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The Way The Celtics Played In Their Blowout Win Over The Mavs Was Exactly What The Doctor Ordered

Glenn James. Getty Images.

What a difference a few days make amirite? 

On Tuesday night, the Celtics looked like a team that had never played basketball before. Giving up 150 to a shorthanded OKC team was easily one of the most embarrassing performances I had ever witnessed from this franchise. I didn't know who that team was, but it was not the team I had been watching since October. The effort was poor, the energy was inconsistent, and the execution was nowhere to be found and as a result, they got a very deserving ass whooping.

On Thursday night, against the hottest team in the NBA who had won 7 in a row and was 15-5 in their own building, the Celts suddenly looked a whole lot more like the team we've seen for about 95% of the season. It wasn't just the fact that their shots finally fell, it was everything about how they played. The effort was back, the energy was for a full 48, and the execution was about as ideal as you could reasonably ask for. 

It was a big time exhale type game.

I think we all needed to see a win like this. Brad, Joe, the players, the fans, all of us. When you look at the Celts recent struggles, it's not a talent issue. It's not a strategy issue. It was an execution and effort thing. Usually, that happens when you lose confidence and then things start to snowball. Everyone talks about what changes they need to make whether it's to the lineups or to their approach, and I never understood why. The solution to their issues was simply remembering that they are in fact a very good basketball team and they have players that are very good at playing basketball. That might seem overly simplistic, but last night pretty much confirmed it.

No one cares that they took 43 3PA last night, because they made 16 3PM. The ball movement was no different last night than it was in the OKC loss. The difference was effort and shotmaking. The Celts got their confidence back up and down their roster and look at how different they looked compared to Tuesday. Those were the first 25 game Celtics on the floor in Dallas last night, and if you remember the first 25 game Celtics, they were the most confident team in the league. 

In basketball, confidence is EVERYTHING.

Let's be honest, if the Celts had started this trip 0-3, that would have been a disaster. As long as they take care of business against the Spurs tomorrow night, a 2-2 trip is decent enough. Not ideal, not what maybe we all wanted, but passable. Before we worry about that though, let's talk about last night.

The Good

- Whenever we get a Luks vs Tatum game, it will always be a pretty big deal. Two guys that are the future faces of the league, both MVP candidates, both leading pretty good teams, it's a big time showdown no matter when or where it happens. Earlier this season we saw Tatum get the best of Luka at the Garden, and honestly things weren't that different this time around either

I'm a firm believer that when any Celtic does some Larry Bird shit it's a very big deal, and that's what we witnessed last night with Tatum

Literally, no other Celtic had done what Tatum put up last night since the Legend did it. That's pretty good! Given the 2 game slide where Tatum hadn't really looked his best, in a big game like last night I think we can all agree that it's on the star players to set the tone. I wouldn't exactly say it's a secret to suggest the team follows the lead of Tatum/Brown, so to have both locked in right from the jump and play like we know they can was the first big box to check.

Early in this game Tatum couldn't buy a bucket, but he did everything else. He hit the glass, he had 6 AST in the first half, his defense was solid, he played like an MVP on both ends. This is what people want right? They always say they want to see Tatum step up in big games against high level competition. Well, I'd say a team that's won 7 in a row and a legit MVP contender in Luka fits the bill, and Tatum dominated. 

What stood out and is encouraging was the fact that Tatum was able to dictate the game all without making shots. He found other ways to make an impact until the buckets started dropping, and once that happened the Celts got their big separation. That's when Tatum and the team are at their best. Finding ways to make a winning impact even when the shots aren't falling.

- The same is true for Jaylen. Some dumb early fouls limited his minutes, but once he was able to stay on the floor he too found a way to make a positive impact. When both Jays show up and play with the right focus and energy, this team is different

Decent production in his 29 minutes on 6-12 shooting, and it's hard to not love Jaylen's mindset heading into this game

In reality, Jaylen only managed to guard Luka on 7 possessions (0 points) due to his foul trouble, but I love that he was open and willing to take on the matchup. Like I said, when your stars do shit like this, it's contagious. The rest of the team adapts that mindset. The same is true when Jaylen or Tatum sleepwalk or don't take an opponent seriously too. That's how important both guys are.

It was pretty clear early on that the Mavs did not have the perimeter versatility or size to stay in front of Jaylen as long as he attacked the rim while being under control, and is he's going to continue to hit the glass like this while also keeping his TOs low, well now we're cookin' with gas.

- The Celts got tremendous guard play from every point guard that touched the floor. I don't think I need to explain why that's so crucial. It started with the head of the guard trio snake, Marcus Smart

it wasn't too long ago we saw what I would consider the worst performance of Smart's season a few games ago. Last night, I would argue it was one of his best showings. This game asked him to be a consistent secondary scorer/shooter, and he responded. He had open 3PA after open 3PA and finished 4-9. He kept his TOs in check for the most part and filled his role perfectly given what the game needed.

Defensively, he was dominant. DPOY type shit. He had Luka in hell all night

and one of the reasons he was so successful was because he able able to repeatedly handle that killer Luka drive/runner where he initiates contact as he goes up. Almost always you see the defender foul on this type of play. Smart, on numerous occasions, played it perfectly

A team best +25 in his 33 minutes, this game was another greaet example of how tough the Celtics are to beat when they are getting a good Marcus Smart performance. It raises their ceiling to dangerous levels. Tatum and Brown will always be the stars and the most important pieces, but if this team is going to win a title, this is the impact they need to get from Smart. The good news is, performances like this are pretty much the norm for him at this point.

- As I said though, Smart wasn't alone. Anyone who has watched this team recently is aware of the struggles that both Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White are playing through. They've been killer. Getting nothing from those guys is a big hit to the idea of the Celts great depth, so it was great to see both guys snap out of the funk

The biggest difference for both of these guys was the level of confidence we saw them play with. This was the most aggressive I think I've seen Brogdon look in weeks. Derrick wasn't thinking, he was just playing. It seems like all these needed was to see a few positive plays to help remind their brains that they are both actually very good at basketball.

A combined 8-15 (5-10) from the floor, both guys looked like the players we saw in the first 25 games because they played inside/out. Once they had some confidence, you notice how the drive and kick 3PA they took mostly dropped? Shooting is rooted in confidence, especially for these two (and Grant). When they struggle and lose their confidence and get gunshy, things never work out well.

Outside of a few Brogdon blow bys, I thought they were solid defensively. Derrick White's rim protection continues to be ridiculous for a guard, and it's clear why Brad has a certain type when it comes to his point guard position. In this game, his guards showed up and as you expect the Celts crushed.

- Quick little update on Mazzulla Ball. You tell me if this is good.

124 points / 16 3PM on 37% / 52 rebounds / 29 AST / 11 TOs

It's a little embarrassing so many people don't have the stomach to handle the off nights when it comes to Mazzulla Ball. How large of a sample do you all need to just love and trust it? Yes, there are going to be nights where the Celts don't shoot well and they lose. Welcome to planet earth. But the process of Mazzulla Ball in terms of generating great looks has never been the issue. Playing fast, making quick decisions, and trusting your teammates, those are the pillars of Mazzulla Ball and we should know by now that it clearly works.

This is why you should be paying no attention to those who cry after losses for Joe to be fired. Grow up. That shit was stupid with Brad, it was stupid with Ime, and it's stupid with Joe. 

- When we learned that "Team Leader" Grant sent out a text message to the team to fix their mindset and body language, I thought I was being trolled. But then he started playing and now I don't know what to think. Maybe Grant is the leader? I do know you can't talk like that and then throw up another goose egg, and the good news is Grant was dynamite 

Brogdon and Grant's play early is what helped set the tone given the early foul trouble of the stars, and it was nice to see the depth on this team actually do something positive. Why that could happen against the Mavs but not the Thunder is a question for another day, but in a big game I will certainly not complain that people showed up to play. 

Grant wants to be paid this summer, well keep playing like that. What we saw in this game was a $16M player. Plays off the dribble, good defense, didn't play scared etc. That's the Grant we know and love.

- It's very funny that the same team that just gave up 150 to a non SGA OKC team somehow held the Mavs to under 100 and Luka to 8-23. 

We all know that first and foremost, this team has to defend at an elite level if they want to win a title. Not a good level, an elite level. They have the talent to do it, they have the scheme to do it, it's just about actually stepping up and executing on that end. I thought their switches and communication was solid, their closeouts were MUCH better, and they handled themselves fine on the glass.

The 124 points is cool, but the 95 allowed is way cooler.

- Rob continuing to look like Rob makes my heart so warm. He's back

The Bad

- Honestly, it's hard to pick too many things to be upset about with this performance. There was a time in the 2nd quarter where they had a little bit of an issue stopping Spencer Dinwiddie, but that makes sense because he's for sure on the list of one of those random Celtics killers. I feel like he always has moments whenever he plays BOS, regardless of the team he's on. 

- In a blowout like this, I don't see why Payton couldn't get more run. Only 2:43 for him at the end, this is one area where I think Joe can be a little more aware. Burnout is real. You were up by a billion. Save the legs of your regulars and give Payton some run. That's what he's here for! 

It's not like you need him to initiate the offense. Play him off ball if you want. The point is, Joe needs to be a little better in these blowouts at finding ways to get his main guys some rest. Payton is good, let him play.

- Not the cleanest transition basketball I've ever seen the Celts play. There were a few instances they fell victim to making the highlight play instead of the easy play, and that usually gets them into trouble. Just take the two points please.

- Very annoying how the Celts came out of the break and went about 3-4 minutes without scoring. Couldn't buy a bucket from the outside and when they weren't missing they were turning it over. A total of 5 TOs in the 3rd on 40/30% splits, thankfully their defense was locked in and they won the quarter 25-19.

That's all fine and good, but I did not love how they looked to start the quarter. I didn't get the sense that they played with the same type of aggression, it felt more like they were going for the homerun plays early. Once they stopped doing that shit and got back to what gave them their initial lead, things exploded.

The Ugly

- I just have one question. What does Jayson Tatum have to do to get a normal whistle? I'm not talking about a superstar whistle where maybe you get a 50/50 call in your favor. I'm talking about things that are CLEAR fouls. What's the deal?

Let me ask you this. Do you think Luka gets those calls? Of course! I just don't get how these things happen RIGHT IN FRONT of an official, and there's no call. These aren't plays that are even all that close, and then people complain that Tatum gets upset. I'm sorry, just call the fouls that are fouls and there is no issue. 

This happens essentially every game and I cannot think of a player of Tatum's status that has the same whistle. Maybe Jokic? He gets killed a lot and I feel like they don't call it on him either. It's very strange considering you cannot even breathe on Luka.

Alright, so now that the Celts did their part to help out mental health, it's time to close out the trip strong and keep things moving in the right direction. Teams like the Nets and Bucks and Cavs aren't going anywhere any time soon, so it's very important that the Celts continue to take steps forward. If they play like we saw last night, things will be just fine. This is the team we know and love, and they're the best in the goddamn league.