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Beating The Lakers Will Always Feel Great, Especially When Jayson Tatum Reminds The World Why He's The MVP

Harry How. Getty Images.

I thought Mike Zarren said it best

Are the Lakers good? Heavens no. That team is destined for the Lottery, which really means the Pelicans are headed to the lottery since they own the Lakers' pick. But when you're talking Celtics/Lakers, you throw all that stuff out. None of it really matters because as Zarren said, this matchup simply means more. He's not lying either, look at the man immediately after last night's win

First off, his jacket is FIRE. He clearly brought out the big guns for this game which should show you how important everyone on the Celts thought this game was. I don't care when it happens or what the context is around it, beating the Lakers will always bring me joy. Yes, I understand that in most cases beating a 11-16 is no big deal, but this is different. This is the biggest rivalry not just in the NBA, but you could argue all of sports. Celts/Lakers will always matter regardless of how each team is currently doing, so to walk away with this win in the manner in which the Celt got it was very awesome. Stressful, but awesome.

The win closed out a 4-2 West Coast trip in which the Celts only had Al Horford for 1 game. That is a smashing success regardless of what the haters and losers of which there are still many want you to believe. They left with the best record in the NBA, and they return home with the best record in the NBA. The Celts 11 road wins are the most not only in the East, but the entire league. Despite two horrific offensive showings during this trip, the Celts still own the best offense and best point differential in the league. 

Oh yeah, and Rob probably comes back on Friday.

It wasn't perfect. There were losses we all wish were wins. But 4-2 is 4-2 and 22-7 on the year is no fluke. It sort of feels like this Lakers win was really the only way the trip could end. We saw every possible version of the Celts in this game, both good and bad. We saw dominance and we saw a team that looked like they'd never played basketball before in their life, all in the same 48 minutes.

But beating the Lakers will never get old. Fuck em now and forever as far as I'm concerned. 

Let's dive in.

The Good

- You can usually always tell when the Celts may have lost a game, god forbid two games in a row. It mostly stems around a certain narrative, you may have heard it over the last few days

Now I know Skip is a professional troll who is just filling his role, so I don't really care that he's talking like this. That's what he gets paid millions to do. The issue is we had Celts fans not only agreeing with this but also saying some of the same things, all because Tatum had a rough 2 games. 

Hey morons, go ahead and give this a watch

Let's not get confused here, Jayson Tatum is still the leader in the clubhouse for MVP, and he reminded the world last night why that's the case. What happened to never showing up in big moments? What happened to not being clutch? What happened to not having that killer instinct? It's almost like the guy just had a random poor 2 game showing and is still really fucking good. Imagine that! 

Everything about Tatum's game was awesome last night. The points speak for themselves, but he also finished 15-29 (5-10) from the floor. He hit the glass and created for others, all while playing 43 minutes on a B2B on the last day of a 13 day West Coast trip. That's big time stuff from a big time player.

I do think it's a little funny that the exact two shots Tatum made to seal this game are shots his haters cry about him taking in big moments. How many times do we hear these people cry when Tatum takes a turnaround in a big spot? Maybe it's because he's capable of doing shit like this

right in LeBron's eyeball. This game is why I never really complain about Tatum's end of game decisions when it comes to his shot selection. If he thinks a good look then it's a good look. As long as he has a clean shot, I don't care where it is or what type of jumper it is. I've seen Tatum make every type of shot under the sun, even in huge moments. You have to remember, Tatum isn't like you and me. He's not a normal human. What's possible for him is not possible for us. 

When this team needed their best player to step up and save them, he responded. This was your classic case of the MVP refusing to let his team lose. That's what everyone said they wanted to see correct? Well now that it happened, surely people will be just as loud about it as his previous two failures. That's how this works correct?

- If I've said it once I've said it a billion times. The coolest part of having both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on your team is the fact that you have BOTH Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on your team. You know, the best duo in the NBA. As dominant as Tatum was, Jaylen was right there with him

25/15/5/3 is a BIG TIME night when the Celts desperately needed it. Given the fact the Celts had been crushed on the glass in their previous two losses, Jaylen taking it upon himself to ensure that would not happen against the Lakers was very, very huge. 15 rounds is a pretty insane number for him, but as we know rebounding is an effort thing and Jaylen helped set that tone to which everyone followed. 

Like Tatum, Jaylen was efficient at 10-21 (3-7), and we're at the point now where his little midrange turnaround is about as automatic a shot as humanly possible. I can't remember the last time I saw him even tough the rim with it that's how locked in he is with that shot. Calling it a weapon doesn't really do it justice. It's unstoppable.

When it came time for someone to drop the dagger in OT, Jaylen obliged. I'd say Jaylen was pretty nails this entire trip, and when the Celts get an MVP version of Tatum and an All NBA version of Jaylen, they are extremely tough to beat. What I love about Jaylen when he plays like this is how aggressive he is. AD is a legit DPOY candidate right now, and it didn't feel like Jaylen was intimidated at all in this game. Just look at his shot chart

Considering he only took 4 FTA and still had 25 points, I think that gives you a pretty good idea of how locked in he was. His shot making is getting pretty ridiculous right now and who knows how long that lasts, but so far we're at 28 games so I feel confident in suggesting that's not going anywhere anytime soon.

- After what I considered their worst performance of the year against the Clippers, I said this about Marcus Smart in the postgame blog

 While he is not their best player, I think it's fair to say that the ceiling and floor of this team is heavily impacted by what version of Marcus Smart they get. When you get the good version of Smart, this team looks unstoppable. It takes this team to a different level.

But when you get a game like last night? A disaster version of Smart? Well we see what happens. So while he's not their best player, his play is impactful one way or the other, and last night it was brutal. Easily one of his worst performances of the year but not because of the reasons people usually focus on. He only took 6 FGA which is not a lot.

Watching him play though, it wasn't the version of Smart this team needs. There was no real playmaking (3 assists, 3 TOs), and his defense wasn't all that great either. It's just very hard for this team to win when you're getting absolutely nothing from the starting guards, most notably Smart.

Case in point, this game last night. This is what I think people have a hard time accepting when it comes to Smart. Yes, Tatum and Brown are the best players and the majority of this team's success comes down to what they do or don't do. But there's a reason Marcus is so important to this team in his own way. We saw both versions of Smart last night which essentially proved my point. When he was bad, this team looked HORRIFIC. Even with Tatum/Brown being awesome, if Smart wasn't playing well the team struggled. 

But when he was great? They looked unstoppable. When they needed someone late? He was there. All that crying about Smart shooting late in games, do people understand why that's not a big deal? If you missed it, this is why

Say whatever you want about Smart, but he is NOT afraid of the moment, regardless of the result. Not everyone wants the ball or wants to shoot in a big moment like that. That alone is a skill. Not to mention his inbounds steal/layup to bring the Celts within 8 at the 3:38 mark. Those are the type of winning plays you hear so much about with Smart. There's no doubt that during stretches of this game Smart was playing like shit. He was turning it over, he couldn't make a shot, that's all true.

But it's also true he had a fantastic close to this game and showed up in the biggest moments. The Celts don't win this game without the performance of Marcus Smart, that is a fact. Defensively, he got back to his old DPOY ways. 

- A nice little bounce back game for Derrick as well. Nothing flashy, just 10 points on 4-7 shooting (and only 1 rebound, nothing else) but it was more about him just sticking within his role. He made his open threes, he played good defense, and he thrived as a ball connector. Considering he and Smart had 6 points against the Clippers and 28 points last night, it's not surprising the offense looked much better once they got some actual production from their starting backcourt.

- Even with the size difference, the Celts won the rebounding battle 51-49. The Lakers only had 7 OREB for 8 2nd chance points which is a huge deal if you remember their two losses. They got crushed in both OREB and 2nd chance points, and it's hard to win on the road when you do that. To see the Celts immediately clean that up was very reasssuring. In these type of games, it's the small things that can add up quickly and kill you, and if you're lazy or not locked in, you can get caught.

- Shoutout Grant for his huge buckets late

It was weird how Grant seemed to be in Joe's doghouse for most of the night, but once he realized Grant actually provided value in this game he finished with 30 minutes. Big 3s in the fourth and OT, I thought Grant filled his role perfectly. Defend, rebound, knnock down open threes and shut the fuck up to the officials. 

- As expected, the Celts stopped missing every 3PA they took and look at what a difference it made. Mazzulla Ball was back with 122 points, 44/39% splits and 19 3PM. Don't forget about the 27 AST either, that's a solid number. You may say "well big deal that's against the Lakers", and unfortunately that would just be exposing yourself. The Lakers had a top 10 defense on the year heading into last night. Their issue is on the other end.

The Bad

- Listen, I love Blake. I respect the hell out of what he's doing and the spot he was put in on this trip isn't easy. But I think we can all agree his role is best suited for 10-15 minutes, not 20+. His energy is awesome, his rebounding has been great, but he's not really a floor spacer and he does sort of struggle around the rim. None of this is his fault given his age and I think we all have the right expectations when it comes to Blake, I just don't get Joe's thinking with him this trip. Honestly Luke probably should have started at the 5 given Blake's limitations.

For the majority of this game, we saw Blake have 2x the minutes as Grant, which should never happen. Especially on a B2B. It was pretty obvious Blake's legs were shot given how short everything was for him, and I didn't really feel like Joe put him in a position to succeed.

- Not the best we've ever seen Malcolm play. He was so good against the Clippers but his 5 points on 2-6 in 21 minutes off the bench last night wasn't exactly all that great. He did have 6 AST which was nice, but finishing a -12 sort of matches the eye test. The offense stalled when he was out there for the most part, he was careless with the ball, it just wasn't the Brogdon performance we're used to.

I wouldn't call it a big deal. Guys have off nights. But I do think we can all agree moving forward we need more of the Clippers game Brogdon than the Lakers game version.

- It's hard to win on the road when you're dealing with a 30-16 FTA difference. For example, AD took more FTA than Jaylen/Jayson combined. They were the only two Celts starters to take a FTA, and outside of Luke's 2, no other Celtic even went to the line. That's a little unusual for a team that took 45 FGA in the paint, that's all I'll say about that.

The Ugly

- Everything about that third quarter was gross. After being solid with ball control all night, the Celts decided to see what it looked like when they did nothing but turn the ball over. Imagine our surprise when that strategy epically failed. The Lakers had their highest scoring quarter of the game (32), shot 55%, and turned those 6 TOs into 9 points. Suddenly, a huge 20 point lead was down to 6 before we new what happened.

The offense was stagnant, the ball didn't move, the Celts were careless, offensively we had way too many possessions of one guy holding the ball only to pass it to another guy at the end of the shot clock for a contested jumper that obviously was nowhere close to going in. It was the exact same collapse that ruined our lives in 2021, only this time it was happening with our biggest rival. 

Just how bad did it get? The Celts went over 6 minutes without a point. 6 MINUTES!!! I didn't even know that was humanly possible in an NBA game.

Did things stop there? Of course not! The fourth quarter was even worse. In that frame the Celts again couldn't stop turning it over (4), they shot 40/37% doing the same exact shit in terms of a stagnant offense and poor shot quality, and the Lakers responded with 28 points on 52/44% splits. Suddenly a 20 point lead was a 13 point deficit. That shit was beyond embarrassing, and while it made for an all time comeback, personally I would prefer they not collapse like this. 

- At one point things reached a 31-5 Lakers run, and obviously everyone was losing their shit with the fact that Joe didn't call a timeout, but that's just how things are going to be this year

I do think it's fair to say that the players sort of bailed Joe out last night. Certainly not his best performance, but not only because he didn't call a timeout during that massive run. His rotations were a little confusing, and it never really felt like he made sure to call something easy for the Celts to get a high percentage look while they were sliding. Nobody's perfect, but Joe's had some issues these last 3 games. Fortunately, it's all part of the learning process.

- It goes without saying that it's extremely fucked up that we as fans have to sweat 20 point leads against a 11-16 team. The Celts need to figure that out immediately. I should NOT have had to deal with that amount of stress so late at night in a game that is taking place in mid December. Just play a full 48, we are all begging you.

The Celts now return home for a massive homestand with a much easier schedule as we all look forward to the Bucks game on Christmas. Despite the brutal losses, I don't know how anyone could consider this West Coast trip anything other than a smashing success, and now's the time to keep this momentum rolling.

Love and Trust.