The Way The Celtics Bounced Back In Their Big Win Over Cavs Was Just What The Doctor Ordered
Over the course of 82, there are going to be some nights where nothing goes your way. You miss the shots you've proven you can make, your defense isn't as crisp, the 50/50 balls don't go your way, it's basketball, shit happens. After one of those nights, there will be people that overreact. They'll call a team frauds or act like the sky is falling after a single loss. That happens with pretty much every fanbase in the league.
The important thing when this happens is the response. You're never going to be perfect, and there are going to be times you play like shit, but it's about how you respond. It's about how you handle the chaos and imperfections, and not trying to be perfect. No player or team is perfect, that's not how things work.
So coming off their worst shooting performance of the season against the Knicks in a rather frustrating loss, last night was a fairly big bounce back opportunity for the Celts. With a good Cavs team at full health coming into the Garden after already beating the Celts twice this season, I don't want to say last night was a must win or anything crazy, but it was an important opportunity for the Celts to get back on track.
As it turns out, when they don't miss the most shots of any game this season, they're pretty good huh! I do wonder if all the sky is falling people that filled my mentions after the Knicks loss feel weird this morning. First, the Knicks are good (7 straight wins), and second, by now you should feel pretty confident that a team like this isn't going to shoot 21% from three all that often. It's happened just 3 times in 64 games. What I liked about last night is it was clear the Celts did not let that random off night impact their approach or confidence, and for good reason. When they start thinking and stop playing, things snowball.
Instead, they immediately responded with a win that wasn't really as close as the final score indicated. Once the 3rd quarter started, the Cavs never really threatened. Guys got back to looking like the players we know they are, and as a result the Celts snagged their 45th win on the season.
Now comes the next step, which in my mind is harder than a bounce back win. Sustaining the wins. The Bucks aren't slowing down, so the Celts need to keep building on a win like this and stack Ws. I don't care how they look right now, just give me the W.
But before we look ahead, we have to talk about what we watched.
- I know plenty of people will start with a certain someone, but I'm throwing a curveball. In a game that featured an All Star center and one of the best young bigs in the entire NBA, it just so happens that a 36 year old Al Horford was the best big man in this game. A truly masterful performance
Remember how Al basically told us he's coasting this year and really only turns it up when it's a big game or he has to (which is exactly how he should be playing at 36)? Well, it seems to me like this was one of those games. The man said it himself
It's so comforting to know that Al can just flip a switch like this. I mean 23/11/3 on 8-10 (6-8) shooting in 32 minutes at 36 years old doesn't even make sense. My eyes told me I was watching a 27 year old Al Horford in this game, and now that I know he can still do it, I have no problem if he wants to put this type of game back on the shelf until he needs it again.
When Al is knocking down his safety valve threes, I'm not really sure what a defense is supposed to do. With all the attention the Jays command, and then when the guards like Smart/White/Brogdon are so good at getting into the paint in terms of drive and kicks, the Celts offense is unstoppable.
Since mid-February, Horford is shooting 60/56.8% with 3.5 3PM a night. You know who this is? This is Playoff Al. We all know what a monster playoff Al is, and this tells me that the Celts load management plan for Horford this year is clearly working. There will be nights he holds back, maybe looks a half step slow, but make no mistake. Al has plenty of gas left in the tank, and last night was another example of that.
- When the Celtics are at their best, they love and trust. To me, this means a variety of things. It's recognizing when a guy has it going and making sure he touches the ball, it means covering for one another defensively, it means checking your ego at the door for the betterment of the team.
And maybe most importantly, it means moving and sharing the ball.
When the Celtics do this, they are legit unbeatable, and given how they started this game we knew right away what type of approach this game would have. This sequence may be the most beautiful possession they've had all year
That my friends, is basketball nirvana. That's the good stuff. Celts playing 5 out, everyone spacing the floor, everyone touches the ball as it never sticks, they made the Cavs defend for nearly the entire clock, and at the end of the play it was an easy two points. People ask me what Mazzulla Ball is, and this is it. It's not just the 3PA volume, it's a mindset. The Celts finished with 27 assists and 12 TOs in this game. A total of 5 different players had at least 3 assists. Everyone knows that good ball movement is contagious, and when you have good ball movement the Basketball Gods reward you.
Seeing as how the Celts put up 117 on 50/50% splits with 16 3PM, I'm not sure I need to say much else. This was one of my favorite parts about this win, I love when this team passes the ball like they did in this game, it's beautiful basketball.
- I suppose we've gone on long enough without mentioning the performance of Jayson Tatum. As I say, when you keep doing shit that puts you in a sentence with Larry Bird, it is a big deal.
If you were curious, Jayson Tatum now leads the NBA in total points (1,789), passing Luka who sits 30 points behind (6 fewer games). For a guy that had really been struggling with his shot over the last 3 games, this was another reminder why you should be loving and trusting. It's almost as if people hadn't experienced a Tatum slump before. Newsflash, he's still really fucking good.
Tatum finished 13-21 (4-6) fromthe floor, went to the line 14 times, only turned the ball over 3 times and didn't even play over 36 minutes. That pretty much checked every box people want. Great production, efficient, low minutes (for him). What makes Tatum so dominant is his ability to control a game, and I felt like this was really the first time in the last 3 games that it felt like Tatum was imposing his will.
The interesting part is when he struggles and doesn't get to the line, people cry that he needs to be more aggressive and drive the ball more, which in their mind leads to more fouls. That's not exactly true. In this game, Tatum only had 13 drives and had 2 FTA off those drives. His approach wasn't all that different from what we've seen during his slump, the difference was his overall whistle was better. That's what made the last two games, where the guy had 3 FTA total, so frustrating. Everything last night was played at the perfect pace, nothing really felt forced from Tatum, and when you add in his 11 rebounds and 8 assists, I feel confident in stating that he was the best player on the floor.
In a game the Celts needed, their best player showed up. That's important.
- It went kind of under the radar given the offensive explosion, but the Celts limiting the Cavs to just 4 2nd chance points in the second half was pretty massive. Outside of one or two bad OREBs late, they tightened that up after the half and as you know, the easiest way to build a lead is to finish defensive possessions clean. Jaylen kept talking about how important rebounding was during timeouts, and the Celts won the rebounding battle 43-38. To me, it was almost as if Jarrett Allen wasn't a factor, which doesn't happen often.
- Finally, this team didn't come out of halftime dead ass asleep. A quick 7-0 run got the Celts lead to 10, and that was pretty much it. Their season long trend of starting pretty terrible coming out of the break is very confusing, so it was nice to see the other side of the coin finally. Good defense, better offense, loving and trusting. That's the formula.
- Say it with me now. Sam Hauser is a 3&D sensation. That's not me saying it, that's the tape
- When it comes to Robert Williams, I am convinced he's on the Al Horford plan. He knows he has to be smart when it comes to how he plays, because his value is more important in two months than it is today. But when he wants to? Rob can dial it back and bring out Vintage Rob
So much is made about Rob not being the same guy, and I'm here to tell you that Rob is still Rob. He's the same guy, with a smarter approach. This game was a perfect example of that, just look at how he runs/jumps/reacts. It's the same Rob we know and love. This is not a guy who no longer has the physical capabilities after his knee issue. This is a guy that is just being smarter about when he unleashes it. He's pacing himself.
Even with the lob that he missed, Rob still got basically to the top of the square. His OREB is still a weapon too let's not forget. In a potential series against a Cavs team with this type of size, having this version of Rob is crucial, and I think everyone should exhale. Rob is fine. Rob is good. Rob is Rob.
- In terms of the Celts offensive approach, I liked that 38 of their 78 FGA came in the paint. I didn't love that they went 22-38, but I liked the aggressive mindset. 10 of their first 13 points came in the paint, and once that happened the threes soon started falling I imagine because guys were feeling good.
- Not the best shooting night for Jaylen (6-15), but he wasn't alone there. Smart went just 3-11, Brogdon/White combined for 3-10, it's crazy the team as a whole still finished 50/50% because those are 4 pretty important offensive players. It's not a cause for concern or anything, let's not overreact, but those guys struggled when it came to putting the ball in the basket. At least with Derrick he found ways to still make an impact (5 assists 0 TOs), but they all can be much better.
- Especially Malcolm. He had a very weird game and not in any sort of good way. The 1-5 (0-2) is whatever to me. I know Malcolm Brogdon can shoot. What bothered me was his 4th quarter play. The whole reason he's on this team is to help calm things down in the 4th, things that the Celts struggled with during their Finals run last year.
Well, then what the hell was this
I'll tell you what it was. It was very bad. Everyone knows the way the Celts let teams back into games is by committing live ball turnovers. Brogdon is too good a player to come in for 5:50 in the 4th quarter and then turn it over 3 times while not making a shot. Again, I don't care about the shooting. I care about the ball control and the decision making in the fourth quarter. That needs to be better. On the season, Brogdon is tied with Smart for 20 4th quarter turnovers. There hasn't really been a difference there, and that's something to keep an eye on with all this talk about closing lineups.
- What makes playing the Cavs so tough is how good their guards are at scoring the basketball. Both Mitchell and Garland are legit 3 level scorers, and this was yet another game where I felt like the Celts perimeter defense was very poor. They struggled at stopping the point of attack, especially with Mitchell, and both of those guys lived in the paint. Just look at their shot chart
The Celtics have to find a way to getting back to providing some sort of resistance on the perimeter when facing these elite offensive guards. Brunson got wherever he wanted in the Knicks loss, and I would say the same was true for the Cavs guards in this game. If this team cannot find ways to stop dribble drives, they're cooked. With how many plus defenders the Celts have on the perimeter, this should not be such a glaring issue, but it's something that has become a bit of a problem.
In a playoff series, shit like that is how you get upset. The defense has to tighten up and it starts up top.
- Interesting decision by Joe to give Grant a DNP-CD, he explained it was matchup related as to why he went with Muscala, but Moose didn't exactly do anything offensively. He did allow them to have more rim pressure on the floor which worked out, but if you look at Grant's mintues recently I'm not so sure it was truly just matchup dependent.
He's been at 20 minutes or less in 3 of the last 4, and in his 29 minutes against PHI he was pretty terrible, so maybe the elbow is acting up? Maybe he's just in a rut? Who knows. It's not like Blake or Kornet played either, but this is something to keep an eye on. I'll be interested to see how many minutes he gets against BKN/NYK ahead of the CLE rematch. He's a pretty important rotation player so I'm not exactly sure how this shakes out.
- I know this is a me thing, but Tatum missing 3 FTA bothered me.
- It's very fucked up that we as fans couldn't even sit back and relax with a 20 point lead, all because the Celts stopped playing and got careless in the fourth quarter. I find that to be very mean and totally uncalled for. This stretch run is stressful enough, I don't need to be sweating 20 point leads. Clean it up.
Losing the 4th quarter 35-21, it was both the most points they allowed and the fewest points they scored in any quarter of this game. Just 33/37% splits with 5 FGM and 5 TOs, it was as if the entire roster went braindead for those final 12 minutes. They lost the points in the paint battle 20-4, and as you saw above it's because they could not keep either guard out of the paint. Sure Garland hit some deep threes late, but those two were just 4-10 from three in the quarter, yet had 25 points.
The Celts as a team scored 21.
Call me crazy, but an entire roster should not be getting outscored by two players to close out a game. Up 20 to win by 4 is about as close as you can get to a disaster without it actually being a disaster. Hopefully, they learn from it because it's clear Donovan Mitchell and the Cavs play a full 48. I was so impressed with Mitchell who was doing all this with a fucked up groin, and it should be a reminder that this Celts team needs to play and be locked in until the clock hits 0.0.
If they don't last night's 4th quarter happens and it more often than not will result in a loss. We've seen it before.
But overall? Great bounce back win. I don't even remember the Knicks loss if we're being honest. Now it's time to close out the next two at home strong and keep riding this wave of momentum. There's only 19 games left, so it's time to buckle down and win.