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It Wasn't Always Pretty, But The Celtics Finally Conquered Their Boogeyman

Maddie Meyer. Getty Images.

I'm not sure about anyone else, but I am still jazzed as fuck after last night. Didn't sleep a wink, but for all the right reasons this time. I have to admit I didn't mind the change of pace considering previously playing the Warriors meant staring at my ceiling all night trying to understand why the Celts turned into absolute mush against this team for the billionth time. So being able to avoid that despair was a big-time win for me mentally which I appreciated.

I imagine the team felt the same way. There wasn't too much "basketball" importance in this game last night. The Warriors play in a different conference, there's no seeding value in their H2H matchup, the chances they both make the Finals again is pretty small I'd say, and the worst that could happen from a basketball perspective is the Celts dropped 0.5 games closer to the 2 seed (and still be 4 games up).

The importance was all mental. The Warriors were a demon this team had to collectively overcome. It doesn't change the fact that they blew the Finals or lost to GS on December 10th without Rob or Al. But in what was their last opportunity to exorcise their demons, the Celts found a way to do just that. It wasn't always pretty, often times it was very frustrating, but that's why we love and trust. When it came time to deliver in the biggest moments, this team rose to the challenge.

If we're being honest, I'm relieved that we don't have to live through those 3 hours again. That shit was brutal. No other team makes you feel the way playing the Warriors does. It's different than going up against someone like Giannis or Jokic or Embiid etc. The way the Warriors play, the talent of their best players, every possession is stressful as fuck. Every time Curry has the ball, you're scared. Every time he passes it, you're still scared because he's doing nothing but running off the ball and you know that relocation three is coming. It's exhausting. 

But in a game everyone said the Celts needed to have, they won. That's what truly matters right? 

We have a LOT to get to, so let's dive in

The Good

- I'm not really sure how anyone could argue another player deserves this top spot. If one thing was made abundantly clear in this game, it's that Al Horford still has plenty left in the tank

This performance also showed us that Al is 100000000% coasting in games that aren't all that big, and that is perfectly fine with me. In fact, I would kindly ask him to coast even more if this is what he looks like when he flips the switch. That was Playoff Al last night and everyone knows Playoff Al is one of the greatest basketball players in existance. Given that he missed the first game, you could tell this was one that Al had been waiting 216 days to play. He basically confirmed it after the game

The second we saw Al post up Wiggins early in this game, I knew right away that both he and the Celts truly cared about this game. I've watched every second of Al's season, and I feel confident in saying this was the most Al has played in the post all year. He went from a stretch 5 who avoided the paint/contact at all costs to an absolute force on both ends. 

Gigantic blocks at the rim in huge moments, even bigger 3PM from the corner when the team needed it most, performances like this are why I will die for this man without hesitation. It's great to know that when he and the team need this version of Al Horford, that it's still there for him to dig down and pull out. It's clear his management plan is working, he's showing no real signs of aging which is ridiculous, and we now know that when he maybe looks old or slow, he's just sandbagging that shit. When we need Al, Al is there for us. Love him for that.

- A couple of things can be true when talking about Jayson Tatum's night. 

For starters, the Celtics do not win this game without the performance of Jayson Tatum. The fact that he played every second from the 2nd quarter on is ridiculous. When he came back in to start the 2nd quarter, he had 2 points. No other player from either side scored more than Tatum the rest of the way (32 points). Think about that for a second when you then realize that he shot 9-27 which was HORRENDOUS.

His late game decision making and ball security? Even worse. Just brutal TOs that you cannot have from anyone let alone your best player in those spots. The thing is, with each brutal TO, Tatum found a way to make up for it. When it came time to step up down the stretch of this game, that's exactly what Tatum did

Of his 8 points in the 4th quarter, 6 of them came in the final 5 minutes. In OT, he hit the dagger and then sealed things from the line. Tatum finished with 13/7/1 over the final 1.5 quarters despite playing every goddamn second. That's big time and what everyone says they wanted from Tatum right?

When he was struggling with his shot, he got his ass to the glass. He found ways to create for others. People spent all last night crying about his shooting and his TOs trying to suggest that he was "awful" or "bad" in this game, and frankly I don't really understand what they were watching. Did he have bad moments? Absofuckinglutely. Did he also come through down the stretch and make a massive impact overall on winning? Yes. Both are true.

- I really, really liked Joe's offensive approach down the stretch in this game, and I think it's something we should put a pin in. When teams are going to try and load up on Tatum at the end of games, the best thing you can do is switch things up and have Tatum as the screener. Let Marcus/Tatum work their 2 man game because pretty much every single time you're going to see Tatum in a position where he catches the ball at the FT line with space. He can either take it strong to the rim, or find shooters on the perimeter when the defense collapses. We all know down the stretch this team can struggle with ball pressure, so finding ways to use Tatum as a screener to initiate offense is a great neutralizer to that.

Joe's decision to bail on the double bigs in the 4th and OT is why something like this was possible. Having another guard on the floor (Brogdon) allows them to play 5 out and get Tatum into that zone. These are the small little adjustments we didn't always see Ime make vs GS, and I thought Joe's rotations were pretty spot on, especially late. Good showing by him.

- Quick question, do we think a healthy Rob makes a difference in this matchup? 

The Warriors thought going small against this team would work, unfortunately they were wrong. Rob was a monster in this game, especially on the offensive glass. I would make the case that the Celts are cooked without the 2nd chance opportunities Rob provided. He finished with 7 OREB by himself (GS had 8 as a team) and he was as good a defensive anchor as you can have in terms of protecting the paint considering the Warriors only had 30 paint points. 

I will say it was a little annoying that Rob kept trying to outjump Looney for a DREB instead of ya know, putting a body on him. I love Rob and I know he can jump like crazy, but it's also OK to just go back to the fundamentals and put your ass on someone. You don't have to jump if you box out effectively, and that one sequence when Looney got all those OREB because Rob was jumping and not blocking out was frustrating. 

- In order to beat a team like GS when they are locked in, you need more than just your best players to show up. Part of the frustration in the previous games was the fact that not only did the Celts best players struggle, their guard play was pretty pathetic. Poor shooting, turnovers, bad defense, it was gross.

Last night was the opposite when it came to Marcus Smart

While Tatum/Brown couldn't make a bucket to save their lives for the majority of the night, it was Smart's offense that helped keep this team alive. He was efficient (7-16 (3-6), his pass/shoot decision making was exceptional (especially late), and defensively it was more of the same DPOY shit we see on a nightly basis

In typical Smart fashion, he gave us all a fucking heart attack (we're going to get to it), but that's all part of the Marcus Smart Experience. That was nothing we haven't lived through before. The point is, last night wasn't just about Tatum needing to snap out of his funk, it was also about Smart not playing like a complete dickhead either. As we know, when we get a Good Smart performance like we did in this game, the Celts are very tough to beat.

In the fourth quarter last night, Smart took 1 FGA. He finished with 3 assists. In the OT, he took 2 FGA and finished 1-2. For all the crying I hear on a daily basis about how Smart doesn't know or accept his role, he sure looked like a guy who knows and accepted his role. Very confusing.

- In the previous losses to GS, a common theme was that this team caved under pressure. That mentally they didn't have what it takes to break through the adversity. This might be my favorite part of their win last night. Things were going poorly, shots weren't falling, the Warriors kept executing, and the Celts had to push through all that shit mentally and find a way to win.

The Celts were down 8 with 7 minutes left, down 4 with 1:45 minutes left, down 3 with 28 seconds left. Each and every time they answered. There was no "oh god dammit it's happening again" body language that we often see when these teams play. You wanted to see if this team had the mental toughness to bring down a team that has owned them recently and find a way to come through? You got it. 

- For 95% of the night, I'd say Jaylen was brutal. Coming back from injury, that was mostly whatever for me. It was annoying, but I think guys get a pass in their first game back from injury. The good news is that despite his struggles when the team needed him most, he came through

once that shot went in it was as if a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Once we got to OT we immediately saw the Jaylen we remember with how he attacked the paint and finished at the rim. That helped set the tone for that entire extra period. I love how he didn't let his previous struggles impact his confidence, and this is why I never understand why people get upset when there are nights where maybe Jaylen goes 0-7 from three. The second he stops shooting is when his confidence is cooked. 

Jaylen's night was a great lesson. Even when things aren't going your way, remain confident. Trust the work you put in and when the opportunity comes for you to make a play, shoot that shit with confidence.

The Bad

- Given then winning streak by rule we can't have an Ugly section, so I have to start this section with what I would put there. The late game decision making by the best players on the roster was some of the worst shit I have ever seen. There's just no excuse for what we saw from Tatum and Smart. I've watched these plays 1,000,000 times and I cannot understand what they were thinking. Let's start with Tatum's TOs

I can understand the idea, getting Jaylen the ball in space in transition is a fantastic idea. That's where he thrives. In this specific situation though? Just hold onto the ball. He obviously didn't see Poole had that pass read from the second it left his hand, but there was no need to rush in this situation. Plenty of time on the clock, at this point in the game possessions are so important. Just take your time and run something.

A few minutes later, we had another situation where Tatum didn't really have the best awareness

great hustle by Wiggins for sure, but this was the second time in this game that Tatum got picked at halfcourt, Now with under 90 seconds left, I need you to be better with the ball. He obviously didn't see Wiggins coming either, but man was that a tough one.

His final TO to me though was the worst of them all. This is just flat out bad

I'm not sure what he was trying to accomplish here. First off, he leaves his feet to pass which is absolutely something you should never do. Then you through kind of a soft floating pass right into the teeth of the defense? It looks like maybe Curry hit his arm a little bit on the pass, but even still given the moment you cannot have a TO here. That was also very bad.

While these 3 TOs from Ttaum may have been frustrating, it wasn't like he went braindead or anything. When it comes to Smart's final moments in OT, I don't even know how to explain what we watched

I've seen Smart do some crazy shit on a basketball court before. I don't think I've ever see him have back to back horrendous mental mistakes like he did in the final 30 seconds of OT. I mean good God man take a deep breath. The ONE thing everyone knows is that when a team presses, you in no way shape or form should be throwing the ball toward your own basket. Only bad things happen when you do that. He could have jsut passed it to Al, he could have just held onto the ball, he could have dribbled himself. There are a billion different things he could have done instead of what he chose. There's no defending it. The true definition of a mental lapse.

The crazy part is IMMEDIATELY after this play, Smart threw this pass

Again, what the fuck are you doing Marcus. I say that from a place of love and trust, but christ. I don't even know what he saw on that play considering Steph Curry was RIGHT THERE, and again there was no need for this pass. I've watched this so many times trying to see what Smart maybe thought was there, and I have nothing. Thank God Jaylen saved that pass is all I can say. For someone who played so well all night to have back to back brain farts like this was very frustrating. When we say the Celts play with a broken brain at times, these two passes are what we mean.

- I cannot explain why this team shoots like complete dogshit on 2 days rest. You would think it would be the exact opposite but as a team on 2 days rest the Celts shoot 43/30% as a team. In this game, they finished 38/31%. It makes no goddamn sense. A rested team should be able to make wide open looks at a little higher clip in my opinion. 

- When you play GS, you have to win around the margins. You need to take care of the ball, you need to rebound, you need to make your layups and FTs, shit like that.

Well, the Celts had 17 TOs that led to 24 Warriors points, they missed 8 FTA, and the layups? See for yourseld

Giphy Images.

Look at that shit! This was not a case of the Celts settling for 3PA and not attacking the paint/rim. They were great with that. Where they struggled was ya know….making the layups/floaters. You see a shot chart like that and I feel confident in saying chances are you lost by 30, especially when you add in the TOs and missed FTs. The crazy part is the Warriors were playing small and didn't really have any sort of rim protection. The Celts just smoked bunny after bunny after bunny. 

Why that matters against GS is every one of those missed layups is a gut punch. They often lead to a GS fastbreak where they either hit a dagger three or someone finishes at the rim, which is another punch on the other end. So really, you're getting it from both ends when the Celts miss layups like this. So bizarre for a team that is very good at finishing at the rim.

- Getting pretty much nothing from both Grant (1-4) and Derrick (0-6) wasn't exactly what I would call ideal. Especially when Tatum/Brown were struggling. Brogdon did what he could early, but he went cold too and finished 5-15. For whatever reason the depth on this team can't seem to show up whenever they play GS. It was part of their issues in the Finals, it was a factor in the December 10th loss, and luckily they survived last night despite it showing up again.

The Ugly

- Nope, not after 8 in a row. Not today Satan!

It wasn't always pretty, it was maybe tougher than it needed to be, but the Celts finally took down their boogeyman. At the end of the day, that is what matters most. They took another punch from GS and punched back twice as hard. Now they head out for a little 3 game trip with 3 winnable games and all the positive momentum in the world. 

Love and Trust.