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Jayson Tatum Once Again Put The Celtics On His Back And Made Damn Sure There Wasn't Another Letdown Loss Against The Tanking Jazz

Winslow Townson. Getty Images.

As soon as the clock hit 0.0 in the Celtics massacre of the Bucks, I'm pretty sure every Celtics fan said the exact same thing

"This means nothing if they lose Friday to Utah"

Which was true. You can't have a massive win like, that and then immediately follow it up with another egg against a bad team, especially a team that you just blew a 19 point lead against a few weeks earlier. I know Bucks Twitter and ESPN wanted to make it seem like it was virtually impossible for a team to win a B2B game at home after having to travel, and yet….

somehow the Celts were able to do the unthinkable, despite not even landing until 1:30pm on the same day as their game. Add in that they were once again sitting Rob/Al for this matchup and it was a fucked up travel day AND a shorthanded roster. It was also their 5th game in 8 days, so really you could make the case that this was the most impressive win in NBA history given how things were talked about after BOS/MIL.

The bigger point of course is that the Celts did not have a letdown. Considering we just saw them do it on Tuesday against the Wizards, it was a reasonable concern heading into last night. Instead, the Celts came out focused and looked like a group that knew how important the game was, and as a result, they actually took it seriously for a full 48 minutes. Now they get 3 days off to rest before they head down to Philly, and suddenly things are even more interesting if you're someone who thinks this team needs the #1 overall seed. Just 1.5 games back (2 losses) of MIL, that is still very much on the table as we now enter April.

With that said, let us begin.

The Good

- Allow me to try and put in perspective how fucking good Jayson Tatum has been for the last week plus.

After the win over the Pacers on 3/25 when Tatum shot 54% from the floor, it was the first time since late November that we saw Jayson Tatum have back to back games of at least 50% shooting. Since that moment?

Coming off a 40 point masterclass in which he went 12-18 (8-10) from the floor, on the second night of a back to back in a game he wasn't even supposed to be playing in (his words not mine), Tatum followed that up with a 39/11/3 performance on 12-17 (5-8) shooting. I'll also remind you that he has 0 TOs in both of these games

Giphy Images.

Sure his MVP case may be dead, but it's safe to say he's back to playing at an MVP level. I like to use the 3/6 date as an inflection point, you may remember that as the day Grant missed those 2 FTs against the Cavs. I look at it as basically a turning point of the late season, and that starts with Jayson Tatum.

Since that moment Tatum has played 11 games. He's putting up 30.4/9.1/3.7 on 50/37% splits with 3.5 3PM a night. His turnovers are low at 2.5, and the Celts have gone 8-3 in the games. Whatever post All Star Break slump he may have been in, I think we can declare that Tatum is out of that hole and back to looking like the guy who defenses have no fucking chance of stopping. It could be the "best defense in the NBA" Bucks, or the Jazz B squad. It hasn't really mattered as of late.

In these grueling, nearly impossible-to-win B2Bs, your best player has to say fuck it and put the team on his back. While the rest of the roster sort of struggled early when it came to shooting the basketball, Tatum essentially said give it to me and get the hell out of his way. Maybe you thought that in a game like this Tatum would settle and do nothing but shoot 3PA, especially given how he shout against the Bucks. Instead?

We had a near flawless approach. A good mix of inside/outside offense, another 10+ FTA (10-11), and just as dominant of an impact defensively. That's what makes this performance stand out to me. It's not just the offense, I'm pretty sure we know Tatum can score. But when he also digs down and is the best defender on the floor? That shit matters. That's a guy who knows how important these games are and understands that it's on him to set the tone and show up. Not just in the big time games, but in these ones as well.

- One of my new favorite parts of the Celts season is quickly becoming watching Blake Griffin laugh at people who try and start shit with him. That has to be so demoralizing for these bozos who think they are going to punk Blake. 

I just cannot get enough

Add in the fact that Blake has made it clear he will die for this team by giving up his body for wins, the entire Blake experience has been tremendous this year. I had no idea what to expect, but I do know it's better than I could have imagined. Not just for the vibes, but the actual basketball stuff too. 

- There's a reason I am so bullish on the importance of the Celts guard play. It's everything. When they get good guard play from Smart/White/Brogdon, it takes the Celts to a level that literally no other team in the NBA can reach. I'm sorry if this offends, it's just the reality.

Last night, I'd say they hit 2 of 3. It wasn't that Smart was "bad" per se, his defense was great, but offensively it wasn't exactly the best I've ever seen him play. But Derrick and Malcolm? Much, much different story

After missing 7 straight 3PA and being in a 2-16 rut from deep over his last 4.5 games, Malcolm Brogdon sure did snap out of that shit in the 3rd quarter and was the main reason why the Celts got that level of separation that basically won them the game.

Coming out of that timeout and making 3 straight 3PM to take the score from 72-68 to 84-70 in about 90 seconds was the exact way you hope someone busts out of a shooting slump. Brogdon finished with 19/3/7 and just 1 TO in his 31 minutes while also shooting 50% from the floor. Sure there were a few of those annoying missed layups, but we should be used to that by now. On the whole, Brogdon was terrific. 

Then there was Derrick. A team best +16 in his 28 minutes, he may have shot 6-15 (2-9) which isn't all that great, but his 17 points were just as massive as Malcolm's and then you add in his defense and we're watching a guy that should be a lock for First Team All Defense

The way this trio has been playing since that 3/6 inflection date is a huge reason why the Celts have gone 9-3 over that span. Guys are healthy, everyone is sliding back into their roles, and the team is thriving. THAT is something that should have you excited for the postseason, because it's happening at the perfect time.

- Another quick check in on Mazzulla Ball for all those who observe

Yup, still rules.

When it comes to this team, there are a few check points that you need to keep your eyes on. The first is 120 points. 

When the Celts score at least 120 points in a game, they are 36-3. Not bad!

When they finish a game with at least 27 assists, they are 34-9. Not bad!

When they finish a game with fewer than 12 TOs, they are 26-4. Not bad!

Last night was a game the team didn't even really shoot all that well from three. They finished just 17-51 (33%), so this idea that the Celts can't win unless they shoot 40% from deep just isn't true. The key offensively is ball movement and low turnovers. As long as the Celts don't play dumb, they basically never lose.

- It felt like it's been a while, but we got good Grant! There was no hesitation on his jumper, he hit the glass in his 17 minutes (5 rebounds), and was a +10 which was the 2nd best on the team! 

He may have cratered his RFA market, but it goes without saying how important it is for this roster to be getting a version of Grant who is actually playable. He's going to matter once the playoffs roll around, so anything that helps bump up his confidence is A OK with me.

- Tatum (and the team) looked much more prepared for the UTA doubling this time around. The remembered what you learn in Biddy basketball and made sure to have someone at the nail (middle) for Tatum to dump off too, and then from there we saw that guy (usually Smart) make the right extra pass to a shooter, forcing the defense to scramble.

This matters because you're crazy if you don't think opposing teams are going to consistently double Tatum in the playoffs. The rest of the roster has to be ready and prepared for this, and I need them to continue to make the right decision with the basketball. Doubling against this team should equal instant death, and that all starts with having the right approach from everyone on the floor.

The Bad

- It was pretty obvious Jaylen's legs were cooked. He had no lift on his jumper, he finished 5-19 (0-5) with 3 TOs, and if there's one guy who deserves this 3 game break it's Jaylen. Given how well he's been playing for over a month, this is mostly a whatever performance, but I certainly can't say he was good.

The shooting I can look past, the getting beat down the floor in transition is a little more annoying, but context does matter. My guess is he'll look like his old self against the Sixers on Tuesday, but last night maybe shoul have been ar est day for him. Instead, he played 34 minutes, which was the second highest on the team.

- For the second time this season without Rob/Al active, the Jazz once again feasted on the offensive glass. Coming off a game where the Bucks just did the same thing, this is something that is a little concerning. Walker Kessler had 5 OREB by himself, and I just don't love falling into the bad habit of giving teams extra possessions. That's how you lose playoff games. 

I get that in those games they'll have Rob/Al, but even with them, I'm not loving how easy it seems for guys to live on the offensive glass recently. Giving up double digit OREBs every night is just asking for trouble.

- Whatever the hell Tony Brothers was going in the 4th quarter. Talk about ref show my lord. Techs on Blake and Tatum, a 12-6 FTA difference which helped the Jazz stay close, something was definitely weird about that ending. I'd say I'm surprised, but that's what you sign up for when Tony Brothers is working a game. You know he's going to make his presence felt at some point over the 48 minutes, but that 4th quarter was a little silly.

- Things were way too easy in terms of perimeter resistance on drives. This is another issue that isn't all that new, but needs to be addressed over the next few weeks. It felt like THT or Kris Dunn got to the rim whenever they wanted. The Jazz had 68 of their 114 in the paint, and Kessler only had 20 of those. 

Maybe it was the lack of rim protection, but for me it starts at the top with ball pressure. I'd like to see more of it if we're being honest. Make it tough for guys to put the ball on the floor, and stop giving up clean driving lanes. Eventually it will be against a team much better than UTA, and the Celts are at their best when they completely turn off the dribble drive option. That was not the case last night.

The Ugly

- The shooting early was pretty gross, just 27.3% from deep in the first quarter and 40/27% splits at the break. That's probably tired legs and all that nonsense, but it did make you a little nervous that we were about to experience another letdown game. It wasn't a case of guys taking bad looks, they just weren't dropping. I thought the Celts were solid in terms of their drive and kick approach and generation open looks, but at some point you gotta knock them down. We didn't see a whole lot of that in the first 24 minutes.

- Pretty brutal minutes for both Mike Muscala and Luke Kornet. I mean they gave you pretty much nothing in their mintues, including rebounds. That can't happen for guys that are 7ft. Muscala doesn't have any sort of rhythym on his jumper and Luke, for a guy that tall he sure does struggle to rebound vs UTA. You'll remember he was pretty brutal in the first meeting too.

I know the expectations are low for these end of bench bigs, but if you're going to be on the floor I need you to do the thing you're supposed to be doing. Rebound, protect the rim, and for Muscala, please hit an open corner jumper. I'd say we were 0-3 with that in this game.

At the end of the day, the Celts did what we asked them to do. They took care of business and kept this train moving. It helped continue to put pressure on MIL which was nice, but I think it's more important that mentally this team didn't take a step back. They look more and more like a team that understands the situation and what time of year it is. When they lock in like this, watch out.

Love and Trust,