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You'll Never Believe This, But The Latest Version Of The Process Still Can't Beat The Celtics

Brian Fluharty. Getty Images.

There are a few things you can bank on when you enter a new NBA season. One of my personal favorites is how every single season, regardless of what history has told us or what is currently happening on the floor, people will wildly overrate the Sixers. Remember, they were said to have the BEST offseason of any team in the East this summer. 

It's almost like these people can't help themselves. Every year it's actually THIS version of the Process that's going to be different. They are the only team I can think of that is so loud and consistent calling themselves title contenders while never actually ya know…contending for the title. I mean I guess technically making the playoffs is "contending" for the title, so maybe that's what they mean? I dunno, I always thought that was pretty weird.

It usually goes like this. Joel Embiid beats up on some bad teams, the Sixers beat some bad teams, then after one marquee win we know what happens.

We hear about how they're actually the "best team in the NBA"

and how Joel Embiid was actually the MVP because he won a singular game against Jokic? That was like two weeks ago. I didn't hear anything about how he then lost to the Magic or Knicks immediately after. That's the Sixers fan model. When they win a game in late January, Embiid is the MVP and the Sixers are the best team in the league, despite not having close to the best record in the NBA. They're just 12-9 against teams .500 or better and only 14-11 on the road. 

Last night, a fully healthy Sixers team couldn't even beat a Celtics team that was down 4 starters. You see what happened is they actually ran into the real best team in the NBA and for the second time this season got their asses kicked. They were fully healthy the first time (Celts weren't) and they were fully healthy this time (Celts weren't) and nothing changed. How could that be if the Sixers had the MVP and were the best team in the league? If you look at how the Sixers have faired against the elite teams in the NBA, so let's say the top 4 seeds from each conference, they're just 5-5. That stinks. That means 22 of their 34 wins have come against teams under .500. Big deal lol. Only the Nets (who just got blown up) have fewer wins against teams .500 or better than the Sixers of any top 6 seed. 

But guys, Embiid beat Jokic that one time!

This is why beating the Sixers will always be fun. It's a nice little reminder of who still runs this conference. Sixers and their fans can talk about it, but they most certainly don't want to be about it. What we saw last night was a championship caliber win by a team with legitimate championship talent and ability. This win almost guarantees the Celts take the H2H matchup against PHI should they somehow finish with the same record, and I don't know how many more times we have to see a new version of the Process before we realize that nothing is going to change when it comes to this specific matchup.

The Celts are still a matchup problem for the Sixers, even when it's only their bench players on the floor. That's not great for PHI. I'd care, but you know, fuck em.

This now marks 3 straight over PHI and 13 straight over the Nets and Sixers if you want to throw them in there. Those were two teams I was told were better than the Celtics. Whoops! Maybe next time I guess.

The Good

- There are ballsy wins, and then there's what we witnessed last night. Already down Smart, Rob, and Horford, losing Jaylen halfway through the game, if this type of performance doesn't have you feeling better about the Celts mindset/depth/Joe/etc then I'm not sure what will. You're probably just willingly choosing to ignore it.

What I loved most about it was there was no excuse making. 80% of the starting lineup is out? OK, so adjust. Find ways to win and execute with what you have on the floor. There was no panic, there was no "doing too much" from anyone who touched the floor. Everyone instead decided to step up and just do their job. That's what makes this so hard to choose someone to start us off with, because everyone was awesome.

But since I have to choose? I can't not go with Blake. I mean come on. The guy goes from barely playing or getting DNP-CDs to suddenly being thrown in against Joel Embiid. How does he respond? Oh I dunno

How about with 15 points on 5-8 from deep. I don't know about anyone else, but I have been thoroughly enjoying the Blake Celtics experience. He plays hard as shit at all times, he dives for loose balls, he takes charges, he's a top tier vibes guy, and when it comes time to talk his shit, Blake thrives at that as well

Will Blake ever hit 5 3PM in a game this season? Probably not, unless he needs to. If you're going to dare him to shoot and don't adust when he starts making them, that's your problem. Those first few looked so pure you knew Blake was feeling good, and to have that type of immediate impact despite almost never playing is why Blake rules so hard. I give his performance a 10 out of 10 last night. No notes.

- As a franchise, the Celtics are so lucky that Derrick White exists. I don't really know how else to say it, he's a blessing. Hopefully you've read how this type of a performance is nothing new for Derrick since Christmas, and on a night where they not only needed his production but for that production to be efficient, guess who responded

19/6/3 on 8-13 (3-6) shooting with MASSIVE plays at the rim and an even bigger three with 2 minutes left, you almost forget that Derrick White is actually the 6th man on this team. He's giving you starter and All NBA defensive production and the guy isn't even a starter with everyone healthy. Do you know how insane that is? 

If you're curious how White has been doing filling in for Smart, I'd love to tell you. In those 7 games, White is now up to 18.1/5.6/4.0 on 50/43% splits with 2.4 3PM a night. That shooting that I was told wasn't sustainable is still pretty fucking good in February so it looks like the haters and losers of which there are still many were wrong about that too. Who knew!

The combination of his aggressiveness offensively with his ability to guard multiple positions defensively could not be more important, and it's why I think back to when Celts fans cried that Brad paid too much because he included A PICK SWAP in the White trade. Once again, Brad knows what he's doing and Twitter does not. 

- Games and situations like last night are the exact reason Malcolm Brogdon was brought onto this team. There have been times where he's struggled to balance scoring and playmaking and while the defense hasn't always been solid from an individual standpoint, I thought last night was one of Brogdon's best games as a Celtic

A team best +10 in his 35 minutes, Brogdon played the full 24 second half minutes after Jaylen got hurt, and I can't think of too many complaints about huis 19/5/3 on 7-12 (2-2). Outside of the opening 3 minutes (which weren't his fault since he wasn't on the floor), I can't really remember too many big scoring droughts. When Brogdon was on the floor it definitely didn't happen, which is why he's here. He showed up int he 4th quarter when they needed him, he was one of three Celtics to have double figures in the second half, and here's where you remember that Brogdon is also the 6th/7th guy.

How many teams in the NBA are throwing out a White/Brogdon backcourt with their second unit? Zero. Given that Jaylen is most likely going to miss some time, this is the version of Brogdon they are going to need once he steps on the floor. It's not so much the 7-12 shooting because that will fluctuate, it's more the mindset. Can he be aggressive when he needs to be? Can he run the offense and make sure there's no scoring drought since they'll be missing a 27 point per game scorer? That's what we're about to find out but it looks pretty good to me.

- After the Celts win over the Pistons where we saw Sam Hauser look like he found his shot again, I did some digging. I learned that as long as Sam Hauser's 3PA are catch & shoot, he's never going to miss. Where he gets into trouble is when he tries to mix in pull up 3PA. He stinks at those. Over the last 8 games he's done nothing but take catch & shoot 3PA and look at what's happened to his percentage. It's back to 47.1%. If you're a visual learner like me, this is what that looks like

5-6 from the floor, 4-4 from three, all of which were catch & shoot. Tell me that's not November Sam Hauser? The confidence he's now shooting the ball with is why you stick with pure shooters through a shooting slump. Hauser didn't forget how to shoot, he was just taking the wrong type of 3PA during his December slump. Now that he's back to only taking catch & shoot 3PA we're getting the same results we saw to start the year.

Having this type of elite spacing does so much for the Celts offense, defenses literally cannot win. If you give him space, you're dead. If you press up on him and create driving lanes for others, you're dead. Add in that his defense is actually decent and he's active on the glass, it's hard to find reasons Hauser should not be on the floor.

- Despite Rob and Al and Smart and Jaylen all missing time in this game if not the whole thing, the Celts still were fairly even in points in the paint (38 vs 36). That's very embarrassing for the Sixers. They were close in 2nd chance points too (10-6).

What hapened to Embiid dominating? Where was that part when he was being put in jail by Payton Pritchard in a huge moment in the 4th quarter?

That's the supposed MVP? A guy who in a big moment can't even handle a 5'11 point guard in the post? Have some shame Sixers fans and stop screaming that this is the MVP of the league. This man went 1-5 for 5 points in his 8 4th quarter minutes against a completely depleted frontline.

- Things are so different when Good Grant shows up to work. This was an opportunity for him to make back a shit ton of the money he's probably lost himself with how he's been playing these last few weeks, but last night was a good reminder of just how valuable Grant is when he's not playing like a complete dickhead

When Grant actually defends, doesn't think about the 3PA and just takes the 3PA (and then knocks it down) while also not really complaining about calls, he's such a valuable player. If he weren't on the Celts, a player with his skillset is the EXACT type of player everyone would want Brad to trade for today. He showed he can hold his own against Embiid (along with some delayed doubles) and it felt like people didn't realize Grant is still shooting well over 40% from three on the season. Even during his brutal month of play, his three is still over 40%. He just has to remember to take that shit with confidence and don't try to do too much.

In a game where the Celts needed everyone to fill their role and not try and be something they aren't, I was happy with Grant that he stayed within himself and took what the Sixers defense gave him. This is the version of Grant I have no problem paying whatever price for. Now please keep it going.

- Holding a fully healthy Sixers team to under 100 points despite missing your 4 best defenders is pretty fucking impressive. The Sixers never had a quarter over 28 points, there was only 3 lead changes in this game, and when it came time to locking in defensively in the 4th quarter they held the Sixers to just 27/28% shooting. That's big time.

- Even though he once again shot like shit (5-15, 1-5), I thought Jayson Tatum did a great job of doing everything else. He was a starter best +5 in his 37 minutes, and even though this was his lowest scoring performance of the season, his 12/8/9/1 got the job done. It never felt like he was forcing things, he was fine creating for others and making the right basketball play. I, like you, would love to see him not shoot so terribly, but as long as he's still finding ways to make an impact that's fine by me.

The Sixers were adamant about sending two at Tatum to take the ball out of his hands, so this win required a whole bunch of love and trust from Tatum and when your teammates come through in those moments, it's contagious. It starts with Tatum's unselfishness and ends with someone making the right play/getting a bucket. That was great to see. 

- Shoutout Luke Kornet. The guy just shows up and makes a positive impact. For a 3rd center, I think Luke proved his worth in this game. Great positional defense, some nice lobs, good on the glass in his minutes. He's been solid all year.

The Bad

- I forgot how infuriating it was to have to deal with the Sixers whistle. These teams hadn't played since opening night so I sort of forgot, but holy shit was that annoying. The Sixers finished with 2x the FTA, and almost all of the ones on Harden were very suspect. Why officials still bail him out as he drives into defenders and initiates contact is something I truly do not understand. This is a foul merchant team through and through. 

All I ask if for consistency and not shit like this

You take away the Sixers FTA and what do they have? 

- Probably not the best sign that the day before the trade deadline Payton Pritchard only played 4 minutes in a game where half the team didn't play. This makes me sad, but I wish him nothing but the best. I hope he gets consistent run and kills it wherever Brad sends him today (if he does).

- Because we can't have nice things, of course Jaylen breaks his face due to Jayson Tatum's elbow. Talk about shit luck. We have no idea how long he'll be out or if it will require surgery, but we'll probably see Jaylen at the end of the month. Sometimes it's rolling an ankle coming off a screen like Smart, sometimes your teammates elbow breaks your face going for a loose ball. These are the things that happen over 82 games and depth is important. 

I'm ready for masked Jaylen though. That guy is going to be a monster.

The Ugly

- Not too much for this section outside of the normal stuff. Please take care of the basketball. You see 13 TOs and think maybe tht's not so many, but then you see those 13 TOs led to 19 Sixers points, and this game really shouldn't have been close as long as the Celts stopped giving the ball away. They started this game with consecutive possessions of flat out passing the ball to the other team (quick 0-7 hole).

Will they ever learn their lesson with this live ball turnover bullshit? Probably not. Nobody is perfect, and this is a flaw we're stuck with. For whatever reason, this team loves making things harder on themselves. Giving away free points like the Celts tend to do is no way to go through life, but they can't help themselves. You want to turn the ball over? Fine. Throw it out of bounds. Travel. Do anything other than committing live ball turnovers that lead to easy buckets. You keep playing with fire like this, you're going to get burned by a team with a pulse.

Just because the Sixers stink doesn't mean it's not a problem. It still is.

So now we turn our attention to today's festivities. It's going to be a long and stressful day until 3pm, and everything is on the table as far as I'm concerned. Hopefully Brad does his magic and we'll see them add as we prepare for the stretch run. Either way, the real best team in the NBA was on the floor last night, and it sure as shit was not the Sixers.