The Celtics Are Now Just One Win Away From Things Getting VERY Interesting In The Eastern Conference Finals
It's only normal that your brain might be going to dangerous places today. All that is really is the high of injecting an absurd amount of Celts Kool Aid into your veins for an ungodly amount of hours after the final buzzer last night. The longer the Celts find a way to survive, the more hope you get. With that hope comes dangerous thoughts. It can be hard to keep those things in check because in reality, the Celts are still nowhere close to pulling this thing off. In fact, they got through the easy games. From here? It only gets harder.
But it shouldn't really be a surprise that when the Celts decide to look and play like their normal selves, they tend to win. Just like in Game 4, nothing we saw was an aberration. It's not like they had some prayer bench guy go 6-6 with 5 3PM or something uncharacteristic. Everyone sort of just played how they've played all year and with that came the type of success that we saw all year. That is why for the Celts to pull this off, they just have to be normal. They don't need to overachieve, they just need to not play like complete dickheads.
Games 1-3? Extreme dickhead basketball
Games 4-5? The exact opposite.
They said it on Inside The NBA a few times last night and it continues to ring true. When the Celts play well, the Heat might just not have enough. They need to hope the Celts can't buy a bucket and turn it over, just like in the first 3 games. If they do neither of those things, everything changes.
Think of what we still haven't seen yet in this series. We haven't gotten the Jays explosion, we haven't gotten the Al Horford 5-7 from three game, we haven't had a Celts 20 3PM as a team game yet. This team can still reach higher levels and frankly, they're probably going to need to in order to finish this comeback. 2 wins don't mean jack shit if you can't get to 4, I think we all agree with that.
I say let's worry about tomorrow later. Instead, let's ride this high and talk about last night because things are starting to get a little spooky.
- There were a few candidates for the highly coveted top spot of this blog, but after going over the tape and diving into the numbers, there's really only one place we can start.
That is with the play of Marcus Smart
23/3/2/5 on 7-12 (4-6) shooting with just 2 TOs and a team best +20 in his 29 minutes. When people talk about setting the tone, Smart did that from literally the opening possession
So much is made about Marcus Smart shooting the basketball. People cry and cry and cry when he takes good, open looks. After all this time and all these playoff games where Smart puts the team on his back, they still do not understand how important his offensive production is to the success of this team in a playoff series.
Just look at these playoffs. The Celtics are now 9-2 when Smart takes 10 or more FGA. When he's under 10? They are 1-6. This offense is at its best when Smart is aggressive, and that doesn't mean taking poor shots. It just means when he's able to put pressure on the defense to the point where they have to respect his jumper/scoring the Celts become so much harder to guard. Back in the Sixers series, I felt like I discovered something when it came to Smart's offensive approach, and that is using him in the 1st quarter of these games
Last night, Smart was 3-5 (2-3) in the 1st quarter. In these last two games, he's shooting 42/40% in the first 12 minutes. For the playoffs, he's shooting 40/50% in the 1st quarter. Smart is 14-28 from deep, so we're talking some decent volume.
To me, this makes perfect sense. Smart has his legs under him to start games, so that's the best chance to get him some easy 3PA. In 1st quarters, he's shooting 66% in these playoffs from the corners. Where exactly did his early 3PA come from last night again? Oh, that's right. The corners. When we got to the second half, where did the majority of Smart's FGA come from? Oh that's right, the paint
This is the way. Add in his return to DPOY caliber defense, and like we've seen so many times before when the Celts get Good Marcus Smart, it takes them to a level few teams can match. It's not always going to be pretty, that lob to Derrick White might have been the worst idea in the history of ideas, but there is simply no denying that with the season on the line (again), Marcus Smart rose to the occasion and led by example (again).
- The exact same thing can be said about Derrick White, and this is where things get spooky. We're starting to see so many connections to the 2004 Red Sox, and for the most part, I think it's just a fun way to cope with the massive hole the Celts are in.
But now…I'm starting to get a little weirded out. Why?
Everyone remembers that Pedro was the starter in Game 5 of the 2004 series correct? He was OK I guess, 6 innings 7 hits 4 runs and 6 Ks. He gave them enough to stay in it.
Well, here was Derrick's Game 5
For my money, much better than Pedro. A cool 24/3/1/2 on 8-11 (6-8) and a +18 in his 37 minutes.
Let's be honest, the way Derrick shot the ball in this game was arguably the biggest factor in the win. His new and improved jumpshot is changing our lives, and the best thing is this is not a fluke. This is who Derrick has been essentially through the entire playoff run.
vs ATL: 55/45% splits with 2.7 3PM
vs PHI: 42/39% splits with 1.6 3PM
vs MIA: 57/58% splits with 3.6 3PM
I could make the very strong case that he is playing like the 2nd best player on this team so far in the ECF. While the entire roster has struggled shooting, Derrick has been the one constant. He does not have a single game this series where he's made under 3 3PM. In fact, dating back to the Sixers series, he has at least 3 3PM in 6 of his last 7 games. Every time it looked like maybe the Celts were going to slide, White was there with a huge momentum three. We're seeing a player shoot the ball with confidence, and with Derrick that has always been the key. When he doesn't think and just shoots, good things follow. When that three is dropping it allows him to then attack the paint where his floater/turnaround is a legit weapon.
Defensively, while Butler may hit some contested jumpers, White is right there making it at least a little tough. He's active in passing lanes, he's guarding his yard. Essentially, we're seeing a guy who had a career year continue that strong play in the most important part of the season. With Brogdon cooked, White's production from here on out becomes crucial.
- I suppose this would be a great time to mention ya know, the team's best player who backed up his very very good Game 4 with what was in my mind an even better Game 5
I need everyone to understand what we are watching when it comes to Jayson Tatum. Hopefully, this puts it into perspective for you
Here's the thing about Tatum's night. He only had 21 points, but he was in complete control. In terms of his shooting, he did finish 9-16 which to me is more than good enough. Some brutal 1-6 shooting from deep, but he didn't let that ruin his overall night. His 11 AST probably standout, but honestly that number doesn't even reflect how well he moved the ball. It was Tatum's passing early in this game that got everything started. Instead of forcing things because he's the best player and this was a huge game, he loved and trusted his teammates. As we know, the Basketball Gods reward good ball movement.
When the Heat tried to trap him, he took his time and found the right guy. He finished with 4 TOs, but two of them back in the 4th when this game was basically out of reach, so his ball security was much better overall. The only way the Celts are going to pull this off is if Tatum remains aggressive and doesn't settle, and that means converting once you get into the restricted area. Just like this
He was also 2nd on the team in boards with 8, with no other starter other than Al having more than 3. For the Celts to get this type of performance and have this type of win in a game where Tatum couldn't even buy a bucket from deep, that's generally a pretty good sign.
- Then there was Jaylen. I don't want to get too ahead of myself, but it sort of feels like Jaylen is starting to snap out of his funk. The player we've seen over these last two games is like a whole new guy
Like Tatum, Jaylen also finished with 21 points. He was also efficient going 9-18 (3-5). His defense in this game is what helped spark their run with how he jumped passing lanes and then converted in transition.
But the best part?
Jaylen only had 1 TO. It should be no surprise that in these last two wins, Jaylen has a combined 2 TOs. His drives to the rim were an adventure, but he came through. If you're telling me not only is Jaylen's 3PT shooting going to come back but he's also going to start to take care of the basketball, well that changes things a little bit I'd say. 11 TOs in the 3 losses (6 in Game 1) and 2 TOs in the 2 wins. That feels related.
It was Jaylen's 2nd quarter explosion for 12 points on 5-7 (2-3) that kept the Celts lead heading into the half, I mean he made half of their total FGM for that quarter while playing every second.
Perhaps the largest reason why the Celts were in this 3-0 hole was the fact that Jaylen was having the worst series of his life. Suddenly, that energy has started to shift and the results are coming with it.
- To me, Al Horford looked 25. The energy he played with is something we haven't seen for a few weeks really. He looked spry, he rebounded well (11), he found guys for buckets (5 assists), and it didn't even matter that he didn't make a 3PM. Between him and Rob, they continued to find ways to make Bam's life hell. We're seeing what happens when you take away that option for MIA, their halfcourt offense really struggles to score.
The adjustments everyone has made to cover the MIA P&R with Bam is the biggest reason for this. He's not feasting in that set like he did in Game 3. That's Al. That's Rob. That's Joe.
- Speaking of the defense, I mean what needs to be said that we don't already know? When this team defends, they live. The proof is in the pudding.
The Celtics are now 6-0 this postseason when they hold a team to under 100. It all starts on that end. The beautiful ball movement and hitting of 3s? That's from the defense. The getting out and scoring in transition? Defense. The Celts had 27 points off 16 MIA TOs, so yeah, defense is pretty fucking important.
It's not just taking away the P&R, the Celts were also so much better at limiting the Heat's 3PA. They took just 23 in this game which when you're playing the Celtics is simply not enough. Unfortunately for them, the Celts did a great job of running them off the line and then staying attached to their shooters off screens. I don't think we saw a single Duncan Robinson 3PA coming off a screen in this game. The Heat didn't even shoot all that poorly from deep (39%), but the volume wasn't there. That's the Celts defense.
- Speaking of 3pt shooting, welcome back to Mazzulla Ball everybody
It may sound like a copout, but this series is starting to turn simply because of how this team is doing in terms of executing their open and wide open looks. Yes, you have to play defense. Yes, you have to take care of the basketball. But at the end of the day, you need to make your open shots
The Heat did it to an insane degree in the first 3 games and then cooled off, the Celts shot 29% as a team to start this series, and now look. They got back to their normal 42% range and what happened? They haven't lost. You could say water is maybe starting to find its level.
- It just really sucks that after going a whole year pretty much injury free, that Brogdon is now cooked. He played just 7 minutes last night, and I don't know what this team does moving forward. His shot is just nowhere close as you can imagine, and I don't know if you can even play him at this point. Maybe he has a heroic Game 6 like Schilling who also had a tendon injury in 2004, but I wouldn't bank on it.
I know he's having an awful series, but his offense has been a big part of how the Celts even got to the ECF. It now puts more pressure on streaky shooters like Smart to come through offensively. They need Derrick to continue to shoot like he has been. I think we saw what a disaster Payton Pritchard was in just his 4 minutes, so I dunno if he's an option.
That leaves Sam Hauser, who hasn't played all series. Essentially, the Celts are going to need to make this run with the same roster they had last year and not the piece they brought in for these exact moments. That sucks.
- If the Celts are going to win in MIA, they have to figure out how to limit the Heat's role players. Every game it seems like both Caleb Martin and Duncan Robinson are getting whatever they wanted. I mean Robinson going for 18 points on 7-10 shooting and only 2 of those FGM being 3s is a bit of an issue. He cannot be an 18 point per game player moving forward. Even Haywood Highsmith came in and went 6-9 (3-4) which is annoying because he did that earlier in the year against the Celts and then made like 8 3PM the rest of the season.
I think an easy adjustment to be ready for is for him to play more than Love in Game 6 for the switching, and if he's going to be feeling it from deep, that's something you need to address.
- It was very annoying that after the Celts built their lead, they started to get stupid in the 2nd quarter. They finished with 9 TOs for the game which is very good, but 5 of those came in the 2nd quarter which is very bad.
As we know, the only way the Heat can really match you offensively is if you turn the ball over and allow them to get out in transition. Limit that, and you put yourself in a good spot.
- Another game with 5 missed FTs. Grow up. What are we doing? Every single game is 4-6 missed FTs for a team that was #2 in the NBA in FT shooting. It's Tatum, it's Smart, it's Grant. These are free points!
- OK, let's play a game. Who had the worse decision?
Was it Marcus Smart?
or was it Jayson Tatum?
Both terrible decisions, but I think I have to go Smart's. At least Tatum tried to get his guy on the break and just threw it a little too hard. With Smart's, I mean, he knows that's Derrick White right? That's a pass not even Rob is bringing down, and that shit wasn't even close. Both came with a pretty generous lead, but I will say after the Tatum pass the Heat did cut it back down to 18.
These are the spots where not going for the homerun play is OK. Just take your time and execute.
- On that note though, I didn't love how the Celts played the clock the last 4ish minutes. It got a little too dicey for my nerves if we're being honest. They went basically 5 minutes to start the 4th quarter without making a basket, and then it felt like they were stuck on 107 for 15 years. A lot of clock killing and 3PA which didn't drop and then buckets on the other end. I am not shamed to admit I got nervous when it was 10 with like 2 minutes left or whatever. That was torture.
But in the end, this team lives to see another day. That is all that matters. The goal now is finding a way to get this series back to Boston because as we know, anything can happen in a Game 7. The Celts have been in this exact spot plenty of times before, the Heat are now feeling the pressure, just get this shit back to the Garden. Please.