One unique part of the Celts first 47 games of the season is that for the most part, they've had some pretty good injury luck. If you remember, that wasn't always the case. Remember a few years ago during the weird Covid times when people thought the Celts needed to blow up their roster because they were hovering around .500? That year the normal intended starting 5 played just 10 games together and 111 minutes. They just couldn't catch a health break.
Compare that to this year, and the Celts starting 5 (w/ DWhite) has already played 277 minutes together. The one with Rob has played about 29 minutes in the month he's been back (6 games). The point is, outside of some guys getting some rest days and a few little things here and there, the Celts haven't had too many opportunities where they needed to sack up and find a way to win while being the Hospital Celtics.
That changed last night while north of the border. With Jayson Tatum getting his much deserved rest day, things were already going to be a challenge. Anytime you put an MVP candidate, 30 point scorer, and best player on ice for the night, things are obviously going to change in terms of how teams defend you, what you're able to execute offensively and defensively, shit like that. Well then you add in injuries to 2 more starters (really 2.5 starters since one was DWhite), so call it 3 more of your top 8 guys, and things get exponentially harder.
Throughout a regular season, you're looking for certain tests. How does a team stack up against the best? Can they win on the road? Are they mentally tough? Do they love and trust? These are all boxes you're hoping to check over the course of 82 so that when the real games start in the Spring, the team is ready.
For my money, we just witnessed the two most mentally tough wins of the Celts season. First, the way they responded in clutch moments against the big bad Warriors was a massive box to check in terms of the mental toughness of this team. Then, last night down 4 main rotation players (Tatum, Smart, White, Rob) to still find a way to win on the road in a tough environment is big boy stuff. That's a championship contending level win. No excuses, no "woe is me all our players are hurt" bullshit. Just execution. Response after response on both ends of the floor from everyone on the roster is why the Celts have currently won 9 in a row.
How rare is that?
They are the only team in the NBA to do such a thing…..twice
We know this team has talent. But what we also know is that there are times where mentally they don't always respond. The sign of a team that is ready to contend for a title is one that finds ways to win games like last night. Players step up and take advantage of their newfound opportunity. The vets lead by example. The coach sets his players up for success. It takes a collective effort.
If you are someone that things the Celts success will ultimately come down to a collective "we not me" mentality, this game was perfect for you. Guys filling their roles, everyone trusting one another, and locking in when it came time to finish off the win was all beautiful to watch.
With that said, let's begin.
- Something I think that gets lost with fans is how lucky we are that Jaylen Brown could easily be a 30 ppg scorer on another team. He would be a franchise's #1 option in a heartbeat. Instead, he embraces his role as a Celtic. He does what's needed for him without complaint on any given night, and sometimes that's deferring to Tatum, sometimes that's being THE GUY like an instance like last night
and you never, ever, ever, ever hear him complain. He's the opposite of a headache. Think of how rare that is with a player of his skillset. There are no ego battles. There is no "well what about mine" bullshit when it comes to how Jaylen impacts a game. That alone is so valuable for a team trying to contend.
And yet, there are some that still fail to realize that. They care more about a few turnovers here and there or maybe some mental mistakes. Yes, Jaylen is human, which is tough to accept I know. But in a game like last night when they needed him to be a #1, he more than delivered.
A team best 27/8/6/3 on 10-23 (4-8) and a perfect 3-3 from the line (with 5 TOs as well), Jaylen answered the call. It was his offense that kept the Celts alive early (13 1st quarter points) and then again late in the 4th (8 points on 3-4) that helped seal the deal. As awesome as it was to watch all that, part of me thinks what he said after the game was the best part
When I say that I don't think the Celts have a #1 and a #2 that it's more of a 1A and 1B situation, Saturday night is what I mean. From a production standpoint, a mentality standpoint, and a leadership standpoint, Jaylen checks every box.
- Here's a fun fact for you. Did you know the Celts are 13-5 when Grant Williams scores more than 10 points in a game? Going a little deeper, they are 4-1 this year when he scores more than 15. That makes sense, because given what they normally get from their stars, when you add in a Good Grant performance the Celts become really hard to beat.
Last night was our first game where Grant broke the 20 point barrier, finishing the night with the best scoring performance of his career
Every year Grant seems to come back with a new element to his game, and I can say confidently that the Year 4 leap for Grant has come with his ability to make plays off the dribble. He did it a whole lot in this game, and if you think back to where we once were where as fans we cringed every time he put the ball on the floor, look at us now. I not only have full confidence in Grant now when I see him attack a closeout, I encourage it. The 3s are nice and are absolutely important, but Grant becoming a more versatile offensive player is the ideal form of what he needs to continue to develop into.
It was Grant's 18 points at the half that led all Celtics, and for him to finally see his outside shot drop after struggling for about two months had to feel great. Especially in a game they desperately needed it. Few players embrace the "next man up" mentality better than Grant, and if this is who he can be then Brad is going to just have to sack up and pay that man whatever. He's too valuable to let leave for nothing.
- I'm not sure how many players can go 2-10 (1-6), be a -14 in their 27 minutes, yet still be one of the biggest reasons a team won. And yet, that was Al Horford
That line isn't anything all that crazy. But I can say confidently that the Celts don't win this game without Al's performance down the stretch. That whole jump ball sequence at the end, the steal on Siakam in the final moments because EVERYONE ON THE PLANET knew he was going to try his stupid spin move, Al literally missed every shot he took in his 7 4th quarter minutes and yet he found a way to still make a winning impact.
When it came time to lock in defensively in the final quarter, Al was there. Between his performance against the Warriors and then his play late in this win, how can I convince Brad to rip up his current extension and redo it for 5 more years. I need Al Horford in my life forever, it's that simple.
- There's a lot of talk about how the Celts need to trade for another center. In a game where Rob got dinged up, I can understand that concern. Most people who think that would be willing to give up Payton Pritchard in order to make that happen.
My question is…why the fuck would you do that?
If you want to talk about mental toughness on this team, it starts and ends with Payton Pritchard. Who else in the NBA goes from a DNP-CD game after game after game and then when he's called upon comes into the game like, he's been getting 35 mintues a night all year?
This game is the exact reason why you should not be looking to move Payton Pritchard. Not just for the guard insurance (which is VERY important), but also because he's really fucking good. He has that dawg mentality that every roster needs
He's a proven playoff performer. His shooting is a legit weapon. I don't know how anyone couldn't root for this kid, all he does is wait for his moment and then when his name is called he goes balls the wall at all times. Big offensive rebounds, elite ball pressure defensively, limitless range, I'm sorry but I want this at Joe's disposal in a playoff series. Find a way to get some big man depth with your buyout money or some shit.
I want guys on this roster who are not going to be afraid of the moment. I know what I'm getting with Payton Pritchard and that is a guy who doesn't need to get ready because he stays ready. There is a lot of value in that.
- For this team to succeed at a high level, it starts on the defensive end. The Celts have now crept up to 4th in the league in defense, and in back to back games we saw them lock down in the final 12 minutes. They allowed just 17 points against the Warriros and another 19 last night in the fourth.
With their 4 best defenders out, the Celts only allowed one quarter over 28 points, none of which came in the second half once Smart/Rob/White's night ended. That's just good ol' fashioned heart right there. That's not making excuses and instead finding ways to execute. That's mental toughness.
- I'm running out of ways to talk about how incredible Malcolm Brogdon has been since he joined this team. The transition has been so seamless it's as if he's been a Celtic for 10 years. The way he works with the stars, the way he gets the role players going, the way he has started to embrace being more aggressive as a scorer, it's all been insane
I think it's fair to say that whatever slump Brogdon may have been going through in December, once shit hit 2023 it's been back to his November version. Over this 9 game winning streak we're seeing Brogdon put up
18.7/4.7/3.2 on 51/54% with 3.0 3PM.
He's played 35 minutes in back to back games and at least over 30 minutes in 3 of the last 4. While there is a part of me that is worried about injury and all that, I just don't see how you can keep Brogdon off the floor if he's going to play like this. He did everything again last night while also finishing 50/60% from the floor. It's so clear what a difference his aggressive approach offensively has made, just look at his FGA over this stretch: 8, 12, 9, 11, 13, 17, 13, 15, 16.
With Brogdon starting to remember that he's a really good offensive player and now that he's looking for his shot more and more, that tells me he's finally settled into this team. Early you could tell he wanted to be overly-unselfish, like most new guys do. But now? This is the Brogdon I think Brad knew he was getting and man has he been on a tear.
- 14 of 15 from the FT line. Nice to see the Celts get back to being normal after missing 8 FTA against the Warriors. This is why that shit was so annoying. The Celts are the best FT shooting team in the NBA, they should never be missing 8 in a game.
- As we so often say, if you are looking to beat the Celts, the only thing you can really do is pray they miss all their 3PA. You really only have a chance if they're going to be flirting with like 30%.
If they go 16-35 (45.7%) like they did last night? You're cooked.
- Just like against GS, the Celts had to continue to execute down the stretch of this game in order to pull off the win. A 3pt game with 3:50 left, the Celts answered. A tie game with 2 minutes left, the Celts answered. Dig in and get stops? Check.
For a team that was horrendous in clutch situations just last year, the Celts are now 15-5 in clutch time games. That's tied with BKN for the fewest losses in the NBA.
- I'm starting to think this is going to be a problem for as long as I'm alive, but the Celts were once again WAY too careless with the basketball. A brutal 17 TOs led to 24 points against the Warriors, and it was the exact same shit in this game. As a team they finished with 15 TOs which led to 18 Raptors points. That's…very bad.
At some point, you would think the Celts would realize that being careless like this only makes things drastically harder on themselves. You're in all these close games because you are literally giving away points. Jaylen finished with 5, Grant had 4, we all know that the kiss of death for the Celts is live ball turnovers, yet they can't stop committing live ball turnovers.
Against a team like TOR who you know and are familiar with, you know they are going to pressure you. You know they're going to be physical and force you to speed up your process. It did not feel like the Celts were ready for that.
- It goes without saying that until I see them on the court, I am going to be worried about Smart/Rob/White. I don't care that Joe said after the game things weren't serious with Rob and White and that Smart rolled his ankle and is week to week or whatever.
I know this team, I know they haven't told the truth about an injury in almost 20 years. All I am doing from here on out is praying things aren't worse in the coming days once the adrenaline wears off. Everyone needs to take WAY more time than they think they need, especially Rob. Give Smart until the All Star break too for all I care, Payton is ready.
The only thing that can stop this team is health, so be smart.
- I'm not sure what it is with this team and their late game decision making, but some pretty brutal mistakes by both Payton and Grant.
First came Payton's pass
Huge mistake by everyone involved here. Things are chaotic, panic is starting to set in, just call a timeout. Payton, the other players, Joe, someone. They had 2 TOs in that situation and just let that shit play out. Huge prayer it did not come back to bite them.
Then there was Grant's push in the final 3 seconds. All you have to do is inbound the ball, something that should be so easy you could do without thinking. To even put yourself in a situation where it could be a 50/50 call (it wasn't, it was a clear foul) is a mental mistake. I'm not sure Grant even needed to push off either, and given all the talking he does you knew he wasn't going to get the benefit of doubt on that play. Again, Al Horford saved the day but what the hell is going on at the end of these games?
- With all these wins in a row I can't even remember the last time I had to write this section. Man does that feel good.
As great as the 9 in a row are, it's not like the Celts have opened up this massive lead. They're 4.5 games up on PHI who is now the 2 seed after their win last night in SAC, so I'm going to need the Celts to keep this train moving. They fell short of 10 straight last time we had a streak like this, so I need them to avenge that this time around. It'll be tough seeing as how ORL/MIA are a B2B, and my guess is Al sits the ORL game. You don't want to go up against Bam with no Al or Rob in my opinion.
Love and Trust.