As I said yesterday, even though this was only Game 2 of 82, anyone who suggests the first meeting between the Heat and Celtics "was just any other game" is full of shit. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that whenever these teams meet for the rest of the year (2 more games) it's more than just a regular game. If the Celts had lost again at home to this same Heat team, it would not just be no big deal. The same way the fact that the new look Celtics continued to punch back and didn't collapse down the stretch in their win is not just no big deal. It is a big deal, especially with how they did it and who stepped up.
After what happened in the ECF, it was clear after 3 different playoff series against MIA where the Celts weakness were. As good as they were against everyone else, the Heat knew how to fuck them up. As a result, Brad Stevens went out this summer with a vision of how to address the very things that MIA (and teams like them) do that give the Celts fits. Given this was our first look of how that new vision stacked up against the very team it was put together for, yeah this was a big game.
So did Brad do it again? Based on the evidence we have at this very moment to form a conclusion, the answer is clearly yes. While the Celtics still can't help themselves but play brain dead basketball for long stretches against MIA, in the moments that mattered most, the new look Celts responded exactly how we've all been praying they would. It was very clear right away what a difference Porzingis makes on both ends of the floor in this matchup, the different options he gives the offense, how he can expose them on switches and in the post, all that stuff. The defensive backcourt was the anchor on one end and then the icing on the cake on the other. Jaylen exorcized his Heat demons and then some. Joe didn't get pantsed by Spo. The Celtics finally beat the Heat on their own floor.
The season opening road win at MSG certainly was impressive, but the home opener win against their boogeyman is another level. Let's talk about it.
- If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times. Derrick White is a tremendous Celtic. Unfortunately for Wyc, every time Bald Derrick steps on the floor, his extension price goes up and up. Whatever number they were hoping to sign him to after this season, you may as well just double it already. I want you to think about something for a second. The best player on the floor for both sides in this game was…..the Boston Celtics 5th offensive option
Please stop and think about that. Take your time. Look at that line while you think. The second we all saw that Derrick had transformed into Bald Derrick before the season, we all knew this leap was coming. Then there was that clip over the summer of him dunking with authority
and it was basically confirmed that a monster season was on the horizon. Well, here we are in the regular season and Derrick White has been 1000000000x better than I ever imagined. Not only was Derrick the best player over the course of the 4 quarters, he was most importantly the best player on the court in the 4th quarter. Nearly half of his points came while playing all 12 minutes in the 4th, finishing with 14 points on 4-7 (3-5) and one of the most impressive chase down blocks on Jimmy Butler you'll see all season. As a reminder, Derrick White is a point guard. His 4 blocks to start the year have him tied with Holiday for 2nd most in the league to start the season. Not bad!
What we saw last night from Derrick was someone who you could tell felt comfortable being aggressive. A game like this is why I never want him to forget that he's actually really good at offense, especially when he shoots with confidence.
There was no hesitation on ANY of those 3PA, even in the 4th. I'm pretty sure we even saw a Fuck You Three there late which brought me so much joy I thought my heart was going to explode. In the opener it was the small plays like sprinting full court to cause a steal from behind, last night it was sprinting full court to block Butler at the rim. That shit is contagious. When the Celts get this version of Derrick on both ends, they become virtually unstoppable.
- Right there with White of course was the performance of Jaylen Brown. I think we just have to come to the conclusion that every single mistake Jaylen makes is going to be blown wildly out of proportion for probably the rest of his Celtics tenure. A game like the Knicks is a perfect example. While it certainly wasn't Jaylen's best showing, there were some out there that made it out to be this complete disaster, which just isn't factually accurate. Due to his own play and then the supermax, he has a target on his back for some of this fanbase. I don't really get it, but we've certainly seen this type of reaction before with some former players.
The good news is these people are mostly morons and Jaylen Brown is very good at basketball
To say Jaylen needed a game like this, especially against this exact team, is the understatement of the century. I think we were all a little nervous to some degree to see how Jaylen would handle the Heat defense after they had him in absolute hell during the ECF. Anything and everything that Jaylen tried to do, the Heat were not only prepared for it, they turned Jaylen into one of the worst versions of himself we've ever seen. I personally wanted to see how he looked in his first chance at redemption.
What I saw was multiple left hand dribble drives and left handed finishes. That was such a popular and viral topic last Spring, any idea why nobody was talking about it last night? Very strange. I saw Jaylen not get stripped when driving into the zone, instead showing patience and not forcing his offense. I saw him make boneheaded decisions and lose the ball in transition. But most importantly, I saw Jaylen step up and be that go to guy in the 4th quarter when the game was in the balance. Tatum was nowhere (1-5), White couldn't do it alone, so there was Jaylen with 12 points on 5-7 (2-2) shooting and 0 TOs.
This is the Jaylen we know and love. Why there were some who got all bent out of shape about his opener, I'll never understand. We have a large enough sample to know that Jaylen is an All NBA talent and one of the best wings in the entire league. Don't overthink it. Is he perfect? Hell no. Does he still have decision making issues at times? Of course! But a night like last night is not just what he's capable of, it's the norm.
- I feel comfortable saying that this was probably Jrue Holiday's best game as a Celtic. On both ends of the floor, Holiday was the best version of himself. Against the Knicks it was mostly his defense that made the impact. What he did to Randle will be studied for generations to come. Last night, it was both
17/10/7 with just 1 TO on 7-13 (1-4) in his 36 minutes, what else can you say? This was an absolutely nails performance from Holiday against a team that he sneaky struggled against last Spring as well. That was another question I had entering this game. I wanted to see how he responded to Butler & Co after what happened in their series. I think we can all agree the answer was pretty good.
Of all the things Holiday did and all the plays he made, there was one moment that was probably my favorite and I feel like we should separate out. This shot right here.
You have to remember the situation. Tyler Herro had just made another 3PM to bring the score to 4 with about 1:29 left. Momentum was starting to slip. Had the Celts had a poor possession on their trip following the Herro bucket, there was plenty of time for MIA to come back. The Celts needed to execute at that moment, so let's talk about Holiday's decision.
When he initially caught the pass from White, he easily could have gone up and taken that 3PA. In fact, almost every player on the Celts roster last year probably does in that moment. It's partially why their clutch minutes were so nerve-wracking. It wouldn't have been a "bad" shot, but Holiday instead chose patience which resulted in getting a "great" shot instead. Getting into the paint and going up with confidence, that was the decision/bucket that tipped the scales in my opinion.
While a 3PM would have been nice, the Celts didn't need 3 there. They just needed points. A dagger pull up from the paint is just as effective as a dagger catch and shoot 3PA in that situation, and Holiday executed it perfectly.
Not only is it awesome that Holiday realized the time/score/situation, but he has the skillset to execute a shot like that. Welcome to Brad's vision. I thought Holiday was great all night at using his size and strength to get into the paint at will, and I love that he stayed committed to that even in the final moments.
Oh, and when Holiday hit the Jaylen backdoor cut? Man was that emotional. Brought a tear to my eye and I'm only kind of kidding.
- Speaking of the final moments, here's a quick update on how the Celts have performed in the "clutch time" minutes to start the 2023-24 season
Small sample yes (7 minutes), but both situations came against playoff teams, one of which was just in the Finals. Both physical teams have given the Celts problems in the past, and look at how the New Look Celts handled things this time around. It's beautiful.
- It's crazy we can be 1700 words into this blog and we haven't even mentioned Jayson Tatum yet. While he wasn't really productive in the 4th, he did finish with 22/8/5 on 9-22 (3-10) and was a team best +13. Didn't love that he played 41 minutes, but good luck telling him to sit against MIA.
I loved how much more of an effort in the post we saw from Tatum, I mean look at his shot chart. The guy lived at the rim
Whatever Sam Cassell is doing, I need him to keep doing it. Bully Tatum has been a consistent theme through both games, and that needs to be a weapon all year. Nobody can really stop it given how effective Tatum also is as a passer out of the post.
I also continue to be impressed with Tatum's commitment to the glass. He leads the team in rebounding with 19 through 2 games, all of them coming on the defensive glass. That's the highest total by far (KP has 13 and Al has 11). When your best player is committed to rebounding, everyone follows suit.
- Oh yeah, that Porzingis fella. While it wasn't a 30 point outburst like the opener, I think we'll all take 17 points on 50% shooting with 9 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 block
One of the biggest differences in now having Porzingis against MIA is the fact that both Brown and Tatum play so well off him in terms of a two man game. That allows them to attack the Heat in ways that the Celts couldn't do last season because their bigs that were setting those screens are not the offensive threat that KP is. Not only that, but just like we saw with the cross court weakside pass to Jaylen in the corner, Porzingis has the ability to hurt you as a shooter and a passer out of that two man action.
When it came time to switch things up and give it to him in the post, it was just as effective as you would expect considering he's a billion feet tall. I did think he struggled with Bam's quickness a little bit which is something to keep an eye on, but overall? Every reason Brad had to go out and bring in Porzingis when it came to playing the Heat, we saw in this game.
- He scored just 2 points, but the 14 Oshae Brissett minutes changed the entire flow of the game. The Celts were struggling, they came out flat and they needed that jolt of energy. Brissett came in and immediately brought it
This is the only thing Brissett needs to do if he wants to earn minutes. It's why Brad signed him. They needed that high energy/OREB guy on the second unit, and that's a role Brissett flourishes in. His 6.4% OREB% last year was certainly higher than Grant's (4.7%), and plays like we saw last night are exactly what he did routinely as a Pacer. These small energy plays can shift an entire game, and that's what happened
- That 4th quarter, man that was something. The Celts held MIA to 23 points on 21/37% splits, they only tuned it over 1 time and then put up 32 points on 50/55% splits themselves. They were poised, they were efficient, they locked in defensively, it was everything you hoped to see at the end of a close game against a team that has mentally owned the Celtics for three seasons now.
- Of course, things were not perfect. These are the Boston Celtics after all. We can begin right at the start of the game. I don't know what it is, but it feels like nobody comes out flat in a huge game at home more than our Boston Celtics. Game 5 vs PHI at home, Games 1, 2, and 7 vs MIA, it's as if the Celts can't help themselves but be tight to open these games. When you come out and miss 5 layups right away, that tells me you're tight.
Celts found themselves down 13 points before you even knew what happened. The Heat were getting whatever they wanted, the Celts couldn't buy a bucket, it had every look of the home losses during the ECF. Fortunately they immediately responded to close the first quarter, but can we please start a game off well at home? Let the crowd get into it maybe? What's the point of a homecourt advantage if you're going to kill the crowd before people even get to their seats?
- As well as Jaylen played, we still had some iffy decisions that he's going to have to continue to work on. First there was the transition turnover
and then the one in the 4th where it was one of those situations where he was maybe trying to do too much. Even if you think he got fouled on that pass, just kick it out to Jrue on the wing much earlier and then repost Lowry or something.
The thing is, Jaylen wasn't alone. Tatum was doing the same shit in terms of his decision making vs the MIA defense.
What is that pass? Did Tatum forget Pritchard is 4 feet tall or something?
- At some point the Celts bench is going to have to do something. After virtually no production int he opener, the second unit put up just 8 points last night. I can't shake the feeling that I had in 2021-22 when it was very clear the Celts second unit needed shot creation. Horford went 0-6, Hauser and Pritchard only took 3 combined FGA, this is just a recipe that we've seen before that we know sneaky doesn't work. I get playing the starters big minutes because of who you were playing and all that, but at some point the second unit it not only going to have to play more minutes, they are going to actually have to do something when they are on the court.
So far we're seeing way too much cardio/deferring to the starters that they share the floor with. They can't continue to get so little from this unit, and while I think it improves over time, it hasn't exactly been the start I think most of us were looking for.
- Someone explain how the Heat make 8 3PM and shoot 33% against the Pistons and then put up 16 3PM on 48.5% shooting vs the Celtics. What the fuck is this black magic that they seem to only unleash against us? This was the ECF all over again with how they were making those contested 3PA, and you know they are going to go back to being dogshit in their very next game. It makes no sense. It's voodoo.
- It was a nice reminder of how frustrating it is to watch a game against the Heat. The whistle imbalance is crazy. What Bam is allowed to do on screens, the weird delay of game tech in the 4th quarter which wasn't even a delay of game, the fact that MIA took 14 FTA in the 4th, the way they are able to be physical and reach/make contact and have it not be called only for the Celts to do the same thing and it be a foul, it's all very frustrating.
How many times are we going to see the Celts win a game where the opponent has fewer fouls, more FTA, 16 3PM and shoots 48.5% from three? Crazy.
At the end of the day, the Celts passed their first test of the season. Everyone had this as a measuring stick game before tip, and you can't help but walk away from last night thinking things might finally be different when they face MIA, especially at the end of games. That's truly been the most important part of this matchup, and the Celts showed us a glimpse of what they can ultimately be capable of.
2-0 and feeling great. LFG.