Jayson Tatum Made Some Celtics History While Carrying The Team To A Massive Win To Kick Off Their Season Defining Road Trip
The Celtics have 14 games remaining on their schedule as of today. While the playoffs might not start for another month or so, to me things are really already underway. I feel confident in saying that every single one of those remaining 14 games is going to feel like a playoff game given how important each one is going to be the rest of the way.
After the Warriors beat the Bucks in OT last night, the Celts woke up this morning just 1.5 games back (2 in the loss column) of regaining their #1 seed, and they still have a head to head matchup with MIL coming on 3/30. Everything is still on the table for them at this point of the year, which means stacking wins and executing at a high level have now become even more important. This isn't December, it's time to get serious.
That means kicking off this potentially season defining 6 game road trip the right way. If any team in the league that needs to stack road wins right now is going to get it done, I suppose the team with the current best road record in the entire NBA is a pretty good candidate. This win moved the Celts to 21-12 away from home this year and 23-14 against teams .500 or better. One of those is the best record in the NBA and the other is the second most wins vs good teams in the NBA. Those seem like pretty important metrics in my opinion.
When you have a long trip like this, you can't look ahead and you can't overlook a team. The best teams stay focused in the moment and take care of their immediate task, which is what the Celts did last night. Was it always pretty? God no. Are there things that they need to clean up? Absofuckinglutely. But at the end of the day, style points are not what is important right now.
Wins are what's important.
And that's what they did. While I'm not a huge math guy, I'm pretty sure it's not possible to start a road trip better than 1-0, so now it becomes about building on this win and riding this momentum to their next location (HOU). Last night does nothing if you immediately give the game back, but before we look ahead of course we must first talk about what we watched.
- As a franchise, the Boston Celtics have played nearly 7,000 games since they were created in 1946. That's a lot of basketball games. Think of how many NBA legends have worn a Celtics jersey over that span, think of all the insane moments each of those guys had during their runs.
What if I told you, that at no point in any of those 7,000 games did we see ANY of those Celtics legends accomplish at ANY point in their career what we witnessed Jayson Tatum do last night. Go ahead, run down the list of legends in your head, it doesn't matter. Nobody, in the history of the Boston Celtics ever did this
Call me crazy, but 34/15/6 with a block on 12-25 (5-14) shooting and only 1 TO in 35 minutes is pretty fucking good. There are a few things to love about Tatum's night, starting with the fact that as the best player on the court, Tatum set the tone early. Usually we have to work through a slow first quarter start for Tatum, but not last night. His 12 points on 5-8 (2-3) were huge in keeping pace with the Hawks, and given that we're at the point of the year where the best player needs to show up and carry, that's pretty much what Tatum did.
It was very obvious early in this game that Tatum was going to be able to get to the rim at will, so it was nice to see him stay aggressive throughout the entire game. This doesn't mean never shoot 3PA, he did take 14, but overall his approach was exactly what you should want to see
I'd go so far as to suggest that Tatum should probably have had 40 if not for some layups spinning out on him, but if the Celts are going to get this aggressive version of Tatum who not only attacks the rim but also owns the glass and starts making his 3s, well then the Celts are going to be just fine.
Part of this production comes as a result of playing a pretty dogshit defense, but I'm sorry I forgot I'm supposed to give a shit about that. I want wins and I want guys producing to their potential, that's about it. Good defenses bad defenses who gives a shit right now.
Being the best player isn't just about showing up early and helping your team get off to a good start. You have to be there in the end, when the team might need you most in the game's biggest moments. Jayson Tatum did that in the 4th quarter. His 11 points on 4-7 (2-4) led the team, and when it came time for someone to step up and hit big shots, Tatum delivered.
After putting this team on his back for 35 minutes, perhaps the best part of Tatum's night is what came after the game was over
This comes as no surprise to anyone who has listened to a word Tatum has said since October, but of course, the usual trolls of the world are probably sick to their stomach since their "Tatum cares more about individual shit than a title" takes continue to look dumber by the day.
- When Tatum plays like this, the Celts are hard enough to beat. When they get this version of Tatum AND get to add a solid Jaylen Brown performance as well, they're nearly unbeatable
Last night was another example of why you shouldn't have really panicked after Jaylen's off shooting night against the Blazers. By that game his legs had to be shot. Now, with 2 days rest, guess who got being back to his old unstoppable and efficient self?
With a solid 24/5/7non 10-18 (1-5) with 2 steals and only 1 TO in his 37 minutes, there are simply not a lot of teams that are going to be able to survive a game in which both the Jays are getting whatever they want and are efficient along the way. Not only that, but if they're going to finish with 13 assists and only 1 TOs in addition to their efficient scoring, well then good fucking luck.
This was the second game in his last 3 that Jaylen has finished with at least 7 assists, and just like Tatum, it's hard to argue with his approach from this game
it's really not that complicated. If the Celts two best players are going to be able to get into the paint and at the rim with this kind of ease, then once their 3s start to fall you're fucked. It has to be one or the other when playing Tatum/Brown, you can't get burned in both zones.
I think back to what Jaylen said the other night postgame, about how things start at the top with him and Jayson
I'd say that's exactly what they did. That's how you be a leader.
- As important as those two guys are to the overall success of this team, we cannot overlook how important their guard play is. When they get elite guard play, it takes the Celts to a level that few teams can match. When their guard play does more harm than good, it really doesn't matter how good the Jays are. Everything will always come back to guard play.
Last night was an example of what things look like when the guard trio delivers.
Marcus Smart: 11/1/6
Derrick White: 18/4/7
Malcolm Brogdon: 18/4/5
Together, the three combined for 18 assists and 5 TOs (Smart 2, Brogdon 3) while also shooting a combined 7-13 from deep. Derrick and Malcolm combined for 15-22 shooting overall, which is fairly ridiculous. Even on a night where he was 4-12, when it came time for big moments in the 4th, Smart came through
Trae Young may have had 35, but it came on 12-27 shooting so it's not as if they weren't making things tough on him. When the guards are passing like they did last night while also taking care of the ball, it's no surprise the offense looks great. The ball was moving, guys were passing up good looks for great looks, and everyone trusted one another to make the right play.
That is how this team will win.
- What we witnessed was yet another example of what happens when this team plays the right way. It's why Tatum kept stressing "play the right way" in his postgame interview the other night. When they do it, they look drastically different.
Finishing with 35 assists and only 8 TOs is some prime Warriors shit. Every single starter not named Al Horford had at least 6 assists. That's insane! How important is this type of ball movement to the Celts success? Oh I dunno, seems pretty important to me!
If I were to find a poster child for what Mazzulla Ball is supposed to look like offensively, last night was it.
- It's truly incredible what this team is getting out of Blake Griffin. I don't really care about the 4-6 shooting or the 8 points, those all came on wide open layups as a result of the P&R and shit.
Here's what I care about when it comes to Blake. For starters, he knows his role and fills it perfectly. He plays with great energy, he does this thing on the glass, he's elite at taking charges, and he stays within himself when he's on the floor. That's all big.
But it's also time to start talking about how there is clear chemistry with guys like Sam Hauser in these second units, and the two work together beautifully
One thing that has stood out is how well Blake reads things off a short roll into finding Hauser in the corner. This is the second game in a row we've seen that shit work, and to me this is why Blake is getting Grant's minutes right now. He's earning his time on the floor by executing his role at a high level. That's all you can ask from a veteran minimum player, but this is a Joe adjustment that's clearly working at the moment.
Blake is so good at setting screens and has such a high level basketball IQ that you can really put him in any lineup, but having him on the floor with Tatum and the bench unit where he's surrounded by shooters is proving to be rather deadly.
- The Celts got up by as much as 16 and then didn't blow the lead. It got down to 5 I believe at one point sure, but every time the Hawks cut it close, the Celts immediately answered. This is now back to back games we've see the Celts build a double digit lead and then ultimately hold on and not choke it away, and where I come from this is called progress.
- As awesome as the offense may have been, that's how poorly the team defended. Really the only time we saw even an ounce of defense was in the second quarter which the Celts won 34-23, but outside of that the Hawks had at least 28 in every other quarter including two with at least 36.
That is in no way an acceptable level of defense.
When you start a game by giving up 38 points on 66.7% shooting and you end a game by giving up 36 points on 50% shooting, I just don't know how anyone could suggest this team defended well last night, and that's on everyone. Sure, high scoring track meets are fun to watch, but it's also fun to watch the Celts keep a team to under 100. I know this because I had fun watching them hold the Blazers to 93 points the other night.
The Celts giving up 70 points in the paint is not what I would call good, and to lose the 2nd chance points battle 20-5 is what I would call straight up pathetic. Their lack of defensive rebounding and 2nd chance points is what kept the Hawks in this game. Another game with over 20 personal fouls tells me they were once again not defending without fouling, and I just don't think it's wise to always think you're just going to outscore someone. You have to be able to get stops.
Things may have tightened up at the end when they needed to, but the Celts are giving up far too many points for my liking really ever since the Knicks loss a few weeks ago. Since that 2/27 game, the Celts have the 8th best defense in the league which may seem OK, but they're giving up 114 a night which is 14th. That's not good enough.
- I know Blake played well, but it is still surprising to see Grant get DNP-CDs at this point of the year. Unless it's injury related, going only 8 deep against a poor defense like ATL seems a little weird. The whole point of having depth was using it right? Given how important Grant might be in a month, it feels like an odd time to just never have him on the floor.
- At some point, the Celtics need to understand that once a game gets into the fourth quarter, they need to fucking rebound. How many times are they going to see a team come back late all because the Celts couldn't finish a defensive possession clean.
Last night was another example of this issue, and I think it's fair to be legit concerned about it. Joe has called it out publicly and still nothing changes. The Hawks had 5 OREB in the 4th quarter alone in this game, with 3 of them coming in the final 5 minutes. The other two led to putbacks. Rebounding late is about energy and effort, and for some reason this team refuses to box out or rebound with energy in the biggest moments. It's baffling really.
Add in the fact that the Celts played no defense to start the 4th with the Hawks starting like 6-6 or some bullshit, when you finally do force a miss and you still can't get the rebound and the team scores anyway, that's bad. Shit like this
- Outside of some huge Al and Tatum threes and then that massive Al block, I did not love how the Celts closed this game. As good as Marcus Smart was to start the fourth, that's how poor he played to end the fourth. It started with his fumbled fast break layup that could have put the Celts up 12, but instead turned into a Collins AND1 that brought it to 7.
Tatum bailed everyone out with a 3, but that led to the Smart airball three from the corner. OK, fine, an airball up 10 with 1:53 wasn't great but you can get past that. The only problem was Jaylen Brown lost focus and fouled a three point shooter immediately after. Of course Saddiq Bey made it, so now things were down to 6.
Not to worry, Derrick bailed the team out again with a great drive to the rim. On the ensuring possession, this happened
I get it, Smart got hit in the dick by Trae's foot, but this is too much. To me, this entire sequence needs to be avoided given the situation of the game. Luckily that foul was called on the floor or things would have been even worse. For the most part, Smart played a solid game and filled his role. Those last 2 minutes? It was everything he can't be doing while he's on the floor. He got tossed for that pulldown as he should, and to me this was the type of lock of focus that you cannot have. Just get out with the win and move on.
I will say, the Hawks tweeting this out after
was very funny. A fantastic self own using a Luka quote considering you know, they traded Luka for Trae Young. Seeing that almost made me forgive Smart, but as a veteran leader of this team he needs to be better in that situation. Not debateable in my opinion. When he tries to do too much, bad things happen. When he plays within himself and the offense/defense, good things happen. It's that simple.