After a 13 day West Coast road trip, the first game back can be tricky. Add in the whole Celts on 2 day rest thing (6-6), and Tyrese Haliburton being back in the lineup, and it was important that the Celts didn't just assume they would win this game. We just saw what the Pacers are capable of in a game like this, even without Haliburton. Remember this from 9 days ago when the Bucks finally returned home after their road trip (w/ Giannis playing)?
If the recent losses to the Rockets and Jazz have taught the Celts anything, it's that we are now in the part of the schedule where you cannot be throwing away games and losing to bad teams at home. Winning the games you're supposed to is just as important as winning the big matchups. At this point, they all count the same and they need to be played with the same focus, energy, and effort. It seems like whatever Al Horford said to this team the other day has clearly worked. Love Al for that.
Maybe the most important part of these last two big wins? The Celts didn't blow a huge lead. There was no sweating the 4th quarter, no reverting back to bad habits and playing like assholes. We got back to back 48 minute efforts (last night was more 45 since that's when the guys got pulled) which at the end of the day is all we're really asking for as fans. Just play the right way and everything will take care of itself. The talent is there, and the strategy is right, just execute it for a full 48 and chances are things will work out in your favor.
This win isn't really about the Pacers. Who cares that they beat the Pacers. This is about the Celts and making sure they continue to take steps forwards. Build on their momentum and finish the year strong. If that's in the 1 seed or 2 seed, so be it. Just get back to playing the way we know they can and they'll be fine. Winning a game like last night is a step in that direction, even if the opponent is headed for the Lottery. Last time I checked the win counts all the same.
With that said, let's dive in.
- I don't want to get ahead of myself, but it appears we are entering an "I'm done fucking around" zone with Jayson Tatum. We saw it in the Kings win and from the opening tip we saw that exact player again last night
As some of you may know by now, when I see a Celtic do something that puts them in the same sentence as Larry fucking Bird, I consider it a big deal. Jayson Tatum seems to be doing that a lot lately this season, and last night was no exception
Call me crazy, but that's a pretty good list to find yourself on! Only some of the greatest Celtics in the history of the entire goddamn franchise, no big deal.
In the end,. Tatum finished with 34/7/2 on 13-24 (3-9) and a team best +23 in his 32 minutes. There are a few things I love about that line. I love how his minutes were low (for him). I'll take 32 minutes every day of the week at this point of the season. Then, there's the efficiency. Did you know this is the first time since 11/28-11/30 that Tatum has had back to back games of over 50% shooting? What was the biggest difference in the Kings and Pacers games? His approach. Everything was at the rim first in both games. Here's last night's
Something that has stood out in these performances is Tatum's strong starts, and I don't really consider that to be an accident. He had another 13 points in last night's first quarter, and a total of 7 of his 9 FGA came in the paint/restricted area. This isn't to say Tatum is never going to take 3PA, I mean he did take 9 in this game, but none of them really felt all that forced. Something tells me the approach we're seeing of more Tatum possessions in the post and more attacking the rim is going to be the formula for the playoffs.
Basketball doesn't always have to be complicated. If you're struggling offensively, get your ass in the paint. Find easier/closer looks and get to the FT line. Whether this is Tatum recognizing this or it's Joe telling him, I don't really care. I'm just glad it's happening.
- The beauty of this team is that when Jayson Tatum heads to the bench to get his rest, the time comes to hand things over to Jaylen Brown and let him carry for a while. The results? Pretty fucking good!
Just a little 27/7/4 on 10-23 (3-6) in Jaylen's 33 minutes. As dominant as Tatum was in the first quarter, that's what Jaylen did in the 3rd. He led all scorers with 15 points while playing all 12 minutes and it was that quarter that the Celts found their seperation. A 5 point game at the break, by then time the game moved to the 4th quarter the lead was 16, and you can largely thank Jaylen for that.
It was pretty clear there was not a defender on the Pacers who were quick or strong enough to contain Jaylen offensively, especially on his drives. Not only did he lead the game in points in that quarter, he also led everyone in FTA (5) as well. When it came to big momentum plays, Jaylen delivered whether it was that huge 3PM coming off a scramble or the AND1s on his drives. The man who declared that the energy was once again about to shift, was doing all the shifting.
I also want to shoutout Jaylen's defense. At times, Jaylen can be inconsistent on that end, especially off ball. Since he came back with the mask? He's been practically lights out on that end. A true two way monster. The two best players look to be locking in right at the perfect time.
When the Jays have it cooking like this, good luck.
- For the second game in a row, I thought Derrick White was the best guard on the floor for this team. We're at the point where I just don't think you can take him out of the starting lineup unless there's some sort of matchup where you need the additional size. But in most cases? Just let this man do his thing
Add in another block, and it's pretty clear Derrick is having an All NBA Defense caliber season in addition to everything he's doing on the offensive end, and that shit is about as good as it gets. Watching him play, it's very clear that this is a man that no longer hesitates offensively. It's almost as if he now has a new self belief that not only is he worthy of habing a larger share offensively, for this team to be the best version of themselves it almost requires him to do it. Look at how confidently he took those 3PA. Derrick finished 3rd on the team with 17 FGA after having 11 against the Kings and I think it's fair to suggest that he certainly had more of an offensive role compared to the HOU loss (8 FGA) and the UTA loss (7 FGA). To me, that's one of the the biggest changse in his season this year. Not just the shooting splits, but the confidence and the approach.
With all the attention the Jays get, having White be ready and confident once he gets the ball is what makes this team nearly impossible to guard. I can trust he's going to make the right decision whether that's for himself or a teammate, and when we have a game in which he does both, notice how the Celts won by 23 and 25 points?
Remember that brutal drought White was in from behind the arc coming out of the break? Guy couldn't buy a bucket. Well, over his last 10 games, Derrick is back to shooting 41.5% from deep on good volume (5.3 3PA). That's a big deal.
- The amount of joy the team and the fanbase as a whole gets when we see Robert Williams do Robert Williams things on a basketball court cannot be understated.
Or said another way…..
Even Joe knows
Rob changes everything. He's the ultimate ceiling raiser for this team and it's why his health status might be the biggest deciding factor to just how deep the Celtics can go in the playoffs. I know it was maybe frustrating that they were holding him out for so long with that hamstring issue, but this is why you have to do it. Having Rob healthy and back to his old self is the only thing that matters right now. There's a reason every single player talks about how important Rob is to what they want to do, and it's not just the actual production either.
When Rob is on the floor, players don't even fuck with the paint. If they do, bad things happen for them. That physchological advantage is a weapon, and how this defense can go up a few more levels. Players spend a split second wondering where Rob is and that ruins their entire flow. If they don't see him, they know he's there somewhere lurking, ready to swat that shit into another dimension. It's very similar to the backline defense we see the Bucks use with Giannis. He's not in a play and then all of the sudden he's at the rim blocking a shot. Players are worried about where he is at all times. The same is true for Rob.
- I would say this game was a great example of every player who touched the floor found a way to fill their role to perfection. The Jays did the heavy lifting offensively. Derrick was aggressive. Al hit some threes, owned the glass (9 rebounds) and moved the ball (4 assists). Smart played arguably one of his better games in the last month, finishing with 5 assists, 3 steals, 0 TOs and just 3 FGA. Hauser came in and was locked and loaded (3-4 from deep). Shit, even Grant did his job!
When everyone sticks to their clearly defined roles and this team plays as a cohesive unit, they are the best team in the NBA. Period. When they collectively move the ball like we saw last night (28 assists), it should be no surprise that they are dropping 120 in regulation and making 18 3PM. These last two games are the exact way the Celts need to play, even when they are facing teams that can actually play defense. The approach and the mindset are the important part, not the result.
- I need to know what Tyrese Haliburton has against this team man. I don't get it. It's not like the Celts passed on him at the Draft or anything so what is this beef? By beef I just mean his desire to absolutely kill the Celts. He was insane in the first two meetings and then had another 20/6/9 in his 28 minutes last night. Haliburton plays like the Celts screwed him over or something. The team is headed for the Lottery, he had missed the previous 6 games, and just so happened to come back against the Celts. Early in this game, he got whatever he wanted and the Pacers were right there.
A hell of a player, I just want to know what happened that makes him so motivated to crush this team.
- Eventually things settled down defensively, I mean holding a team to 95 points in today's NBA is pretty hard to do, but the defense early was pretty gross. Giving up 32 points in a quarter on 60/40% splits, no starter missed more than 2 FGA in their minutes, there just wasn't a whole lot of resistance early. Add in some brutal Celtics turnovers to start (4), and I think every Celts fan was maybe a little nervous after the first 12 minutes given how both games against IND have gone this year.
- Please grow up and stop missing 5 FTs every single game. This is a team that shoots 82% as a team and yet they have been floating around the high 60s for the last 3 games. That is not acceptable for a team with such great FT shooters.
- Between that and all the missed bunnies
I certainly do not love this recent bad habit of leaving so many points on the board. FTs and layups should be easy. When we get into the playoffs, you cannot do stuff like this. I'm not saying they have to be perfect, but look at that shot chart! I don't think it's an insane ask to expect a professional basketball team to make layups and FTs. Maybe it is, but come on.
- It's hard to complain too much about a game in which the Celts had a 29 point lead, but two things fit this section.
First, the fourth quarter TOs. The team finished with 6, with Tatum having 3 by himself. Fortunately it was the Pacers and they didn't make the Celts pay for those mistakes, but that doesn't excuse the mistakes. Lazy passing, poor ball control, that in no way was acceptable. When nearly half of your team total in TOs comes in the 4th quarter (6 of the 14), maybe clean that shit up.
Second, just like I said after the SAC game, I need Joe to be smarter with minutes in these blowouts. The regulars didn't come out until the 2:50 mark against the Kings, and then last night he put Jaylen back in with the score at like 28 or something like that. I also didn't love Derrick White being out there with the scrubs, he's too important as well.
It's not about the rest factor. It's about the fact that you are always one rolled ankle away from potentially fucking up your season. So in a game in which the Celts are leading by 20+ points with 7 minutes left, please take everyone the fuck out. It's March 25th.
With the big date against MIL coming up on 3/30, it's very important the Celts stay focused and don't overlook their game tomorrow against the Spurs. That has trap game written all over it. Take care of your business in that game and then it's time for the biggest game of the year. If this is the version of the Celts we're going to get, the #1 seed is absolutely still in play.
Love and trust.