Every game the Nets lose for the next month, you'll hear
"Well they didn't have Kevin Durant"
and that's true, the Nets will be without Durant for at least a month it looks like. Sucks for him given he was having an MVP caliber season and it sucks for the Nets seeing as how he is their best player. That's life in the NBA though, shit happens.
The last time the Celts and Nets faced off in early Dcember, the Celts took care of business 103-92 and it kicked off a 12 game winning streak by BKN. They were beating pretty much everyone, outside of Boston. This time, while without Durant, they welcomed the Celts to Brooklyn for their second battle of the year. The Celtics, without Jaylen Brown and Al Hordord, playing on a B2B against a team who had 3 days rest, went into that arena and did what they always do when they play the Nets
They stuffed them in a locker.
Last night's win wasn't just the 5th straight overall for the Celts which is the longest active streak in the East, it was the 9th straight win over the Nets dating back to last season. With Ben Simmons without Ben Simmons, with Kevin Durant without Kevin Durant, with Kyrie Irving without Kyrie Irving, none of it has mattered. If I've said it once I've said it a thousand times, the Nets have a matchup problem when it comes to trying to defend the Celts. They're too small. Even if you want to eliminate Tatum's offense with someone like Simmons, you're asking guys who are not good defenders to try and stay in front of much bigger and much stronger perimeter guys and time after time we see that the Nets current roster cannot do it over a full 48. I'm not sure how that changes anytime soon. It's not scheme or system or any of that shit. It's simply matchups and the Celts are a bad matchup for BKN the same way there are teams out there that are a bad matchup for the Celts.
Even with this current run of dominance, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy every single one. It's still fuck the Nets are far as I'm concerned even if that feels like punching down at the moment. I wonder why nobody wants to talk about how the Nets won the trade anymore like they did a few years ago? Very strange.
For my money, last night was one of the gutsiest wins of the NBA league leading 31 the Celts currently have. Shorthanded, on a back to back, got in late after a delay with their plane and had to play a well rested team who was rolling. Those are the type of wins that help tell you what a team is made of.
- After sitting out the last two games with that knee bruise (and probably more tbh), the Celts welcomed back Marcus Smart to the lineup and it took him about 0.2 seconds to get back to doing cool shit. Seeing as how the team will be without Jaylen for at least a week (probably more), it's imperative that the Celts get a consistently good Marcus Smart. The good news is what he did last night was no different from what he's been doing all season
My eyes told me the few days off did his body good, because I thought Smart's energy was fantastic right from the jump. The guy couldn't hit a shot to save his life to start, but that in no way stopped him from making a positive impact. The way he was attacking the paint and finding cutters/shooters is exactly what makes him such a valuable point guard. You know how at the top of this blog I talked about how the Nets are too small?
That's the exact situation with Kyrie vs Smart. Smart is too big and strong for Kyrie. He bullies him around and gets to whatever spot he wants, while on the other end completely locking him down
those 9 points came on 4-10 shooting too by the way.
The key to surviving offensively without the near 30 ppg from Jaylen is going to require smart, efficient basketball. That starts with Smart. His ability to get into the paint to either create for himself or others is so important, and it should be no surprise that the Celts dominated the points in the paint battle 54-40 last night. Having aggressive guards that use their size and athleticism to get into the painted area is such a valuable weapon, especially when the opposing team doesn't have enough guys who can keep them out.
It was good to see Smart set the tone early, and eventually after his 0-6 start he figured things out, saw some drop, and finished 4-6. A little TO happy at the end, but for the majority of this game had a 10:2 assist to TO ratio. Not a terrible night for a first game back coming off injury.
- What we saw in this game was Brad's plan playing out in real life. The best guard trio in the league showed the world exactly why that's the case. It wasn't just Smart who played well, every single guard on this roster who touched the floor played well
How about 15/7/1/1/1 on 50/57% splits for Derrick White in his 36 minutes? By my calculations, Derrick has been rock solid ever since around Christmas and I think we can say he's getting closer and closer to being over his December slump. The 3 point shot will come and go, but that's not really what I'm talking about.
When Derrick was going through his shit, he looked like a player that lost all his confidence. His layups weren't dropping, his touch on his floaters seemed to be lost, you got the sense that he didn't even really want to touch the ball. Now? Now we're back to getting the aggressive White. The one who takes it strong into the paint, is back to making his layups/floaters and defensively….my god. He's the best shot blocking point guard in the entire NBA and this isn't really a debate.
Since that Christmas date, did you know White is averaging 1.5 blocks a game? As a point guard! Again, with Jaylen out it means the "others" are not only going to have to produce, they're going to have to find ways to do it efficiently. For Derrick, that means playing inside/out. See a few go in and then the 3s will follow.
- Then we had Malcolm Brogdon's night. We've already talked about what a difference it's made for him now that he is starting to look for his own shot more in these 2nd unit lineups, and last night was more of the same
I do not care in the slightest that Brogdon only had 2 AST in this game. That's not what the game needed from him, it needed his scoring. Much like Smart, it was very clear that the Nets did not have any perimeter defenders that could handle Brogdon's speed and size, and that's how you go 7-13 (2-3) from the floor. I'm not really kidding, when Brogdon wasn't taking wide open 3PA, he was living in the paint
I thought he was great at deciding when to be aggressive and look for his own shot, which is really all I want from Brogdon.
I want him to feel empowered to shoot when he's in those lineups. It's OK! You're really good! While at times during his struggles it felt like maybe he was overpassing, the last 6-7 games or so he's seemed to figure out that balance. The roster needs his scoring more in my opinion and if he's going to continue to take care of the ball as well, he's filling his role to perfection.
- You can't always control how you're going to shoot in a game. You can't really control how your minutes might go. But what you can control is your energy and effort level. When you're maybe struggling from the floor, playing hard is the easiest way to snap out of that funk and make some good shit happen.
That was Payton Pritchard's night
After his rough showing against the Pelicans, I feel like Pritchard needed a game like this. It started with his incredible energy on the offensive glass (3), and wouldn't you know the Basketball Gods decided to reward him for that hustle. Suddenly his jumper started to fall and the next thing you knew he was 4-7 from the floor and a team best +13. He's so goddamn twitchy with the basketball, there are few things more fun to watch than a confident Payton Pritchard. The man is a killer.
That crossover breakdown into the pullup that had such a ridiculous arc it was in the air for like 15 seconds? That's the Celtics 4th point guard. Think about that for a second.
- I continue to be really impressed with the development of Grant's offensive game off the dribble. We're at the point now where we're seeing him make 3-5 plays a night off the bounce which is very weird for my brain to comprehend considering this was a guy who literally could not dribble. Grant's bag was very, very shallow just a few years ago. Now? He's attacking closeouts hard, he's putting the ball on the floor from 25 ft away and finishing at the rim. The way he's developed into a guy who is more than just a spot up shooter is very important and why he'll be pretty expensive this summer.
Add in 3 blocks as well last night on the defensive end, and we had a great game from Grant too.
- Last night marked the 3rd time in this current 5 game winning streak that the Celts have held an opponent to under 100 points. It happened to the Mavs, it happened to the Bulls, and it happened to the Nets (16 points in the 4th).
Remember when the haters and losers of which there are still many were crying for months about how they wanted Ime back because Joe didn't know how to coach defense? Almost like they completely forgot about the defensive progression last year. Offenses usually start early, defenses take some time to gel. That's nothing new, yet people seemed to forget that.
As of the writing of this blog, the Celts own the 6th best defense in basketball and trail the Clippers by 0.1 for 5th. Since December 1st, they own the 3rd best defense in basketball. This all goes with the 2nd best offense, best net rating, 3rd best TS% etc.
So, as always, love and trust Mazzulla Ball. It works.
- You know how I know the team chemistry with the Celts is off the charts? This
Tatum was getting heat for this jacket so what does Jaylen do? He basically wears the same shit in a sweater version. That's love. That's trust.
- Look, Luka Kornet might just be good OK? If you don't want to go that far, fine. He's at least very solid. We're past the point of debating that I feel like
You watch him play and it always feels like Luke is just out there doing the correct thing. His positive plays most definitely outweigh his negative, and you can see why Brad believed from the very beginning. Luke is a perfect fit for this system. He's a smart player, he can pass, he can catch lobs, and he can OREB. That's all I want from Luke Kornet and it's all he gives me.
This doesn't mean Brad shouldn't look for more big depth because that's always nice to have, but we need to start acknowledging that Luke Kornet is playing as well as you could ask a 3rd string center to play. His impact was undeniable last night and the Celts probably don't win without it.
- By my count, this was now the 6th straight game we've seen the Celts come out of the break and play some pretty shitty basketball. I'm not sure what the deal is because after about 3 or so minutes in the 3rd they snap out of it and get back to playing great, but there is a part of me that is concerned with whatever the hell is happening to start these second halfs.
My concern is much like Scal's. I just don't want that to become a habit. If you come out slow like the Celts do where they take poor shots and turn the ball over a ton, you're going to give up a quick 12-0 run in a playoff series. Too often we see them start that 3rd by giving up a 6-0 run or an 8-2 run and it doesn't really make sense as to why it keeps happening. Instead of snapping out of it at the 8-9 minute mark, just start the quarter that way.
- It's very annoying that Joe Harris only seems to make all his shots when he plays the Celts. Last night he was 7-11 from the floor for 18 points with 4 3PM. To put this into perspective, that was the most points he has scored all season. He averages 8 points a game if you were curious.
This is not me saying Joe Harris stinks. He's a legit shooter. My problem is he had 15 points in the 4 games prior to last night, so allowing him to drop 18 is pretty bad. The Celts gave him WAY too much space/lost him in transition way too many times for my liking. He's arguably their best shooter not named Seth Curry, so that wasn't great.
- I'd like to know if the Celts were in on TJ Warren at all this summer before he chose BKN. He sneaky looks like Bubble TJ Warren and for a roster that is currently looking for wing depth, he'd be nice to have.
- It's actually a little surprising the Celts held this team to under 100 given how poor their transition defense was. The Nets crushed that matchup 24-10, and as is so often the case for the Celts shit like this happens when they get careless.
Their 13 TOs led to 20 Nets points, and a huge chunk of that is off live ball turnovers. I don't exactly think the Celts are in a position to be spotting teams that many points, so I'd like to see their transition defense tighten up a little bit, and a huge part of that is simply taking care of the ball/limiting live ball turnovers.
- In a sense, the Celts were lucky to survive a Tatum offensive stinker. Just 7-22 (2-10) with 3 TOs from the floor, I didn't really love too much about Tatum's offensive approach. It felt like he was settling early, and as the game went on it looked like his legs were absolutely shot. How much of it was playing on a B2B we'll never know, but the guy only took 4 FTA and I'd say that felt about right. This was certainly not the most aggressive we've seen Tatum play (until late in the 4th), and I can't remember a game in which he airballed 3-4 3PA.
The fact that he still had 20/11/5 shows how good he is, but in terms of offensive production we're going to need to see a much more efficient effort while Jaylen recovers. Role player's production will fluctuate, Tatum's has to be consistent.
- By now you should know the rule. Celts win 5 in a row we get this section off as a treat. We'll return once they lose, which hopefully won't happen anytime soon.
Now up 3 games on BKN and 3.5 on MIL and 4 on CLE, the Celts are in a good spot. They're about to head to CHA for two games against the Hornets, so there's a great opportunity to keep this streak going and continuing to build separation while Jaylen recovers. After that brutal OKC loss we all wanted to see how the Celts responded, and their answer was to simply stop losing. Not a bad strategy in my opinion.
Love and Trust.