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The Celtics Finally Got Healthy And Immediately Looked As Dominant As Ever In A Massive Win Over The Kings To End Their West Coast Trip

Rocky Widner. Getty Images.

If I were to tell you on March 10th before the first game of this 6 game West Coast trip that the Celts would finish 4-2, I think most people would take that. After kicking the shit out of the 2nd/3rd seed in the West in their own building, that is how the Celts did on this pretty important trip. You could make the case it could have and should have been even better, but 4-2 is 4-2. It may not seem like a huge difference, but the vibe and overall mentality of a 4-2 finish compared to 3-3 where you would have lost back to back games to end the trip is massive.

The Celts enter today one of 2 teams in the entire league to hit 50 wins at this point of the year. Their 24-14 road record remains the best in the NBA. After losing 3 in a row to start the month, there were questions if the Celts could snap out of it. Well, since that 3rd loss on March 6th, here is how the Celts have responded

Sadly, the sky is not falling. That doesn't mean this team has been playing their best basketball during this stretch, far from it. There have been plenty of times when we've seen them play like assholes. But what do I always say? Perspective is still important. The #1 seed is still alive, they are back to having a 1.0 (really 2.0 w/ tie breaker) lead over PHI for the 2 seed, and 6 of the final 9 games are now at the Garden. Everything is still on the table and right in front of this team if they continue to play the right way, and now with Rob finally back and this team healthy for the first time in a long time, how did things look to you last night? 

I can understand being frustrated when this team doesn't play to their potential. Everyone feels that way. But what I don't understand is how many people can't seem to handle a little adversity. Suddenly the coach is a disaster, Tatum isn't a star, Smart isn't the right PG, it's all so dramatic. It's almost as if the last like 200 games of Celtics basketball haven't happened or something. 

It's really as simple as this. We know the formula for how the Celts need to play for them to be successful. The big picture stuff is already figured out whether it's lineups or style. What matters with this team is execution. When this team plays the way we know they need to in order to be successful, we have games like last night. When they don't, is when you see games like HOU.

The best way to describe this team in my opinion is they are certainly good enough to win the title when they play the right way, but they are not good enough to survive playing the wrong way. What even is playing the wrong way? You know it when you see it. No energy or effort, nobody is guarding their yard, the ball isn't moving, guys are settling offensively, the team is careless with the basketball etc. No shit when you do all that stuff in a game you're probably going to lose.

But when the Celts don't? They are nearly unbeatable.

Which is why I think last night was important for this group, especially mentally. For the first time in forever we finally got to see this team operate as it was intended, and the results speak for themselves. Let's talk about em.

The Good

- The final game of a 10+ day, 6 game West Coast trip is a huge mental toughness game. Especially when you're playing in a building where the team is 21-15 and one of the best offenses in NBA history. When you have a game like this, it's pretty important that your best players set the tone right from the jump. These are the games where guys might be tired or ready to be home, and the franchise guys have to do franchise guy shit.

May I present to you said franchise guy shit. We begin with Jayson Tatum

I feel confident in saying this was easily one of Tatum's best games since the All Star Break. I'd probably have the 41/11/8 on 66/60% shooting in the CLE win over it, but other than that? This was about as complete a performance from Tatum as you're going to see. 

It wasn't just his 36/8/4 on 14-25 (2-7) shooting with only 1 TO in his 35 minutes, it was how he did it that matters.

Right away Tatum was aggressive and imposed his will on this game. The man had half of the team's points in the first quarter (15) on 5-8 (2-4) and 3-5 from the FT line to go with his team leading 4 rebounds and 3 assists. What we saw was a version of Jayson Tatum that was fully engaged, and you can tell when that happens simply by his approach. This is what it looks like when Jayson Tatum decides to not fuck around

The biggest difference in this performance plays into something I truly feel like will be the playoff adjustment for Tatum and this offense. 

Post this man up.

First, let's talk about the raw numbers. On the season, Jayson Tatum ranks in the 94th percentile in Post Up situations, averaging 1.27 points per possession while shooting 58% from the floor. Not only that, but he finds his way to the line 29.6% of the time he does it. If you care about how frequently someone scores out of Post Ups, Tatum's 63.3% is the 3rd highest of any player who has at least 1.0 post up possession a game. 

It's a weapon.

In last night's game alone he had 7 post up possessions which was the most of any game this season. Compare that to the fact that he had only 7 post ups in the entire month of March prior to last night, that's a pretty noticeable jump. What makes this such a devastating approach for defenses is the fact that it's not just about Tatum's scoring. It's about putting him in a position to make the defense react and collapse, so he can then move the ball and find shooters, just like we saw last night. 

What I loved is this wasn't something that Tatum did early and then faded late. He put that pressure on all night. In the 4th quarter, of his 6 FGA, only 1 came outside the restricted area. In the entire second half, only 4 of his 12 FGA came outside the paint. Seeing that and then seeing the score, and it all makes sense. 

- Then there's Jaylen Brown. I've long said the best part about having Tatum and Brown on your favorite team is that you have BOTH Tatum and Brown on your favorite team. That rules because when one sits, the other comes in and dominates

The Celts aren't going to lose many games when they get that type of Tatum performance and then get to add a nice little 27/5/4 on 10-16 (4-7) shooting from Jaylen Brown. How rare is what we're watching with these two? Oh I dunno, pretty fucking rare

With Jaylen, this level of play isn't all that new. We've seen the Power of the Mask for weeks now, and I'm not sure it gets more consistent than this

Since the break, Jaylen is averaging 27.8/6.4/4.0 on 50/38% splits. The man is putting this team on his back and then some while playing at an All NBA level. That is fact, not opinion.

Just like the Tatum post ups stood out, with Jaylen what was most noticeable about his performance was how playmaking off drives. Look at those TO numbers. I'll take a 6 game stretch where Jaylen finishes with 24 assists to just 10 TOs. He looks so much more in control on his dribble drives, most importantly keeping his head and eyes up. Joe's lineup switch in terms of his substitution patterns where Jaylen is now the main guy with the 2nd unit to start the 2nd quarter has allowed him to flourish in this aspect of his offensive arsenal. It no longer really feels like he's just driving to the rim without a purpose or where the only thing he can do is finish at the rim. It goes without saying what a massive jump that would be for this offense if Jaylen continues to pass the ball like this off drives, because we already know that teams are going to collapse on him once he puts the ball on the floor. 

In this game, Jaylen finished with 13 drives. He went 5-5 from the floor while also making 7 passes out of those drives which lead to 2 assists. If you're telling me Jaylen is going to be aggressive like this, be that efficient AND take care of the basketball, well then let's fucking go.

- Outside of the Jays, the most important area of this team for me is guard play. If the Celts get shitty guard play, nothing else really matters. When their guard play shows up? You cannot beat them. Last night, that starts with the play of Derrick White. Joe kept him in the starting lineup even with Rob back, and boy did he deliver

In hilarious Derrick White fashion, last night was probably the quietest 20/7/12 (1 TO) performance you'll ever see. Not in the sense that it wasn't impactful, but in the sense that you look down and say what a fucking minute…..Derrick is doing WHAT?!?!?

It goes without saying he was the best guard on the floor for the Celts last night, and I'm talking both ends of the floor too. He led all Celtics with 37 minutes where he was a +18, and whether he needed to knock down open catch & shoot looks or find ways to create for others, Derrick answered pretty much every call he had in this game. 

For a long time I was pretty stubborn that as long as Rob was healthy, this team should ride with the starting lineup that dominated the NBA. Now sitting here on March 22nd, even with Rob back healthy I don't know if you can take Derrick out of the starting five. For whatever reason, this version of the Celts where they start one big with Derrick at the 2 spot works better. Maybe you adjust things based on matchup in a playoff series, but even still I think we've reached the point where the sample is large enough to trust the numbers. 

While it is a little crazy that 10 of White's 11 FGA were 3PA, I didn't feel as though he took any bad ones. Everything came within the flow of the offense, and if you're open you have to let that shit fly with confidence. Honestly, if you have a 12:1 assist to turnover ratio in a game like Derrick did, I'm not going to give a shit what you do in terms of shooting the ball. 

- What makes the Celts so tough though is they don't just have one of these type of guards, they have 3. You pair that White performance with 17/2/7 from Smart and another couple assists from Brogdon (who didn't reall play all that well tbh), and if your guard trio is putting up 21 assists and only 2 TOs, you're probably going to be in pretty good shape.

We all know that turnovers mean death for this team, and a huge part of that is the guards making sure they aren't careless. There were virtually zero live ball turnovers, and even in the rare event the Celts had one, their transition defense (White) was fantastic in terms of limiting scoring opportunities. The Kings had just 2 fastbreak points all game!

- For all the complaining you see about Mazzulla Ball, people seem to act like 132 points in regulation, 53/40% splits, 18 3PM, 33 assists and just 5 TOs isn't good? Guess what, we're 73 games into the season and Mazzulla Ball is still effective…..as long as they play it.

Great ball movement, low turnovers, taking open looks with confidence, and defending. That's the formula. That's Mazzulla Ball

- We all asked for a full 48 minute performance and that's what we got. They looked like the team we've seen all year, and that was very encouraging. There was no blown leads once the Celts got up by double digits. Every time the Kings tried to make a run, the Celts immediately responded. Joe was great with timeouts. Guys like Grant shut the hell up and just did his job whether that was taking charges or diving for loose balls. 

It was a performance I think the entire team needed to see and experience to help remind themselves that yeah, they can be pretty good when they show up for a full 48.

- Rob looked like Rob. It was hard to ignore his impact, he did his thing on the glass and honestly his 5 fouls to me were more conditioning related than anything else. The fact that he had no setbacks is also very important.

The Bad

- It's a small thing, but I was far too nervous with Joe keeping the regulars on the floor in that 4th quarter for way too long once the lead got to like 19+. It was a 21 point game at the 5:51 mark, and we didn't see the roster change until 2:50. That might not seem like a long time, but we're in late March. One turned ankle can fuck your entire season up. This was maybe OK to do in December, but not now. You get a lead like that, I need every important player on ice for the rest of the quarter. 

I will say it's very Celtics that even in a game the Celts were dominant, I still had to sweat a 4th quarter, even if it was for other reasons outside of the score. Can we please not do that again? Thank you.

- While it didn't end up mattering, I'm still not loving all these 4th quarter OREB. To see Sabonis still give them issues there while both Al and Rob were on the floor, that's concerning. It's maybe been the #1 issue for this team since the break. They have to figure out how to stop giving up 4th quarter OREBs at the rate in which we're seeing. It's a bad habit that we've already seen cost the Celts games.

- I can't sit here and tell you it's a good thing to see Smart airball like 4 straight 3PA. What even was that? All of them were wide open too, which is very funny considering after air balling all those shots, he of course came back and made a heavily contested 3PA. He finished 6-15 (3-9) which is whatever, but that sequence when he couldn't even hit the backboard? That was very gross. 

While some of his misses were in & outs, that stretch where nothing was even close was probably due to tired legs but still. Woof.

- He's allowed one of these types of nights every once in a while, but 2-8 for only 4 points from Brogdon in his 21 minutes wasn't that great. Some missed layups, missed open looks, just an off night for a guy who is having a great year. 

- I find it a little funny that for a guy that is allowed to push off the way he is and is allowed to use his off arm to create space on every possession, Domantas Sabonis sure does complain a lot about a lack of foul calls. 

The Ugly

- What do we put in this section in a game that was a blowout? Easy. 

What the fuck is going on from the FT line these last two games? The Celts as a team shoot 82%. Well, against the Jazz we saw an 11-16 performance, and then last night it was another 16-23, with Tatum missing 5 FTs by himself. 

I'm sorry, but shooting in the 60s from the line is pretty unacceptable. For a team that has offensive droughts, you can't be giving away that many points at the FT line. We saw it in close games and we saw it in a blowout. The annoying part is this is a very good FT shooting team, so what's the deal. Is it tired legs? Well then why did they shoot 18-44 from deep?

FTs are important. Please stop missing so many.

And now here we go. Back home for a couple before the massive game with MIL. As I said, everything is still on the table for this team as long as they continue to play the way we know they should. Love and Trust.