In the entire Eastern Conference, there are just two teams that remain perfect at home. The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics. Over the course of the regular season, there are certain boxes you want to see a contender check during the several months before the playoffs.
1. You want to see them win a home
2. You want to play well in their division
3. You want them to not play with their food and lose to bad teams
That tends to be the formula for a mid to high 50s win season. Any Celts fan will tell you they don't always take care of those things, and in turn, everyone becomes frustrated. So far through 9 games to start this season, here's how the Celts are doing in those areas
They trail the Sixers by 0.5 games (they play next week) and by comparison, they are also 5-0 at home, 3-0 in their division, and 6-0 against teams under .500 making up their 7-1 record. It's safe to say both teams are taking care of their business to start the year.
With the Celts playing their first back to back of the season last night, I was interested to see how they handled it. Al was back which was nice, guys were rested after the blowout on Friday night against the Nets, so there was really no excuse for them to not come out and blow doors again last night. The Celts had won 4 straight over TOR heading into this game and 10 of their last 12. In fact, Pascal Siakam hasn't beaten Jayson Tatum in a basketball game since the bubble. He's 0-9 since. Yikes!
Eventually, the blowout happened. It may have taken a little longer than expected, but I'm certainly not going to complain about a game in which the Celts were up by 30 at one point. This wasn't just a case where the Celts got hot from three and the other team couldn't keep up, the Celts were suffocating on defense. They moved the ball on offense, their stars showed up. The bench showed up. It was about as complete a performance as we've seen to start the year.
Speaking of the start of the year, this feels pretty good. Is this good?
Celts are once again the only team in the NBA that is currently Top 3 in offense, defense, and net rating. That might be surprising to some, but really it's just more of the same seeing as how that's exactly what they were last year as well.
Pretty much everyone who saw the floor last night played well, so let's have some fun.
- Jayson Tatum has been so good for so long that nothing he does anymore should surprise us. It's hard to remember that this is a player that still hasn't even entered his NBA prime ages yet, and of all the versions of Tatum we've seen throughout his career, we've never seen anything like what he is doing to start this season. We're not just witnessing an MVP level of play, we're witnessing a Jokic level of play in terms of on court impact
First, the clips
then, the impact metrics
Then, the raw numbers
27.7/9.2/3.6/1.2 on 52/39.5% splits with 3.3 3PM a game
This would be Tatum's career high in FG%, 3PM, and REB. Not only that, he's taking the fewest shots a game since the Bubble season. Would you like to know the names of the players currently in the NBA who are putting up at least 27 a game while taking under 20 FGA?
That's it. That's the entire list. Call me crazy, but those 3 guys are pretty decent at this whole basketball thing. I'm not even going to try and explain how someone not named Nikola Jokic can finish a game with a +42, that almost doesn't even feel real. The more I watch Tatum play this season, the more I think my only gripe so far is whatever the hell is going on at the FT line (78%). His TOs are coming down (currently 2.7), his shot selection feels great as he's diversifying between threes and using his size in the post/attacking the rim. He's finishing at the rim at a great clip (77%), he's shooting 12-25 from 10ft-3pt line, and if we're going to get a close to 40% from deep season from Tatum, it's a wrap.
Part of the excitement with Tatum is seeing what he looks like as he enters his prime, and I'm starting to think it's going to be better than any of us imagined. He's playing his way firmly into the Top 5 player discussion, and everyone knows that to win a title in the NBA, you don't just need a Top 5 guy, you kind of need a Top 3 guy. Or at the very least your Top 5 guy has to play like a Top 3 guy. That is what we're currently seeing with Jayson Tatum to begin the season. Considering we were all so used to his brutal starts to the season, this feels very weird but in all the right ways.
- I don't really care who it comes against, it is going to be very hard to beat this Celtics team when their two best players are both hitting on the same night. Tatum was the most dominant player on the floor, but then you back it up with an efficient 29/5/2 from Jaylen Brown and it's simply too much for the other team to handle
For the second straight game, it was Jaylen who set the tone early. A big first quarter against the Nets on Friday, and another 8 points on 3-3 (1-1) to open things up last night. A few poor turnovers that were annoying, but they were the only TOs Jaylen finished with in his 31 minutes. I'll take that.
We're slowly starting to see Jaylen's overall efficiency creep back up to around where we expect it to be (46/38%), and he's another guy that has seen his FGA drop pretty considerably from last season. He's down to 18 from his 20 last year, and I think that's a perfectly fine number for him. He was at 18-19 FGA every season dating back to 2020-21, and as long as he too figures out his FTs (68%), I have no real complaints about his usage. Through 9 games I'd say both the Jays have done well adjusting their games and their approaches to the new talent the roster has, and I like how it feels like everyone has decided that the first quarter is Jaylen's time. He's proven to be one of the best first quarter players on the roster over the last handful of seasons, and even with his stinker against PHI, Jaylen is still shooting 49/40% over his last 4 games. That's exactly what you want to see from your #2 scoring option.
- I'll never understand why so many people push back against Mazzulla Ball. At this point I don't know how you could argue it isn't successful. The players don't always play it, but when they do it's fucking unstoppable
I'm just not sure what you're supposed to do when the Celts are moving the ball like this which leads to them making their open 3s, and then on the other end they are locking you in hell. The Raptors finished with just 38/27% splits, so things were a disaster on either end. The thing is, this wasn't just a game where the Celts made it rain from deep. They also finished with 60 points in the paint!
So just add it all up. The Celts are tough enough to beat when they make at least 15 3PM, but then they are also scoring half of their points in the paint while stopping you pretty much every time down the floor. That's Mazzulla Ball. Move the ball, don't think just shoot, defend, and play smart.
Also, Joe is currently 64-27 in the regular season and won 11 playoff games in his first ever playoff run. Maybe….he's actually not terrible? Maybe calling for his firing after losing a tough road game in OT is a little insane? Just spitballing here.
- Every time I watch Kristaps Porzingis play I cannot believe he is a Boston Celtic. I know it feels cliche and is probably getting a little tiring to keep saying he is the perfect complimentary piece next to the Jays, but I don't know what else to say because he continues to show that's exactly what he is
KP hasn't stopped smiling since June. Just listen to how he talks about playing with the Jays
This man is in basketball heaven. He can't contain his excitement because he knows just how devastating this pairing can truly be. Can you imagine what things look like if they are "even better" as KP suggested in that clip? My lord.
Last night was also a great example of why you should never freak out about FGA for any Celtic not named Jayson Tatum. He's really the only player who should have his FGA written in pen. Everyone else will fluctuate. Friday night Porzingis only took 4 shots and still made an impact. Last night he took 14 and still made an impact. Another game they were able to keep his minutes under 30 (27), I didn't even care that he was maybe a little too careless with the basketball. I had no idea what to expect when he joined this team, but pretty much everything has already exceeded my expectations.
The rebounding is better than I thought, his ability to guard in space is better than I thought, the rim protection is crazy, he's shooting 39.5% from deep at a 7'3 center, his attitude seems great because he finally is on a team that has a real chance, it's all been as close to perfect as you could expect through 9 games.
- Everything about this possession ruled
You'll notice that was Sam Hauser once again making an open 3PA. If it feels like the Celts disaster of a bench suddenly doesn't feel so terrible, about 95% of that is Sam Hauser breaking out of his slump. Since his first 3 games, Hauser has responded with 57/55% splits and 3.5 3PM a night. He's currently 24-42 over his last 6 games from deep so yeah, I think it's fair to say his slump is over.
Add in the fact that he's been more than solid defensively these last few games
and really this is all the Celts bench needs to at least be playable. Just give the team something. We can't have games where the top 3-4 bench guys finish the game with 3 combined points. Last night wasn't even crazy (28), but you can see what it looks like when the Celts simply get something from their bench. I thought even Payton Pritchard did well in his minutes (7/6/4) and we know Al is perfect (7/7/4), but really this sudden bench resurgence is really about Hauser.
This is why during the Nets game Brad said nobody in the building panics when those guys miss shots. Sam Hauser has never been under 40% from deep at any point in his life, and he is turning himself into a legit weapon. Oh, and Brad got him for like $2M or something insanely low. What a God.
- It should not be overlooked that we are basically 10% of the way through the season and the Celts are #2 in the NBA on rebounding. I think it would be fair to have some concerns over the rebounding given who the Celts lost this summer, but they've actually been better (7th last year). To me that's not just the bigs/Tatum, but the collective effort from everyone. Jrue is rebounding his dick off, Pritchard is rebounding better than he ever has before, that shit matters.
- The backcourt didn't do much scoring (12 combined points), but defensively the Stock Exchance had the Raptors in hell and I thought their combined passing (12 AST) was more than good enough. Some sloppy turnovers from Jrue (4), but whatever. He was so good in other areas I have no problem overlooking that. They were a combined +42 in their minutes which is what you expect from two guys who seem to do nothing but make a positive impact, and I continue to be impressed with how Holiday guards up a position
A lot of his defensive hype entering the year was around him locking up perimeter/offensive minded guards/scorers. He may still do that, but the success against bigger players defensively is what has stood out more to me. Randle, Embiid, Barnes, Siakam, Jrue has clamped them all.
- It was great to see the Celts finally knock someone out in a 3rd quarter. Those 12 minutes had sneaky been a problem this season, so it was great to see they came out of the break focused and stepped on the Raptors throats right away. Before they even knew what happened the Celts had ripped off a 8-0 run and pushed this game into blowout territory. Not only that, but the bench clean up crew didn't shit their pants and ruin the net rating. That is something I hope we see a whole lot more moving forward.
- It may just be something we all have to accept, but I still can't sit here and tell you these decision making turnovers from Jaylen are good. They are frustrating and annoying because there's really no need for it
Against a team like TOR that has crazy length at pretty much every spot, it felt like Jaylen was still a little too loose with the ball on drives. He has to know that the book is out with this and EVERY team is going to reach in like this when he puts the ball on the floor
This, is where we usually see Jaylen get into trouble. You may think the split is there, but it's not really there, especially with a good defender in OG trailing
I can understand the aggressiveness given how he started, but the problem is once he gets through that split, the ball is way too exposed and easy for Siakam to come in and make a play on it. My guess is he saw Poeltl go to cover KP which is what made him choose to drive there, only Poeltl recovered instead and shut off the lane.
- Just 8-13 from the line (61%), wasn't all that good. Tatum missing a couple, Porzingis and White each missing one, I know I'm probably the only person on the planet who even pays attention to this stuff, but I can't sit here and tell you the Celts were all that good from the line in either their percentage or their volume.
- This was probably the first time all year that I found myself not thrilled with Joe leaving his players in for WAY too long in a blowout. Maybe this was because it was at home and he wanted to let his stars stamped or something, but I'm going to need him to cut the shit. This season is too important to have any top 6 guy on the floor at any point in the 4th quarter when the score is above 20 points. There's enough talent available to close that out.
The score was 99-73 with 8:46 left in the game. It was a 30 point lead with 6 minutes to go. Yet we're still seeing Al, the Jays, Porzingis on the floor. My question is….why? Only bad things can happen in that moment. You did it, you won the game and earned a chance to rest everyone early for the second straight game. Please take advantage of that, I am begging you Joe.
- I do love that Joe is such a psycho that he's challenging a call up 30. That's the type of deranged brain that I can get behind. I love it even more that the Raptors cried about it. Look, it's not Joe's fault that officials are blind morons. He's going to stick up for what's right. The real anger should be toward the NBA's officials who continue to be absolutely terrible.
Now that we've seen the Celts respond from their little 2 game skid, things pick right back up this week with NYK/PHI/TOR up next. It's important the Celts finish this mini homestand strong tomorrow night, because starting Wednesday in Philly the Celts have their longest road trip of the season so far and play 5 of their next 6 on the road before the November 22nd showdown with the Bucks. Keep playing how they've looked these last two games, and things should be just fine.