With every passing game, it's getting harder and harder to remind my brain that it is still VERY early in the NBA season. When your favorite team gets off to the type of start we're seeing with the Celtics, it's only natural that your brain is going to go to wild places. If anyone knows that, it's yours truly. I haven't come down from cloud 9 in like 3 weeks. But it is also my job to make sure we all stay on planet earth when it comes to this stuff. For example, on this date last year, the Cavs were a 2 seed, the Hawks were the 3 seed, the Sixers were the 12th seed and the Celts were the 4. As we know, that is not exactly how things ended up.
So while it's true that things will certainly change over the next handful of months, it is also true that when you turn on a Celtics game, you are currently watching the best team in the NBA. As awesome as the Nuggets are, the proof is simply in the pudding
Record: 5-0 (#1)
Offense: 124.7 (#1)
Defense: 106.5 (#7)
Net Rating: +18.1 (#1)
Point Differential: +18.4 (#1)
Rebounds: 51.8 (#1)
Rebound percentage: 55.2 (#1)
TS%: 62.4% (#1)
Points: 126.4 (#1)
I mean, jesus christ. The idea of a fast start isn't foreign to this team, you'll remember they got off to a 4-1 start that turned into a league best 21-5 start just last season. The difference to me was that last year, the only real new piece they had to fit in was Brogdon, and his role was pretty easy. Just get buckets as soon as you enter the game. What's perhaps more impressive about the 2023-24 version is how quickly and how well all the new pieces are already gelling together. This roster didn't just add one key reserve piece or something, they went through major roster changes. A seamless transition isn't always a guarantee, just look around the league right now.
So how is this happening? Well, for my money it's due to several factors. Most importantly, the two best players on the team are embracing their new teammates exactly how you would hope. They're looking for one another, they're being unselfish with the basketball, and they are getting their new weapons the ball in spots where there is a clear advantage. The new guys aren't trying to force things, instead they are filling the holes that were maybe missing last season. The coach has figured out how to maximize everyone's strengths and has adjusted the game plan accordingly. Basically, it's a collective effort, and when everyone is on the same page like we've seen to start the season, well look at the goddamn results. It's impossible to be better.
Then you realize that 60% of the Celts games this season have come on the road to start the year, and they're still perfect. It's honestly hard to have too many complaints with what we've seen so far, especially on a night when we witness history. Let's talk about it.
- This blog has one general rule that will always exist. When you make NBA/Celtics history, you start us off. So congratulations Jayson Tatum, we begin with you
I think we all need to take a second and appreciate what we are witnessing. Think of the names that have played for this franchise, yet it is Jayson Tatum that is the youngest ever to 10k. Not only that, he's also the only person in NBA HISTORY to do this
To put it simply, Jayson Tatum is one of them ones. Where things get fun is where I also remind you that we're still around 2 years away from him entering his NBA prime years. Think about how scary that shit is when you see what he's already doing right now. Remember the early season struggles that always frustrated the hell out of us because we knew how good he was? Well, uh, Tatum is off to a 30.2/9.6/3.4 on 55/45% splits with 3.8 3PM start to the season.
This would be his highest scoring average, highest rebound average, best FG%, best 3P%, and highest 3PM average of his career.
Of course the biggest adjustment is his approach offensively. Not only has Tatum fixed his three point shooting, but now everything is way more diversified. His post frequency is through the roof with the results to match, he's attacking the midrange, and the scary part is Tatum isn't even getting to the line yet. His 29% FTAr to start the year is much lower than the 39.9% we saw last year.
In terms of last night, it was clear from the opening tip that the Nets were simply too small to handle Tatum. He got whatever he wanted whether it was at the rim or from behind the arc. The more we see Tatum play, the more impressed I continue to be with his effort on the glass. He's off to the best rebounding start of his career both by average and percentage. His TRB% of 14.2 is this highest of his career. His 24.0% DREB% is the highest of his career. All that size he put on is clearly paying off, and his rebounding is going to be so important especially since the Celts usually only start one big. When your best player is committed like that, everyone else tends to follow suit (see: leading the league in rebounding).
I'm not sure what I pictured when I thought of the best possible start to the year for Tatum, but what we're getting is certainly better than even I could have dreamed of.
- If Tatum's start is the most impactful piece of the 2023-24 Celts puzzle, what we've seen so far from Kristaps Porzingis has to be right behind him. Every single time we see this guy play he does things that make you shake your head and laugh. He doesn't even seem real
Just 10 FGA last night and it didn't really matter. KP still put up an impactful 22/7 with 3 blocks. It's hard to pick what exactly has been my favorite part of his game given everything he's doing right now on both ends. The outside shooting rules, because how many teams are going to be able to check a 7fter 35 feet from the basket. The spacing that provides is going to feed families, and then if you don't guard him that's going to be a made shot right in your eyeball.
His post presence has changed everything about the offense. Not just in terms of the production, but what it has done for the other players on the roster. I don't think we've ever seen Jaylen Brown have this sort of connection and willingness to pass with any big he's ever played with. What that is going to do for him is worth the addition alone, but then you realize that once KP actually gets the ball, he's just shooting over everyone. Nobody is able to bother him. It's either a bucker or a foul.
Then defensively, it's been much more than his elite rim protection. Last night we saw KP be effective in guarding in space, something that's going to be important for him when teams decide to play small against Boston. I honestly cannot think of a single complaint when it comes to Porzingis. It's been better than advertised in almost every way.
- Quick check on Mazzulla Ball for all that observe
Yup, still rules.
When you're watching these games, there's one thing you should always have in the back of your mind. This team just needs to get to 120 points. When they do that, they become unbeatable. After last night's win, the Celts are now 44-4 since the start of last season when they at least hit 120. Given that they score with relative ease, you can see this happens quite a lot.
The best part about this? The passing hasn't even reached its potential yet. Honestly, the passing numbers kind of stink to start the year. The Celts are just 24th in AST and 29th in AST%……yet they are destroying everything in their path. Imagine what things look like when the ball gets back to moving at the level we expect?
- Last night was probably the most complete game of Jrue Holiday's young Celtics career. I loved how he clawed his way out of a tough shooting start (1-5) and by the end of it probably made the most well rounded impact of anyone to see the floor. He did everything
This performance reminded me of something I tweeted a few games ago when it comes to Holiday
To me, this sums him up perfectly. His on the court play is loud and impactful, but I don't think I've heard him say a single thing on the court. No complaining, no shit talking, no nothing. Just basketball.
He wasn't perfect, there were some iffy shots early and some careless turnovers at certain points, but I love how those mistakes didn't lead to some sort of snowball effect that tanked the rest of his game. Instead, Holiday focused on his boards (9) and his assists (10), then once he saw a couple drop, his scoring eventually came around (18). I've been very impressed with how he's attacking the offensive glass as a weakside rebounder (4 OREB last night), and I almost think Joe needs to remind him that he doesn't have to over-pass. He can be selfish when he has wide open layups! I get that he's being a good teammate and everything, and maybe part of that is because he's new, but I think we can all agree it's perfectly fine for Jrue to take this layup, even if it still resulted in a 3PM
If the worst thing about your performance is you passing up wide open layups to generate open looks for your teammate, I'd say you had a pretty good game.
- Listen we have to give credit where credit is due. Luke Kornet was pretty damn good in his minutes. I certainly won't complain about 11/7 on 5-5 shooting in his 14 minutes. Even if it's infuriating how he can't seem to rebound at times, last night was more than good enough for a 3rd big, and an example of why Brad probably trusts him as much as he does.
- I'm not going to sit here and tell you that 7-22 (2-11) is good. Unfortunately, Jaylen had a couple of tough rim outs from deep, but the reaction I saw after this game as if Jaylen was "awful" is very strange to me . It was almost as if these people weren't really watching or something
For years, when Jaylen has had one of these off nights from deep, that was usually all you got from him. Last night? He was active on the glass (5 rebounds), was 2nd on the team in assists (4), had a block and was great in terms of how he once again worked with KP.
The beauty of this roster is now the Celts are suited to survive a game where maybe Jaylen or Tatum isn't overly efficient. They have options, and the biggest difference in Jaylen's season this year is he's not really playing with the same type of blinders that we've seen in previous campaigns. That doesn't mean he's not going to have possessions where he creates his own shot, he's an elite scorer. That's natural. But the difference has been the fact that creating his own shot isn't all he's doing. Nights like WSH and IND, his shot is dropping and that's his role. Last night it wasn't, so he adjusted. To me, that sounds like exactly what everyone wants from Jaylen, yet people are still choosing to be weird about him.
Maybe it's more he's just the new Smart where people are going to be very weird about him whenever he's not perfect, but to me that just sounds exhausting. Is this the best Jaylen has ever played? No. Of course not. But on a down shooting night to still get impactful minutes from Jaylen is a positive and a step in the right direction.
- Al Horford was a +29 in his first start of the year. I love him. He is perfect.
- I don't want to get ahead of myself, but the Celts won another game in which they shot 33% from three. Last year, those were losses. If they weren't around 40%, it was curtains. Now 3 of their 5 wins have come when they've shot like dogshit from deep. Sometimes I cannot believe this is our life.
- It was nice to see the Celts still found a way to respond to a game on the road that wasn't a blowout. The Nets didn't ever go away which required the Celts to once again execute down the stretch in the 4th quarter. This was a 4 point game with around 6 minutes left. Just like with the Knicks win and the Heat win, the Celts had to earn it. Granted it was the same sort of bomb it away from deep to close things out, but this was a game in which those bombs landed. Tatum had 2 3PM, Jrue had a 3PM and before you knew what happened the lead was back up to 10 after 60 seconds.
- For the first time all season we saw the Celts come out of the half pretty flat. Just 21 points in the 3rd quarter on 40/33% with 4 TOs, it certainly wasn't the best basketball we've seen them play. Jaylen was probably the biggest culprit with his 1-8, but there should be no world where Jayson Tatum only takes 1 FGA in his 8 minutes on the floor. Instead, Brown/Holiday combined for just 3-13 (2-7).
Not only that, but the perimeter was being cooked by Cam Thomas and Spencer Dinwiddie. They finished with 20 combined points on 9-17, so the Celts starting backcourt really kind of shit the bed on both ends in that quarter.
- I love the energy and hustle that comes with Oshae Brissett. There's value in that. But I continue to be nervous about his extreme lack of buckets. A -13 in his 10 minutes, there's a concern there. I'm not even saying he needs to be Steph Curry from three, but I thought he passed up a few opportunities to attack the rim in favor of shooting 3s, which isn't really his strongsuit. Think of when he's been at his best so far this season. None of those times come from taking and making 3s. It's been hustle and effort plays.
- What's with KP missing 3 FTA? Honestly, I didn't even know he was capable of that.
- While it didn't end up mattering, allowing 114 and two seperate quarters of at least 30 points isn't the best defensive performance I've ever seen this team have. Part of that of course was BKN spamming 3PA, part of that was probably missing Bald Derrick, but allowing 114 and 17 3PM is playing with fire, especially when a lot of the Nets best players missed the game.
- A tough showing for Payton Pritchard, no two ways about it. It's tough because he doesn't have a ton of minutes each night, which means when he does see the floor he has to do one of two things
1. Hit his open shots
2. Maniuplate the defense and create for others
Last night we didn't see much of either. Pritchard went 0-4 (0-4), finished with only 2 assists and 1 TO and was a -10 in his 19 minutes. Outside of the IND game, I think we're seeing the exact same shit we saw in 2021-22 from the bench which forced Brad to go out and trade for a shot creator like Brogdon. So far, we haven't really seen Pritchard take advantage of his increased role/minutes, in fact, he's sort of fumbling them. With the only other PG option at the moment being Dalano Banton, I don't know how this couldn't be an area of concern for those watching this team. I didn't have too much of an issue with Hauser, his defense was good, and for the most part he knocked down his open looks.
But Pritchard? This team needs more from him. Right now he's not really giving them anything, and as the primary backup point guard, that's a problem. Joe has to figure out a way to snap him out of this funk, because right now all he's really doing is missing open looks and getting some cardio in.
At the end of the day though, we're nitpicking. 5-0 is 5-0 and there is no denying the Celts have established themselves early as the best team in the NBA. To be this good this quickly is exciting, because they're only going to get more comfortable with one another as we move forward. While ultimately what matters comes in the Spring, it's going to be a whole lot of fun to watch this team along the way.