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The Boston Celtics Thankfully Found A Way To Do The Impossible And Actually Won A Basketball Game

Maddie Meyer. Getty Images.

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Thank fucking God. 

Relief. That's really all I felt immediately after the clock hit 0.0 last night. Enough was enough already with this team and their inability to win a basketball game due to not being able to hold a double digit lead, even at home. When you're in a rut, you need a slump buster. You just need a win on your books where you can get your groove back and remind yourself that you can actually do this shit, even if it's not something you're immediately going to show off to your buddies afterward. 

The Blazers have a top 7 offense, but they're a lottery team. This isn't about them. This is about the Celtics, and getting over whatever mental hurdle we saw them struggle with during their 3 game skid and 1-5 stretch. It was almost like they needed to remind themselves that you know what? We're actually pretty good when we don't play like complete assholes! I don't really care who is on the other side, the Celts need to start stacking wins. Period.

It's important to remember that one win doesn't mean everything is back to normal. That's not how it works. One win stops the bleeding, that's really it. You then have to build on this win if you want to consider things back to normal. With the Celts about to head out on a 6 game West Coast trip, we're about to see if they can do just that. Luckily, at 20-12 they are tied for the best road record in the NBA. If anyone can win on the road, it's them.

But in terms of last night, it was just good to see the Celts get back to what actually makes them a legit contender. The energy was there, it was arguably the best defensive performance of the year, the ball was moving and the threes were dropping. It sure does help to play a dogshit defense, but as I said, that's the whole point of a slump buster. The Blazers aren't a 10/10 smokeshow, and that's OK. Every win won't be. 

I say for the first time in a LONG time, let's just enoy a night where this team didn't put us through absolute hell. It's the small victories in life that matter sometimes, so let's talk about it.

The Good

- It sure was nice to see Jayson Tatum establish himself as the best basketball player on the court in a game that included Damian Lillard, I'll say that much. Tatum was fantastic

30/7/2 on 11-17 (6-10) shooting and a team best +21 in his 30 minutes, there were a few reasons to enjoy Tatum's performance. For starters, the actual basketball he played was pretty perfect. It started with his effort on the defensive end, that sets the tone for everyone really, and when Tatum is locked in and engaged, his offense tends to follow.

So when he started off going 3-5 (2-3) int he first quarter, you kind of had a feeling one of these nights was on the horizon, because you looked across the court and there is not a player on the Blazers who can guard him. Matisse Thybulle? Remember when Sixers fans tried to pretend like he had a chance? That was fun. Cam Reddish? Jerami Grant? Don't be silly, put some respect on Tatum's name.

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For example, Reddish/Grant matched up with Tatum for a total of 33 possessions in this game. Tatum finished with 19 points on 8-8 shooting against both of those players. I'm not a huge math guy, but that seems pretty good. 

What I liked about Tatum's approach is nothing really seemed forced. Everything came within the flow of the offense, even his pullup 3PA. When he has it going like he did in this game, he's allowed to take whatever type of shot he wants, because chances are it's still going to be the right play. 

That's Part 1 of his night. The part I may actually like more? He sat the entire 4th. That tells me two things. First, the Celtics didn't blow their massive lead in the 4th quarter, which is a gigantic win given recent events. Second, this is the type of "rest" I think we all want Tatum to have. With all the concern about his minutes and burnout once we get to the postseason, do you know how you solve that? Kick the shit out of teams and then hold onto the lead. In-game rest in March/April should be the goal for all the starters, but especially Tatum. Last night was the fewest minutes Tatum has played since that BKN blowout win. He also did it in the OKC ass kicking loss in early January, and the early December PHX blowout win. Of his 62 appearances this year, he's only been at 30 minutes or fewer a total of 5 times. I'd love to see that number go up this month (due to wins). 

- If we're talking about slump busting, it was great to see a guy like Derrick White do just that. Part of the frustrating part of the 3 game skid was that for some reason, Derrick couldn't buy a bucket to save his life. His approach was great, he was taking good and open looks, just nothing would go down either from behind the arc or at the rim. Just 9-26 (3-9) in the BKN/CLE losses heading into last night, he busted out of his slump in a big way

I will say, keep an eye on the 3PT shooting, because that's still a work in progress. Just 1-5 in this game, Derrick is now shooting just 16% from deep over his last 6 games (4-25). To be honest I'm not too concerned about that, our sample size is large enough this year to know that Derrick is not a 16% three point shooter, and as long as he continues to play with the right approach things should be fine. By my eyes, that's what this is

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When the Celts offense struggles, it's not always the three point shooting. Sometimes guys who are really good around the rim just can't seem to get one to drop. When it comes to Derrick, just compare this to the CLE game. He had so many little floaters rim out from point blank range, it was just really weird. These weren't even really contested

Considering he shoots 70.8% at the rim for the season, last night was basically him getting back to his old self. 

Add in his 7 assists, 2 TOs, and 8-12 shooting overall and this was as good of a bounce back effort as you're going to get from a guy who had been fighting it a little bit recently. Then you add in his mindset

and it's impossible to not love this man. I will say it for the thousandth time. Derrick White is a tremendous Celtic. 

- For this team to be successful and win at a high level, they have to defend at a high level. Period. End of story. Not debatable. The shooting is cool, and the ball security is important, but if you don't defend, you die. It's that simple. 

To do that, it requires all 5 guys on the floor to be locked in. Offenses are too good in today's NBA to the point where any sort of mistake is going to end up in points. Guys are going to feel comfortable and you're in for a long night. Well, this seems like the Celts got the message

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Damian Lillard, arguably one of the most devastating three level scorers in the entire NBA, was essentially a non factor in this game. He had maybe the quietest 27 I've ever seen on 7-16 shooting, and when it came to how the Celts guards matched up with him, they more than held their own

Part of being an elite defense isn't just limiting stars, it's about finishing defensive possessions clean. This is basically what cost the Celts the Cavs game, so to see them respond by holding POR to just 6 OREB and 7 2nd chance points was big. Add in the 36/28% splits and 15 TOs, and it's no surprise that a locked in defense turned into a pretty good offense now is it? 

This is the formula. It's always been the formula and it will always be the formula. Defend first, rain threes second. That's the path. 

- Being able to watch Al Horford play basketball for your favorite team is such a blessing. That's it. That's all that needs to be said. The man is a gift from God

36 years old, 17/6/5 on 7-11 (3-5 shooting) in his 24 minutes, when we get this version of Al (which kind of happens a lot), the Celts go to another level. That's not me saying it, that's coming from Jayson Tatum himself

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I don't want you to get too excited, but Playoff Al is coming. Over his last 9 games we're seeing Al put up 14 a game on 57/59% splits with 3.6 3PM a night. The load management plan is working, and he looks fantastic right now.

- After two games of a style of play that I would deem the exact opposite of how he needs to play, last night was an example of exactly how Marcus Smart SHOULD be playing. I don't really care about the 3-4 (2-2) numbers which were great. So many people care about volume, and that's misguided in my opinion. What matters is the approach.

When Smart has the ball kicked to him on the perimeter, those are the shots he should be taking. In the previous two games, it felt more like he was trying to force his offense as opposed to playing within the game. He was playing way too sped up and out of control, which led to poor decisions and turnovers. Considering that is not how he has played the entire season, it was weird to see and obviously was not working.

Last night he got back to playing the same way he has all year, and look at the results. He passed up a good look for himself for a great look for someone else. He was a pass and defend first/shoot second player and took great care of the basketball (1 TO). To no surprise, he was a +16 in his 21 minutes. 

The Jays are the best players on this team and everything starts and stops with them. But last night was a great example of what happens when Good Smart shows up. He may not be their best player, but how he plays might be just as important as anyone on the roster.

- A quick update on Mazzull Ball since everyone seems to think it doesn't work suddenly.

115 in regulation

18 3PM

49 3PA

26 AST

10 TOs

Yup, looked pretty good to me. When the Celts actually play Mazzulla ball, they tend to win. When they turn the ball over or don't share the rock, they tend to struggle. So much about this offense isn't so much the end result, but how things are generated. Drive and kicks, moving the ball, loving and trusting, it's very clear when the Celts are playing the style that leads them to success, and that's what last night was. They defended at a high level, they took care of the ball, they shared the ball, and they did not hesitate when they found themselves with an open look from deep. 

- OK, if we're going to get on them for all these blown leads, we can at least give them credit for holding onto things once it initially got to 14. The Blazers never threatened, even in the 4th when everyone sat. I knew they could do it, I just think they needed to see it themselves.

- I had no idea what to expect from Blake Griffin this season. I sort of figured he was there for the vibes and maybe some blowouts. Nope. He's actually giving this team solid minutes which is about as much as you could ask from a minimum salary signing. His ability to pass off the short roll is legit, he's a great screener and he's one of the best in the league at taking charges. Game after game he shows that he is willing to die for this team and I respect that immensely. The guy didn't make a shot last night in his 18 minutes and was a +15. That tells you everything you need to know. 

The Bad

- After Smart picked up his 3rd foul in the first 50 seconds of the 2nd quarter, he had to come out. The rest of those 12 minutes were pretty gross offensively. Derrick/Brogon/Hauser combined for a brutal 3-13 (2-10), the team as a whole shot 38/17% and turned it over 5 times. 

Fortunately, the Blazers were just as terrible (17 poitns on 23/0%), but things were not exactly a well oiled machine offensively during that frame. Considering all the TOs came from Tatum/Brown, it didn't really feel as though they were all that organized on that end. 

I don't think it's an accident that in the quarters Smart actually played, the Celts scored 35 and 34 points. In the two he didn't, the Celts scored 25 and 21. There is too much talent on this roster for the offense to tank like that from quarter to quarter just because one guy isn't on the floor, so that's something to keep an eye on.

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- We're still seeing too many fouls for my liking. This team has to get back to being able to defend without fouling, and it's something Joe stressed pregame. The Celts on the season are at the top of the league in opponent FTA rate on the year. Recently, they've been at the bottom of the league and the Blazers had another 27 FTA after committing 20 fouls.

You have to be able to guard effectively without giving up so many FTA. Every game can't be 25+ for the opponent, that's not a winning formula.

- A shitty 4-10 (0-3) shooting night from Jaylen, but that's whatever to me. Given what he's done lately, he deserves a pass. The guy's legs are probably shot after playing a billion minutes in back to back games.

The Ugly

- Big picture, Malcolm Brogdon is having a fantastic season. While the defense is maybe worse than I was expecting, offensively he's been a billion times better. I really don't have too many complaints about his year, but there is one weird trend that makes absolutely no sense to be given this guy's talent level.

Why can't Malcolm Brogdon make layups?

I'm not talking about finishing through guys, I'm talking about missing straight up wide open layups too

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I mean what the hell is this? Make that make sense to me. Brogdon is essentially having the worst season of his career in terms of finishing at the rim, while also shooting about 5000% from three. Again, make that make sense. This isn't just a last night thing, this has been an all year thing for him and my brain just can't comprehend how a guy this talented struggles so badly with wide open layups. So weird.

Overall his 2-13 (1-7) shooting performance was pretty gross, but he did hit the glass well (9 rebounds) and I thought for the most part his defense was pretty good, especially on Dame. I'm just going to have to ask this man to please convert these goddamn layups. My mental health can only take so much.

As I said at the top of the blog, one win doesn't change much. It stops the bleeding. The Celts have to assume the teams around them are not going to start dropping games any time soon, so they need a 5-1 or 4-2 trip in my mind to keep pace. The pressure is on after their losing streak, and only they can dig themselves out of it.

Love and Trust.