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It's A Great Sign That Even When The Celtics Play Like Shit They Are Still Finding Ways To Win

Cole Burston. Getty Images.

When the Celtics and Raptors played each other last Saturday at the Garden, Joe Mazzulla (correctly) challenged a play at the 3:39 mark of the fourth quarter with the score 113-86. People on the Raptors became rather upset, almost like it was Joe's fault that another NBA ref made a terrible call. Sorry he's a basketball psycho who can't let anything go who will go to war for his players and who demands fairness and justice. Take it up with Adam Silver for all I care.

The point is, multiple Raptors did a little crying about it. Their broadcast did some crying about it. I dunno, maybe focus on the score instead of a random 4th quarter challenge but with the Celtics in Toronto for the first time this season, last night was their chance at revenge. I think most of us expected a more competitive showing, mostly because the Raptors are better at home and you figured they were going to have juuuusssst a litle bit of motivation to unleah some payback.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, this is sort of turning into a one sided affair ever since the Bubble. Last night's win marked the 6th straight over TOR, making the Celts now 13-3 against TOR since 2019-20. It's just a matchup nightmare for them at the end of the day. They don't really have the size or the consistent shooting, but they can get you through high energy, defense, and transition. As we're seeing, with the way these Celts are able to spread you out and make you defend in space combined with their new way of attacking switches with a literal human basketball cheat code, a lot of teams are going to have matchup problems. 

There's also something to be said about winning a game (on the road) when you play like shit. If the regular season is about putting yourself in a wide variety of situations so you can be ready to execute when things matter most, being in a hostile environment against a team that hates your guts right now while playing in high pressure moments and coming through with the win should certainly count for something. I can be annoyed with how they played and happy they won all at the same time. 

When your shitty performances still end up in wins, and those shitty performances are few and far between, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that team is pretty good. Usually, if you play poorly on the road it's a loss in this league. Hell, the Nuggets just lost to the Pelicans on the road because they had a stinker. It happens to everyone. 

Instead, the Celtics executed down the stretch and rose to the occasion in the biggest moments. They of course made things harder on themselves because at the end of the day this is the Boston Celtics we're talking about, but when push came to shove they made the plays to win the game and that is what truly matters.

Let's begin.

The Good

- 10 days ago, we witnessed Jaylen Brown's worst performance of the season. He picked a pretty poor time to have such a disaster performance, seeing as how it was the first PHI/BOS meeting of the season. In a game they ultimately lost by 3, not getting anything from Jaylen in that loss was as big a factor as any. He was awful.

Given his contract and the online noise around him at all time, I was interested in how Jaylen would respond. Would things spiral, or would we look back at that game as just a singular instance over the course of an 82 game schedule? 

See for yourself

Since that PHI disasterclass, the Celtics are 4-0. Jaylen? He's back to his All NBA production

25.5/4.0/4.3 on 53/41% with 3.3 3PM and 2.8 TOs

In a game like last night, where Tatum was having his own disasterclass, Jaylen needed to assume the #1 role and carry the load offensively. When this happens and Tatum can't buy a bucket, it's not just about the points Jaylen has to score. He has to be efficient. He's going to have to continue to make the right plays and find a way to get other guys easy looks until Jayson wakes up.

That is exactly what we saw last night.

He finished 9-14 (3-5), had his 6th game of the season (they've played 12) with at least 4 assists, and defensively Jaylen for the second straight game more than imposed his will

A game like last night is another perfect example of why there should be no desire to pit Jaylen vs Tatum. The Celtics have both! Having both fucking rules! Sometimes one will play badly and the good news is the other is good enough to carry the team on any given night. Having both guys is a blessing, simple as that. That doesn't mean both won't make boneheaded mistakes or play a style for a stretch that will have you screaming at your TV at certain points of a game, but let's not lose perspective. 

As one of the franchise guys, it is Jaylen's responsibility to pick up the slack when Tatum struggles. The same way it's on Tatum to do the same for Jaylen. Sure it's great when you also get balance, but it starts with the Jays carrying. 

- There are times when you're watching a basketball game where you're reminded why you fell in love with the sport in the first place. Every so often you see true art on the court, and for my money there is not a more beautiful sight in the world than pure hoops. What the Celtics did to end the first half last night was something religious. Calling it Celtics porn doesn't really do it justice. This was something biblical. It was like Walter White's Blue Sky in basketball form. 

Giphy Images.

- How many times over the course of a Celts game would you say you thank the Basketball Gods for bringing us Kristaps Porzingis? I'm probably at a comfortable 17. Basically any time he touches the basketball or really generally does anything. Every game my brain continues to not be able to understand how Porzingis is able to what he does on both ends. His defense is incredible. The way he impacts shots while also mixing in disrupting passing lanes is getting a little out of hand. He's mobile enough and moves his feet well enough to stay with guys on the perimeter, and then the discipline he shows to not get baited into leaving his feet is so refreshing. Watching what he was able to do against the smaller Raptors almost felt like bullying

With every minute Porzingis plays, we see Brad's vision. All you need to do is look at these four pictures

I want you to look at those photos, and then think back to what Brad Stevens himself said immediately after pulling off this trade

Poor Dennis Schroder did all he could, but when you can simply turn and face and shoot over someone with no contest, that's a cheat code. The Tatum/Brown era Celtics have never had anything like this. When in doubt, just throw the ball to Porzingis and let him shoot over his defender, especially if the defense switches. I also think this is true if anyone ever goes zone, just put KP at the nail and that's a clean look 10000000000% of the time. 

It also shouldn't be ignored that to win this game, we got a heavy dose of Porzingis/Holiday and Porzingis in the post. There's a good reason for that. In Post Ups, Porzingis currently ranks in the 100th percentile in post up offense.

1.58 ppp / 76.5% FG% / 76.9% score frequency / 30% FTA frequency

As the roll man in P&R, Porzingis ranks in the 86th percentile 

1.45 ppp/ 60% FG%? 60% score frequency / 10% FTA frequency

Welcome to your new end of game weapon folks. No longer do the Celtics need to rely on Tatum to do everything at the end of games. No longer do we have to worry about Jaylen maybe forcing something into traffic late trying to create offense. 

Just give the ball to KP and let him put it in the basket.

Start it with a KP action, put him in the post early, it doesn't matter to me. The whole point is finding easy baskets late in games. The more you stand around and dribble, the worse things get. The more you give it to the offensive cheat code that is way bigger than everyone on the floor, the harder you become to guard. Suddenly things are more open for Tatum and Brown. Suddenly Derrick White is open in the corner. 

This is Brad's vision, and KP has done nothing but validate it since the second he arrived.

- They may have gone a combined 9-24 (5-12), but I thought both Jrue Holiday and Derrick White were exactly what this team needed. I'll take 10 TOs and 2 TOs between the two, Holiday once again was great on the glass (8), Derrick once again continued to do nothing but make the right decision on the floor and when it came time to make the biggest shot of the night, it's not surprising that both of these guys were involved

There's just so much to love about this play. The patience of Holiday to not rush for a bad quality look just to make the 2 for 1, his head is up the whole way as he began to post Schroder down, and you could tell he knew Schroder was showing baseline because that's where Gary Trent was ready to double. Schroder is probably thinking Jrue is going to spin back into that double, but because his head is up, once he decides to not spin back and instead turn into the middle, he can see that it forced Siakam to crash into the paint, leaving Derrick White wide the fuck open.

Then there's the Derrick part. I don't just love that he made it, I love that he took it with zero hesitation and supreme confidence. This was a guy who was 2-7 from three before that shot, but you'd never know it by looking at that clip. His release is quick which doesn't give Siakam enough time to recover, he gets it over the contest and cashed it. Beautiful basketball, better execution.

- If I were to show you this picture, what would be your favorite part?

For me, its the fact that every single Celtic that touched the floor last night finished with at least 2 assists. That tells me the ball was moving and guys were knocking down their open looks, which almost always translates to wins. It's no secret that the Celts passing numbers haven't exactly blown our dicks off to start the year. They're 21st in AST% (5th last year) and 16th in AST (7th last year), so seeing another game with 29 AST is more than welcomed. 

What I loved was that sometimes it was an easy read, a simple give and give back that lead to an open 3. Sometimes it was a nice lob out of the P&R. Sometimes it was shit like this

(yes this was an excuse to watch that play again. I mean look at it!)

The point is, when the Celts are sharing the rock and things aren't sticking, they become nearly impossible to guard. They have too many advantages to attack a defense once you get that defense in rotation, and to do that you need to move the ball and drive and kick. Make the defense actually have to try. When the ball sticks and the defense doesn't have to move, the Celts become easier to guard which leads to tougher shots and a stagnant offense. Outside of Tatum/Pritchard, the rest of the Celts were 14-30 (46.6%) from three. Why? Because they were all great looks coming off great ball movement. 

- Sam Hauser is just flat out good. If any other player in the NBA was doing what Hauser is doing on a consistent basis as he is, that player would be called good. 

I'm also going to go so far as to say that Sam Hauser is no longer just a passable defender. He is a good defender. Go argue a wall.

- Hard to have too many quarters than what we saw in the 2nd. Not often you win a frame 39-17 with 62/50% splits. Tatum/Brown outscored the Raptors by themselves (19 vs 17), and when the Celts are firing like that offensively while also not turning it over (3), once they also lock in defensively it's a wrap. After not really getting many stops in the first, the way the Celts snapped back into a respectable and elite defense is ultimately what won them this game. Given the fact that braindead basketball was on the horizon, the Celts needed every bit of that cushion that they got to end the half.

- Is Al Horford finding his jumper again? His 7 3PM over his last two games are more than he had made the entire season. Another game where the Celts needed him to make crucial big time open threes, and he delivered. It goes without saying how much Al getting back to not shooting 28% from deep would be for not only him, but for the bench production as a whole. Hopefully this is our early signs of a guy snapping out of his funk, because Al has been huge these last two games.

The Bad

- It's not exactly time to panic, but the Celts do need to figure their shit out in these 3rd quarters. That's not even debatable. The Celts currently own the 26th best offense in the 3rd quarter to start the season. Defensively they're solid, coming in with the 2nd best 3rd quarter defense, but offensively? It's almost more likely they fail to break 20 points than not. Another 19 point quarter on 40/33% splits with 4 TOs is what allowed the Raptors right back into this game.

They do deserve credit for coming out firing, making their first 4 3PA in 90 seconds. This is where a lot of people wanted Joe to call a timeout and lock in defensively, but from the 10:24 mark after the 4th 3PM until the 6:43 media timeout, the Raptors made only 2 more FGM. The Celts had an 8 point lead heading into that timeout, so they effectively did stop the bleeding.

This issue is what came following the timeout. Immediately the Raptors went on an 8-0 run before Jaylen punched back with a three. The point is, that focusing on the lack of a timeout call during that stretch is misguided. The Celts locked in after the early barrage of threes, they simply fell apart immediately after the timeout. Those things aren't always the cure-all that people sometimes think.

- Look, sometimes the Celtics are going to have to fight through a Tatum stinker, and make no mistake, this was a classic Tatum stinker. Not only did it feel like he had no interest in being aggressive, he finished with 0 FTA. Zero. That is inexcusable. While some of his threes were open and shots you want him to take, there's no excuse for what he was doing in the 4th quarter of this game. He finds himself being guarded by a rookie who has no chance of staying in front of him and he settles for a contested 3PA on a night where he couldn't hit shit? That's not it.

When I say this was a classic Tatum stinker, it's because we've seen these type of performances from him last year. Tatum finished 8-22 (1-11), yet the Celtics still won. Crazy right? Well, just last season there were 14 instances of Tatum shooting under 34% from the field and at best 30% from three. The Celtics went 9-5 in those games. We've been here before.  

Just like Jaylen against PHI, this is pretty much the only disaster performance we've seen from Tatum this season. I think he'll be OK, but man was it frustrating. It felt like he was coasting right from the start.

- On one hand, I think it's a little crazy to only be playing 8 guys in November. On the other hand, nobody is playing crazy minutes so maybe it's no big deal. I dunno, I just thought we'd be seeing more of the bench in games like this, especially after they looked better as of late. 

- I am terrified about Jaylen's groin injury. Fucking Adam Silver and these goddamn courts. I want to like them, I do think some look cool, but what the hell. How can I support things that are injuring players? Groin injuries are no joke either, this is serious business. I'm pretty sure we don't see Jaylen for the next two games, and if he misses the 11/22 games against MIL? All because Adam Silver's new courts are bullshit? Disaster. Between that and the parquet denial, Silver is really getting on my nerves with this.

- Who had Porzingis leading the NBA in techs? Officials are weird with him this year. 

The Ugly

- The rule is pretty simple. The Celts win 5 in a row, we skip this section until they lose again. They've earned it.

Now that the hard part of the Celts 4 game trip is over, it's important they do not lose focus. Vibes are great right now, at 10-2 the Celts own the best record in the NBA. With MEM and CHA up next, now is the time to keep this train moving forward. Take those games seriously and you'll be able to sit everyone in the the 4th quarter. That's what I can't wait to see. Is this team going to be mature and not overlook opponents just because they stink? A 4-0 road trip would be the chef's kiss to what we're seeing right now, but it all starts with making sure you don't play with your food tomorrow night.