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The Celtics Finally Stopped Playing Like Assholes And They Live To See Another Day Because Of It

Jesse D. Garrabrant. Getty Images.

One game at a time. 

That's the mindset right now. With the Celts winning Game 4, the only thing they did was allow their season to exist for at least one more game. They didn't win the series last night. They didn't tie it. Hell, I'm not sure they even put all that much pressure on the Heat just yet. 

But they survived.

Avoiding the sweep was Step 1. Now sitting at 3-1, the uphill climb is still extremely steep. Teams up 3-1 are 266-13 all time. In the Conference Finals, they are 42-3. By no means are the Celts out of the woods just because they won a single game, far from it. 

But the longer it takes to kill them, the more confidence they get. The more the Heat start to feel the pressure of closing this series out. I know absolutely nothing suggests the Celts will be able to win a game on their own floor, but maybe the fact that these are essentially all Game 7s from here on out things might actually be different. The Celts are much better with Game 7s at home than any other game in a series so who the hell knows.

We were waiting all series to see the Celts play like the team we watched on both ends this entire season, and while it's very unfortunate that it took being down 3-0 for it to happen, at least it happened. Now they know it's possible. The Celtics don't have to do anything crazy to get back in this series, they just need to be normal. Shoot their normal averages, defend at the normal rate we saw during the year, that's enough. It's not as if they need to play above their heads to get back into it and last night was a perfect example of that. Nothing the Celts did was an outlier performance, they just got back to playing how they know they need to play on both ends. 

In a spot where we've seen plenty of teams no show and instead get their vacations started, the Celts fought like hell for the privilege of seeing another day. Do it again on Thursday and things get a little more interesting. Before we get there though, let's talk about last night

The Good

- By now I think it's fair to suggest that when the Celtics find themselves in a situation where their season is on the line, something happens to Jayson Tatum. In his entire career, when the Celts play in a game in which a series is on the line, time and time again it has been Jayson Tatum that has stepped up, put the team on his back, and unleashed a two way performance for the ages.

Game 4 was no different

After his slow start of 3 early TOs, other than that Tatum was pretty much flawless in this game. He needed to be efficient and came through with a 14-22 (4-9) performance. He only missed 4 shots in the 2nd half and committed just 1 TO. Of his 25 points in that half, he took a total of 0 FTA. What stood out though was in those 20 second half minutes, it wasn't just about the scoring which is what made this performance so dominant.

Tatum led all Celtics with 5 assists. He tied White with 2 blocks. He was 3rd in rebounding and was a team best +27. To put it simply, when Tatum plays like this it changes everything. It's not just about his scoring. When he is engaged like this on both ends, this is a version of Tatum that can win 4 straight.

When it came time to step up defensively, it was Tatum that matched up with Jimmy Butler a team high 32 possessions, and he held him to 6 points. 

The bar and standard is high for Tatum because this is what he is capable of doing. It was by far his best game of the series, and why even when he has a big stat line, that doesn't always tell the full story. Game 4 was the type of complete game that you need from your superstar player in a do or die spot.

Moving forward, whenever the Heat go to a zone, I need Tatum on the nail. Every zone possession where he is standing on the wing needs to be a $5,000 fine for him, a $10,000 fine for Joe, and a $2,500 fine for any point guard that is on the floor that doesn't immediately instruct him to get to the nail. How do you break this MIA zone? You simply do this

For starters, look at where Tatum is at the beginning of this set. He's on the block. He's not 30 ft from the rim. From there, he goes to the space, the one part of the MIA zone that they are hoping you don't go to. This is important because watch what happens. Bam has to somewhat follow Tatum to that area, which leaves Lowry there to switch onto Al. This gives Tatum a choice to either exploit that mismatch, or do what he did in the clip. No hesitation, just right into his jumper. If he misses, Al is right there against a PG and Bam is completely out of the play.

Considering up until that point the Celts had not scored in the 4th quarter and the Heat were starting to make a run, for this to be the first thing we saw out of the timeout was such a huge factor in how that 4th quarter went. It allowed the Celts to keep their head above water when it looked like things may have been slipping away.

- Finally, the defense showed up. I know it seems basic and very obvious, but the truth is the Celts are yet to lose a game in these playoffs when they actually show up defensively. It's not like they are losing close games with both teams under 100. If the Celts keep you to under 100, they win. Just look at the run so far




















I know, what a crazy concept. If the Celts are able to limit their opponent's points, they win. Who knew! A few things stood out in this defensive masterclass. For starters, the Celts did not allow a single 30 point quarter. They got close with 29 in the first, but things trended in the right direction from there

29, 27, 23, 20

So how did that happen? For starters, the Celts were able to limit transition scoring. The Heat had just 10 fastbreak points in this game, and just 2 in the entire second half. You can thank just ONE second half TO for that. As we continue to see, when the Celts do not turn the ball over, it is much harder for MIA to score in the halfcourt. Take away their transition offense and you give yourself a shot.

They also were much better last night at taking away Bam's roll in the P&R. This had killed them in the 3 previous games, but Bam for the most part wasn't all that much of an offensive factor. He finished with just 10 points and took only 7 FGA. The Celts need to continue to make things tougher for him on the catch and remain patient and not jump early if he does in fact get the ball, just like they did last night.

Next, the team did not freak out and overcommit to Jimmy Butler. The individual defense was much better in that regard (he went 9-21), and outside of a few possessions the Celts were better at limiting the Heat's dribble penetration. That took away their drive and kick options for the most part, and then you add in some normal Heat shooting regression and there ya go. 

- There's no doubt that Jaylen has had a rough series. Maybe the worst of his career to be honest. I think that's what made his Game 4 performance that much sweeter

He certainly didn't shoot the ball well, going just 7-16 (1-5), but everything else? Much better. Let's start with the biggest thing, and that's Jaylen's ball control. He finished with just 1 TO in his 37 minutes, which for him is a miracle against this team. The shooting will come and go, that's normal. The way Jaylen remain engaged on both ends is what mattered. There was no falling asleep off ball and getting beat by Duncan Robinson on cuts. He finished with 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals. It certainly wasn't the best we've ever seen Jaylen play, but the larger point is he contributed to winning basketball.

I don't care what the line looks like if Jaylen is contributing to winning, which is not what was happening in the first three games. It was his defense/steals that helped the Celts really get rolling during that 16-0 run. Who knows, maybe now that he has a game where he didn't completely play like ass, it will spark Jaylen getting back to the player we've seen all year, because that's the guy the Celts need if they're going to pull this off. 

- For the Celtics to win this game, it was going to take more than just Jaylen and Tatum. They needed the "others" to fill their role, especially the guards. As we know, guard play is extremely important for this team because when it's good, they are unbeatable. When it's bad? They can't beat the worst teams in the league regardless of what the Jays do.

Last night things started a little shaky, but what a finish

In the first half, really only Derrick showed up. Smart didn't have a single point and was 0-4 (0-4) in his 15 first half minutes. By the end of this game?

White: 16/2/2/2/2 on 5-10 (3-7)

Smart: 11/3/6/2 on 4-11 (3-9)

Combined they finished with just 2 TOs. Defensively Derrick White probably had his best game of the series, holding his matchups to just 2-10 shooting on 53 possessions. He was everywhere in terms of contests, blocks and steals. 

With Smart, he was the Celtics second best player over the final 24 minutes. Big three after big three, he was efficient (4-7) and didn't turn the ball over a single time. 

- For the first time in this series, we saw the Celts have a Mazzulla Ball game. People STILL confuse this with the idea that it means the Celts just jack up threes. I don't know why, because it's clearly been explained a thousand times, but I'll do it again.

Mazzulla Ball is about playing the right way. Loving and trusting your teammate and trusting the pass. On the offensive end, that means moving the ball and not being afraid to shoot it if you're open. It means taking care of the basketball and being smart. 

Defensively, it means showing up and guarding your yard. It means sparking your offense with good defense. All of this is exactly what we got, and it's why the Celts looked so familiar in this win

That is a tweet and a line that you will see on my feed 50+ times this year. This is who the Celtics are. High volume 3PA that were good quality looks, excellent ball movement, good ball security, and locked in defense. 

That is Mazzulla Ball. 

For whatever reason, we did not see the Celts play this way to start the series. We finally got one and look what happened? 

- Grant Williams. What a series he is having

14/6/2 on 4-7 (4-6), this is the Grant Williams I remember seeing. The one that is so important to how the Celts want to play. It's pretty clear he should never have been benched in the first place, and if he's going to continue to play like this he's locked in to 30 minutes a night like we saw in Game 4. 

I could argue this was Grant's best overall game of the season. He wasn't getting beaten off the dribble, he knocked down his open shots, he played with toughness, and most importantly, Grant did not try and do too much. All he did was exactly what was asked for him and that was it. 

That huge block on Butler? There was no trash talking. He put his head down and went the other way. Say what you want about Grant, but he is backing up his talk in this series. Maybe his outside shooting was the thing that opened the floodgates because when Grant is knocking down his open 3PA, the Celtics look like the Celtics. 

- It was also nice to see Playoff Al finally hit some goddamn shots. He finished 4-7 (3-4) as well, and his defense on Bam was like watching him shut down Embiid. I'll take just 2 points on 33 possessions and you probably should too

It goes without saying how important the Horford safety valve 3PA shooting is, and his struggles with it recently is partly why the Celts offense has looked so shitty. If Al can somehow find his shot, it changes a lot about how the Heat are going to be able to defend this team. They've basically been treating him like PJ Tucker and daring him to knock down shots, preferring to instead cheat in and prevent any sort of drives. If Horford is knocking down open looks, that forces the Heat to change.

- Everyone's favorite pastime seems to be shitting on Joe, so how about we give him his proper credit in this game. The timeouts were great, he controlled the pace of the game. His ATOs were solid. The strategy and approach was right. Not only was it his best game of the series, it may have been his best overall performance of the playoffs. We even saw him stop a broken play in real time before Jaylen turned it over!

I also found it interesting that during the Celts 16-0 run, Spo didn't call a timeout until the 16th point was scored. That run completely changed the game, and there was no Spo timeout. Weird right? Joe does shit like that and people think he has rocks for brains. Maybe that's just what happens in today's NBA? Coaches all around the league let their players figure it out. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. 

The Bad

- I wouldn't exactly say the Celts got off to the greatest starts, which was certainly concerning at the time. Just 23 points and 44/30% splits in the 1st quarter with 5 TOs, it was everything we hated about how they play. Tatum started off with more TOs than FGM, the Celts were giving up way too easy of looks allowing the Heat to get off to a 29 point start on 50/40%, they somehow couldn't stop fouling with 6 fouls in the quarter, it was just all mostly gross.

The fact that they were only down 6 felt like a prayer, because once things got to 9 it felt like maybe they were in for an ass kicking. All I know is they need to stop getting off to these slow starts, which means in Game 5 they need to be locked in defensively from the jump. Defend without fouling and go from there.

- I found it rather inexcusable that on multiple occasions Jimmy Butler could go the length of the court without a single player picking up the ball. Stuff like this cannot happen

I know the game was over, but poor transition defense is still poor transition defense. Rob points to Tatum to pick him up, but Tatum can't leave Caleb Martin on the strong side like that. Not with how Martin has been shooting the ball. 

- How many times did we see loose ball OREBs lead to 2nd and 3rd chances, all of which ended in brutal Heat 3PM? It was almost getting ridiculous at certain points. A sequence like this

I mean what the hell. For starters, this needs to be a rebound. 

You knew as soon as they didn't secure the ball, the Heat were scoring. Whether it was a 2 or a 3, we all knew what was coming.

In Game 5, the Celts need to clean this shit up. They allowed 12 OREB for 17 2nd chance points, and that's how MIA was able to stay in the game/build their lead. Almost all their 3PM came off 2nd chance opportunities, and that's just asking for trouble. 

- It didn't cost them, but what the hell is going on with this team from the FT line. I don't get it. They are the top 2 in FT shooting all year and we get to the playoffs and game after game we're seeing them miss 5+. You can't be giving away points like this

Last night, they went 12-18. Jaylen went 2-5 himself. There is no excuse for this team to be shooting 66% from the line. Wake up and make your FTs

Oh, and it should also not be ignored that the Celts won this game despite a 28-18 FTA advantage for the Heat. Good job by the Celts to not let the 24-18 foul difference fuck with their heads.

The Ugly

- I don't know what the hell is going on with Malcolm Brogdon, but I need him to snap out of it immediately. He's too important to the offense to have just 2 points in 2 games. You or I could do that shit.

Brogdon is just 1 for his last 11 and is getting completely outplayed by Caleb Martin off the bench. If the Celts are going to pull off this comeback, they cannot be getting absolutely nothing from Brogdon offensively. It's not just his 3PT shooting that has disappeared (21%), but he got back to missing everything around the rim as well. I can handle one of those two things. You either miss your layups and make your 3PA, or you miss your 3PA but make your layups. I cannot have this

It got to the point where it looked like Brogdon was completely shook and didn't even want to consider shooting the ball. If that's going to be the case, give his minutes to Hauser or Pritchard. If Brogdon isn't going to be aggressive, he's too much of a target defensively for Butler to run him big minutes.

At some point he's going to snap out of his funk just like the other guys did last night, and the frustrating part is he was actually pretty solid in all the previous rounds. To go from that to what we're getting in the ECF is tough to overcome. Again, 2 points in 2 games from your 6MOY and offensive sparkplug off the bench is in no way good enough.

From here, all that matters is winning the next game. You can't make up a 3-1 deficit all in one win. We're about to see if the Celts understand that. Will they feel like they won the series just because they avoided the sweep and then no show on Thursday? Or will they understand what the situation is and come ready with the best performance of their season, because that's what it is going to take. 

They said before the game that the Heat couldn't let them get one. They did. So now it's time to see what the Celts do with it.