needed a more "pass first, better playmaker" type point guard next to Tatum and Brown when Marcus Smart literally exists. Boy do they probably feel a little silly.
The surprising part of his night was obviously the shooting. I can't sit here and tell you that I expect Smart to go 10-16 (7-12). I know he's capable of it, people forget it's Marcus Smart that owns the Celtics franchise record for 3PM in a game (11), but against a fully healthy MIL team there was no part of me that expected 7 3PM on that good of splits. It wasn't just the final numbers either, it was the moments and situations in which Marcus was making these shots. For better or worse, he is not afraid of the moment. On a night where there was no Tatum or Al, Marcus had to step up offensively and he had to do it in an efficient manner. He showed up in every single quarter which is all you can really ask for.
Defensively, Smart had his moments both good and bad. Here's how his numbers looked against the MIL Big 3
We'll get to Middleton in a minute, but overall I'd say this was like a B-/B performance from the DPOY. That's right, I said DPOY and I did not stutter. He gave them a chance late with his plays on Giannis at the rim, he guarded a wide variety of positions and he does it all as a point guard. That's not normal. Then you realize Smart only turned the ball over 3 times and without a doubt this was one of his best overall showings of the season. So much love and trust with this man it'll make your head spin.
- I have no idea when Daniel Theis is going come back down to planet earth but I sure as shit am not complaining. Theis is filling in for Rob in a way I didn't know he was physically capable of doing.
I say this because we all watched the best professional game of Daniel Theis' life. His 15 points on 5-7 shooting in the 3rd quarter were the most he's ever scored in an NBA quarter. He and Smart were basically Kobe and Shaq in those 12 minutes, it was madness. Am I still devasted over that last play? Partially. Rob probably dunks that, but oh well.
Since Rob went down, Theis has stepped in and put up 13.5/5.3/1.0 on 58.9/41.7% splits in 28 minutes a night. The best part? He's only averaging 2.0 fouls during this stretch! Who saw that shit coming. I'd say it's pretty fucking important that Theis find a way to continue to stay on the floor while Rob recovers, and it's encouraging that even with the massive increase in minutes we're not seeing Theis get into foul trouble. Is the War On Theis coming to an end? Many people are asking.
- While this may be a dangerous game to play, I feel confident about this offense going up against the Bucks defense. It's been pretty mid all year long and watching the Celts put up 121 with 21 3PM and 30 assists all without their best player is pretty encouraging. I know it came in a loss, but there's just something about watching the Celts play this style of basketball offensively that brings my life so much joy.
It's probably a little unfair to think they'll go 21-50 from deep every time out, but I care more about the approach. Unselfish basketball tends to lead to good things. Shots go in, guys get more confidence, the ball continues to move, and more often than not you win. I was really pleased with the fact that nobody felt the need to try and take over individually. Everyone played within the flow of the offense for the entire night. To me, that shows real growth in their mindset and approach.
- How was your Thursday? Did you have a good day at work? Maybe you had a delicious dinner or something while spending time with friends and family? I had some delicious chicken katsu curry and it was delightful. Sadly, I think Jaylen had a much better Thursday than all of us combined. Not only did he put up his second career triple double
but he also made $480K by playing in his 65th game of the season. That's a pretty good day at the office if you ask me. I hope he broke Ime off a little bit of that bonus for making sure Jaylen was active. I don't think anyone would have blamed Ime if he sat Jaylen as well, so maybe break him off like $50K or something, it's the right thing to do.
In terms of his actual basketball performance, I'd say it was mostly good with some rough areas around the edges (which we're going to get to). Obviously what I love most is the 11 assists, that goes without saying. Jaylen set the unselfish tone for the night and the rest of the team followed. While his 25+ point streak came to an end (make your FTs), if that means he's instead put up 22/10/11 I suppose I can live with that.
- If you haven't noticed already, it's time to start recognizing what Derrick White is doing for this team offensively.
In my opinion, what White does on that end is one of the bigger wild cards we have as we enter the postseason. These last 9 games have been pretty close to ideal in terms of his production
14.0/3.6/4.3 on 45.8/46.2% splits with 2.0 3PM a night in 31 minutes
Remember, this dude was shooting in the 20%'s from three for basically his entire Celtics tenure. It would appear we are now in a peak, because nearly 50% from deep on good volume (4.3 3PA) is a very big development for this offense. The spacing that provides is a huge deal, and you can tell he's shooting the ball with confidence. There is no hesitation which you could see he had when nothing was dropping. I do wish he found ways to attack the paint a little more (just 4 paint FGA and nothing at the rim), but that's nitpicking. I think we're all seeing what Brad and Ime saw in White and why they wanted him on the roster, and honestly I haven't seen a midseason addition fit in this seamlessly since Isaiah in 2014-15.
If White is able to shoot in the mid to high 30s in the postseason, it raises this team's ceiling. That maybe felt like a prayer a few weeks ago, but with the way he's playing right now it wouldn't shock me at all.
- I cannot stress how much I love the plan of Payton Pritchard being the 4th quarter secret weapon. He basically doesn't play in the 3rd quarter so he's rested and then the 4th starts and Ime unleashes him. It's so fun to watch
Pritchard played 9:32 of the 12 fourth quarter minutes and it was because of him that the Celts got off to such a good start. Sucks he didn't finish the quarter but I get why Ime took him out and went with Smart/White. I'm just happy that not only has Pritchard carved out a legit role for himself, but he's thriving in it. He's holding his own defensively which is huge because that's how you get yourself playoff minutes, and the shooting is so automatic I find myself truly shocked when he misses. I don't care where Payton shoots it from really. There is no bad Payton Pritchard shot in my opinion. The guy has the ultimate green light for a reason and I'm happy he now has the confidence to unleash it without fear of immediately getting pulled like he was to start the year.
Confidence can do wonders for a player and it basically saved Payton's season.
- Then there's Sam Hauser. Honestly maybe we should all be a little pissed at Ime for keeping this dude buried at a time of the season when NOBODY on this team could buy a fucking basket. This man stays locked and loaded and I'm not even trying to make a joke with that. It's the god's honest truth!
This Bizarro World Gordon Hayward motherfucker could very well be the 3pt specialist this roster has needed for like 4 years. Why can't he be their Duncan Robinson? Let me ask you, is this good?
Brad man, what a heater this dude is on. This feels weird to say but I'm down to give Hauser some playoff minutes. Why not? The shooting is too ridiculous to keep on the bench and the defense isn't a total disaster. I wouldn't call it elite by any stretch but it's passable for some short stints. He clearly doesn't need time to warm up considering he comes right off the bench and then hits nothing but net every time he shoots the ball, so why couldn't that be a weapon in a few weeks?
- We all saw Luke Kornet win an individual 1 on 1 battle with Giannis. That happened, in real life.
- Remember when Grant shut down Jokic? That was wild. Well how about this. Last night Grant guarded Giannis on 46 possessions and held him to…………0 points on 0-4 shooting. I'm not kidding. While the NBA's tracking data should be taken with a grain of salt, see for yourself
Is Grant…a Giannis stopper? OK, that's maybe a little much, but is it OK to say that maybe Grant is a Giannis "slower downer"? Hard to argue with stone cold facts.
- OK, as fun as all that good stuff was, there's the other side of the coin. For starters, while maybe it's unfair to expect things to be elite given who was missing, the collective defense was not what I would call good. Sorry, I just hold them to a high standard. Guys like Jaylen, Grant, Theis, White, Smart all played and they are some of the team's best defenders. So to give up 127 points on 50% shooting and have three straight quarters of 36, 33, and 33 points allowed is not something you can say was good.
What we learned is that without Rob or Al or Tatum active, the frontline is simply too small for MIL. That's not exactly news, and as hard as guys like Grant and Theis played, it's a size issue. Between Giannis and Lopez and Portis, it was a clear issue. The Bucks finished with 15 OREB and 14 second chance points. There were possessions where we saw them take 4 shots in a single trip, all because the Celts couldn't get a rebound. That was bad.
While I know guys were out, it doesn't really excuse what we saw in terms of the perimeter defense. I mean Middleton and Jrue Holiday got whatever they wanted. Even Marcus couldn't slow down Middleton and if I need to say it I will. He owns my life. I'll never understand how Middleton keeps doing this shit against the Celtics but not even the DPOY could slow him down. With Jrue, he took over in the fourth because he got to the paint at will. There were enough good perimeter defenders active to limit that, and the Celts had no answers.
- You know who else always seems to kill this team? Bobby Portis. I feel like he's another guy that never misses and time after time hits huge late game threes in a tight game. I love Bobby Portis but I hate him all at the same time. What a weapon he is off the bench for the Bucks, especially when his threes are falling. I thought the Celts had a Bobby Portis problem all game which was a bit annoying.
- Horrendous night for Aaron Nesmith. I don't want that to be true, but it is. Couldn't buy a bucket to save his life, couldn't stop turning it over, and that is no way to show Ime you deserve more minutes. This was an opportunity for Nesmith to show some stuff with Tatum out, and nothing he showed was all that good. A team worst -13 in his 11 minutes, there's a reason he played the fewest of any reserve player.
This was one of those nights where Nesmith was simply playing way too fast. It's why immediately after he turned it over on that inbounds pass Smart told him to calm down. You could see it, when Nesmith is a little too worked up or plays a little too out of control, it's rough.
- Speaking of inbounds turnovers, why can this team not inbound the ball? Nesmith did it, Smart did it, what are we doing?
- I think what we learned from this game is as of right now, Jaylen still struggles a little bit closing games as the #1 guy. When I say that I mean as a primary offense initiator. He's just too loose with the ball, and his 3 4th quarter TOs were pretty fucking brutal. I have no problem playing through Jaylen late in games, but I don't want him being the initial ball handler. Let that be Smart or White in these fourth quarters. It felt like Jaylen was pressing a little bit and with that came the turnovers at the worst time.
This makes some sense since this is not a role Jaylen usually plays so it's not like he has a ton of reps at it, but it's something to keep in mind as we enter the postseason. Find ways to get Jaylen the ball in scoring opportunities that come off ball. That's the path for him I feel like, not an end of game initiator, especially when defenses can hone in on him.
- I'll keep this next point short and sweet. Make your fucking FTs. Thank you.
- If you want to know why the Celts lost this game, it's because they couldn't stop turning the ball over. They had 6 in the first quarter alone. As a team they finished with 15 TOs that led to 22 Bucks points. There's your game right there folks. In the fourth, they had 5 more TOs. That's simply not winning basketball. What do we always say, you dick around like that with the ball against a good team, you're cooked. That's basically what this was. It's hard enough to beat the Bucks on the second night of a B2B while being shorthanded, so to add such careless basketball is never going to work out.
With 7 of the 15 coming from Browb/Smart, that wasn't great.
- If you're somewhat concerned about end of game execution, I won't blame you. It wasn't good. The Celts were up 5 with 7 minutes left and 3 points with 2:27 left. We saw missed threes and turnovers combined with little to no defense. That's not exactly a strong way to close and while obviously not having Tatum is a big deal, there were a bunch of regular rotation players on the floor to close this game out. Part of me needs them to be better in this situation.
But I also want to be consistent. I've said I don't really care about the result of these situations, I just want this group to get the reps in a post Rob world. We got that, it just wasn't all that good.
We now move to the season finale on Sunday against the Grizzlies. You would think they're going to rest everyone because why not, but who knows. Maybe Scal is right and they'll play their guys for a half to get some run before the layoff. All I know is this, if the Celts want the 3 seed, they'll most likely need to win that game. You can't bank on MIL or PHI losing again, they play dog good teams. But I feel confident that if the team we see on Sunday resembles the one we saw last night only you get to add Tatum and Al, they'll be just fine.