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It Turns Out That When The Celtics Don't Play Like Assholes, They Are Pretty Tough To Beat

Nathaniel S. Butler. Getty Images.

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You often hear that in the playoffs, it's about how you respond. Not just to big wins to see if you can sustain it, but more importantly how do you look when you're coming off a big loss and the pressure is at its highest? Everyone looks great when things are good, but it's a different challenge when you need to scratch and claw your way back in a playoff series. Not every playoff team is cut out for it. Not every star player can respond when the pressure rises. 

When it comes to the Boston Celtics, they punch back. They respond.

Their margin of victory after a loss is +17.8. Just how good is that historically? Well, we saw the graphic last night

Here's a little fun fact for you. Every one of those teams won the NBA title. Does that mean the Celtics will? No. Am I allowing my brain to envision it? Absofuckinglutely. We may have no idea what this team will look like coming off wins which is a problem, but we sure as shit know what to expect after they suffer horrific postseason losses. In a perfect world they would be able to play like this without ruining our lives with frustrating losses, but when have things ever been easy for this team and this fanbase? We are molded by the pain. 

I'm just relieved they responded and created new life for themselves in this series. The path to the Finals is still tough, they now enter a best of 3 where two games are on the road if needed, which is why it's now just as important they steal Game 5. I know they just won a series in which they lost Game 5 and were down 2-3, but I'd prefer to not make a habit of playing that way. When this team doesn't play like assholes, the Heat cannot match up. That much is clear. 

But it's important to remember, all the Celts did last night was prevent their season from basically being over. 2-2 is not 4-2. The same way you don't expect the Celts to have another game with 24 TOs, I don't think you can expect another game where the Heat go 0-14 to start. At some point this team is going to have to show that they can build off wins, and now being just 2 wins away from the NBA Finals, now would be a great time to start.

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The good news is we have the next 48 hours to worry about that. For now, let's relive what was about as dominant win as you can find in the NBA playoffs. Thank god.

The Good

- Where do we start? I'm feeling a little curveball this morning. There were a lot of worthy candidates, but in my heart it feels right that we begin with the play of our All NBA Defensive center Robert Williams.

There are a lot of important factors to the Celtics success, but in this series specifically I don't think you can underestimate what a healthy Rob brings to the table on both ends. This isn't exactly news, we've all known this to be true this entire season, but his impact in this matchup is undeniable. Let me ask you, did you even notice Bam last night? Me neither. 

That is not an accident. It cannot be understated what a luxury it is to rotate through Rob and Al as opposed to being forced to play Theis in this series. It's just not a great matchup for him. With Rob, he has the lateral speed to stay with guys like Butler off the dribble, he's an elite rim protector, and his length pretty much takes away Bam's entire offensive bag, whatever that is. Offensively it's not just the lob or the threat of the lob that makes Rob so valuable, it's also his activity on the offensive glass. Of his 9 rebounds, a total of 5 of them were OREB. I don't know if you knew this, but the Celts can at times look like the worst shooting team on the planet, so having Rob's activity there is huge. He's had a 33.3% OREB% in the 3 games he's played in this series. That is an outrageous number. Honestly, his on/offs this entire series are ridiculous

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Look at that shit. The Heat have no answer on either end when Rob is active and doing Rob things. It's probably a toss up between him and Al as to who has been the best big in this series. That is why I am spending the next 48 hours praying to every God under the sun that Rob can play in Game 5. With him, the entire feel of this team changes. Notice how the Heat barely entertained the idea of coming into the paint outside of Oladipo? That's Rob. The Heat shot 6-28 in the paint (21.4%) and just 8-17 in the restricted area (47%). They wanted no part of that zone because they knew if they went in there, Rob was just going to send that shit back. 

- As frustrating as his Game 3 was, deep down we all knew Tatum would be back to his normal self in Game 4. History told us as much heading into the game and that's exactly what happened

The 31/8/5 was nice, but with Tatum in this series I really care about two areas. 

1. Was he efficient?

2. Did he take care of the ball?

In Game 4, Tatum shot 8-16 from the floor. Not a big math guy, but 50% seems decent. Shot like shit from three, but didn't let that get him down which was nice to see. He was aggressive and got to the line finishing 14-16, and this felt like a game in which Tatum was much more engaged offensively, which is what they needed.

In terms of ball security, Tatum finished with just 3 TOs which given his usage is fine. When the Celts were first establishing their lead, he didn't have a single turnover over the first 24 minutes. Wild what a difference it makes when Tatum isn't passing the ball to the other team and is instead just playing a normal offensive game. He finally was able to solve the PJ Tucker problem, and if he's not going to be able to slow down Tatum, the Heat do not have a primary defender that he has to worry about. 

In such a huge game, you need your franchise guys to show up and carry. That's why they are who they are. I'd say Tatums +37 in his 33 minutes fit the bill. What we watched was a complete two way masterpiece performance that came at the perfect time. The next step is now building on this and not going back to the Game 3 version, but one thing we know about Tatum is that when the pressure is high, he tends to play his best. That feels important moving forward.

- Sometimes over the course of a playoff series, you get prayers. There's nothing wrong with acknowledging that yeah, the Celts caught a break or got a prayer that probably won't happen again. I'd say that's a pretty accurate description of the first quarter. Yes, the defense was solid, but come on. An 0-14 start? Scoring just 1 point through like 8 minutes? That's not normal. 

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The good news is I do not give two shits. You hold a team to 33/38% splits and under 85 points, that's big time. You know how ridiculous Game 3 was with the Heat's 19 steals or whatever? Well, Game 4 was about the Celts ridiculous 11 blocks. They are the only team in the entire playoffs with two 10+ block games. 

You then add the fact that they only turned the ball over 9 times, and that is how they earned this blowout. Defense, rebounding, ball security. If they do those three things, they are incredibly hard to beat.

- One more quick note about the turnovers. I know it's not the most in depth analysis to be like 

"As long as the Celts don't turn the ball over, they win"

but as long as the Celts don't turn the ball over, they win. Sometimes it doesn't need to be complicated, things can be that simple. Just go game by game

  • Game 1: 16 TOs led to 19 points 
  • Game 2: 10 TOs led to 9 points 
  • Game 3: 24 TOs led to 33 points
  • Game 4: 9 TOs led to 11 points

Hm, in the two games the Celts took care of the ball they won. In the two they didn't, they lost. I dunno, that seems related.

It's simple, make the Heat prove they can consistently beat you in the half court. The Nets couldn't do it, the Bucks couldn't do it, and the Heat really struggle as well. As long as you limit the live ball turnovers and transition baskets, the Celts defense is too good. When Pritchard is not on the floor, they have no weaknesses to attack or exploit. Just take care of the ball and you're fine. It's clear as day.

- I want to make something very clear if that's alright with you. Al Horford is a blessing and he deserves all the good things in this world. I will fight you over this which is a lot for me to say because I am a gigantic pussy who avoids conflict at all costs. That is how much I love and trust this man. The guy had 5 points in this game and I would go as far to say this was one of his best playoff performances as a Celtic

5/13/3/4 on 1-2 (1-2) and a +33 in his 33 minutes, Playoff Al is just so steady. He's always ready and the things he is able to do at age 35 are starting to break my brain. If you told me the Celts would have a huge Game 4 and Horford would only take 2 FGA and score 5 points, I'd be terrified to ask what the score was. To then see it was an absolute ass kicking makes no sense but all the sense at the same time. After losing the one on one battle with Bam in Game 3, this is how Al responded

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Giphy Images.

Nobody deserves a ring more than this man and you cannot convince me otherwise. What Horford was able to do in terms of defending in space is such a luxury. With him and Rob, the Celts don't have to send help like they might with Theis when he's matched up on Bam. They have the size, strength, and length to give him fits. We saw it literally on the first possession. Bam killed this team with midrange pullups in Game 3, and immediately we saw Horford take that shot away. If you take away Bam's jumper, he doesn't have shit as long as you're also going to show up in your P&R defense, which the Celts did. 

- I said before the series that this could be a great opportunity for Payton Pritchard given how the Heat play defense and their reliance on zone because they don't have the best man to man defenders. The space Pritchard provides is super valuable to help give Tatum/Jaylen driving lanes, but also as a great drive and kick option.

What I did not expect in this series was a game in which Payton Pritchard nearly outscored the entire Heat starters (14 vs 18). That was fucking nuts

If this postseason has taught us anything about Pritchard, it's that he's a big game player. He is not afraid of the moment. In this series he's currently putting up 11.3/2.3/3.3 on 49/42% splits with 2.5 3PM in his 22 minutes off the bench so try and tell me that isn't exactly what this team needs. And although at times he can be picked on defensively, he plays hard as shit on that end. Sometimes guys just shoot over him, but other times we see his elite rim protection like we did in this game. 

When things got a little dicey there in the fourth, it was Pritchard who came through with buckets to ensure we didn't have to sweat out any sort of horrific collapse. I appreciated that. 

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- I also appreciated that Derrick White had the game of his life while filling in for Smart. He set the tone early by scoring the first 7 points of this game, and while he then missed every shot the rest of the night, his impact was everywhere

Before the game I was trying to manifest a solid 10/5/5 with low turnovers, and instead I was rewarded with 13/8/6 with 3 TOs so the moral of the story is manifestation clearly works. No need to thank me, we all have to do our part. This is a collective effort to get this team into the NBA Finals. I promise to only use my powers for good and things that directly help forward my agenda. 

On the defensive end, White more than showed up. All Heat players finished for a combined 4 points on 2-12 shooting when being guarded by White. That's big time. I thought White's ability to stick to Max Strus wherever he went on the floor was vital at taking away a huge weapon of the Heat offense. It didn't matter if he was screened, his ability to navigate around those screens and stay attached was a huge reason why this happened

- 0 ties, 0 lead changes, lead as high as 32. Hard to get better than that. Oh and 32-38 from the FT line. That's a cool 84%. Thank you.

The Bad

- Very lucky that the Celts won this game while dealing with a brutal 5-20 (1-8) shooting performance from Jaylen. Usually in a game of this magnitude when one of your stars throws up an egg like that, things get dicey. The good news is Jaylen only had 1 TO, which is something I think we can all get behind. But even though he wasn't turning the ball over, it felt like Jaylen was making life way too hard on himself with some of the looks he took. Everything felt super contested or off balance, so the 5-20 doesn't really surprise me. When he had clean looks, he was fine. This game felt way more like Jaylen was settling for tougher long 2s, and maybe that's because he was afraid of getting stripped in the paint or something? I'm not sure, but hopefully this is now out of his system. I'm pretty sure we can't have a 5-20 on the road in Game 5 if they want to pull out that win.

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I thought Jaylen was mostly fine defensively and again his ball security was great, but where else do you want me to put that shooting performance. It was bad. He made an impact in other ways and was a +23 which is good, I would just like to see Jaylen find ways to take easier shots. Maybe part of it was fatigue, who knows. I just know he's capable of being much better and I expect a nice bounce back game tomorrow night.

- Along those same lines, the 0-6 (0-4) shooting finish for White after that first quarter was also gross. He played great, but that can also be true.

- Rough couple of nights for Grant which is a little concerning because role players are supposed to play well at home, but 1-8 (1-5) was tough. He's struggled these last two games in terms of shooting the basketball, and sometimes I wonder if he's concussed or something. Ultimate trick or treat offensive player right now, so to be able to win a game where he wasn't really a factor offensively off the bench was a bit of a prayer. 

The good news is he could very well make 5 3PM in Game 5, so you just take this on the chin and keep it moving. As long as he remembers to not complain and just keep playing, that's all I care about. 

- It's not all that common that you see a team have this sort of blowout while at the same time being pretty terrible offensively in terms of shooting the ball. Usually, when we see this team put up 39/23% splits, they get killed. Going just 8-34 as a team from three is usually the kiss of death. Outside of Rob (mostly dunks), Tatum and Pritchard, nobody who took more than 2 FGA shot the ball well and I bet you can count on one hand how many of these types of shooting performances result in wins. They broke the AST target number of 20 (21), but that's a pretty low number given the quality of looks they had. That's why it was nice to see them attack and get to the line, because their jump shooting as a unit was pretty gross.

- I wish I wasn't scared shitless over Rob's knee and White's hamstring, but I can't help it. I'm also wondering if Tatum's stinger is fucking with his outside shot, because he went 1-7 and his misses were not even CLOSE. All I ask is this team is allowed to play with health, Just give me one run. We're so fucking close to the Finals, let me see what this team can do with their guys right.

Would it shock anyone if Rob missed Game 5 and Smart was back? Or if they both missed? I hate that I have to think about this stuff instead of just enjoying the win, but this is our life. 

The Ugly

- If you spent time after the game last night and then this morning talking about how Marcus Smart is not valuable or that this team is better without him, you are a gigantic loser. Sorry. I'll never understand how there were people who seemed to be happier that the Celts won without Smart than the team actually winning. It's very strange and very pathetic.

For a guy who many LOVE to say isn't all that important, it seems odd that he is ALL these people talk about, win or loss. Just because you win a singular game with someone out of the lineup, does not mean you are a better team without that person. Why do people do this? If that were the case, why did they lose Game 1? It's honestly so weird to me that in a massive win the immediate narrative is about how they don't need Smart or are better without him. All that does is just expose yourself that you have no idea what you are watching. If people want to continue to make idiots of themselves, cool, have fun. But it's very weird.

So here we go. The all important Game 5 is on the horizon. Just like the last series, nobody has been able to win 2 games in a row. Now would be a great time to break that trend and if the Celts want to get nuts and make it 3 in a row, I certainly won't complain. All I know is that the Heat are going to come out desperate just like the Celts did in Game 4. If the Celts take care of the basketball, they have a chance. Please just do not play like assholes and you'll have the opportunity to potentially close this series out at home. There is no more room for error, it's time to show that this team can not only build off losses, but can also build off wins. The Finals are right there for the taking, so please go out and take it.

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