The Celtics Starting To Win Games On Nights Where They Shoot Like Shit Should Not Be Overlooked

Brian Babineau. Getty Images.

Despite the fact that the Celts have had the NBA's best record essentially since the season started, anyone who's been watching their games for the last week could tell you they most certainly have not been playing their best basketball, most notably offensively. I mean, since 11/18 the Celts own the 26th ranked offense in the entire NBA. That stinks. The only worse offenses have been POR, UTA, SA, and MEM. Call me crazy, but that is not exactly a group you want to be lumped together with. 

Shit, the Pistons have had a better offense over the last 9 days and they are 2-14 and have currently lost 13 straight.

So while the Celts sit at an NBA best 13-4, there is certainly room for improvement, especially on the offensive end. 

To me, there are a few ways to look at this. One way is to start getting a little concerned, mostly because we aren't exactly in the first week of the season anymore. The Celts are going to run into issues if they continue to play with an offense that is among the worst in the entire league. That's pretty self-explanatory. The other way of course is to be encouraged. Why would anyone be encouraged?

Well, last year when the Celts went 21-5 to start the year shooting about 95% from the floor and from three, it masked a lot of holes. We all knew the shooting regression would ultimately come, and it got to the point where last year if the Celts didn't make 40% of their 3s, they lost. This year? They are still finding ways to win these games where they can't shoot for shit, especially by hunkering down defensively. That is what pretty much everyone wanted last year right? When your shot isn't falling, can you find a way to win a game on the defensive end?

Enter last night against the Hawks. 

That's exactly what the Celts did. They didn't shoot all that well, in fact it was pretty brutal with 44/27% splits. Another sub 30% performance from three, and yet they won the game because they turned things up defensively. The Hawks came into this game averaging a billion points a night, they had one of the best offenses in the league and walked out of the Garden with their lowest point total of their season, this coming with both Holiday and Porzingis in street clothes.

Now a perfect 7-0 at home, sometimes you just need some home cooking to snap you out of whatever funk you're in. This win also moved the Celts to an NBA leading 9-3 against teams .500 or better. To me, this sort of sums up their start. The records are great, but the basketball being played still needs to get better. Not a bad place to be while you can be experiencing these problems while still winning games and staying atop the league, especially if this team is now going to be able to consistently fall back on their defense as a tool to win on nights when maybe they can't shoot for shit.

That's why a game and win like last night should feel encouraging. Let's talk about it.

The Good

- Few players on the roster needed a big bounce back effort with the Celts back in their own building last night more than Jaylen Brown after the disasterclass we all witnessed against the Magic, and like he usually does after throwing up a stinker, that's exactly what we got

There were a few parts of Jaylen's night that I enjoyed. As always, it starts with him once again being ready to go right from the jump as the guy who is going to carry this team in a first quarter. Another 10 points on 3-6 (1-3) in his 10:18 to open the game, I don't know what it is but First Quarter Jaylen continues to be a thing.

Jaylen leads the Celts in first quarter scoring this season with 7.4 a game on 55/43% splits, and he only has 9 total TOs in 16 first quarters played. He is most definitely not a slow starter. Then in the 3rd quarter, when the entire roster was having their collective CTE moment, Tatum was 0-4, Al wouldn't shoot, Derrick was 0-2 and it felt like the Celts were letting go from the rope, it was Jaylen's 8 points on 3-5 (1-2) that kept the Celts above water.

But the 1st and 3rd quarters aren't what I loved most about Jaylen's night. It wasn't his passing or this ball security (1 TO) through 3 quarters. At 9-17, it was clear Jaylen was really the only guy on the team who was making shots heading into the final quarter. This is a spot where usually we may see Jaylen force things in the final frame, and a 90-82 lead suddenly evaporates.

This time? We saw the exact opposite. Suddenly it was Tatum to showed early signs of cooking in the final frame. He woke up and went toe to toe with Trae Young, carrying the Celts offense (5-9) for the totality of his 12 4th quarter minutes. So what did Jaylen do? He didn't get in the way. He didn't force things offensively. In the entire fourth, Jaylen took just 2 FGA, one of which came in the final seconds with the game over. To me, this is the type of growth we should all love to see. On a night where it was clearly Jaylen who was getting buckets on a night nobody else could make a jumper, when it came time for the 4thn quarter and Tatum started to show signs of life, everyone fell back and let Tatum cook, including Jaylen.

It also shouldn't be ignored how Jaylen has been improving when it comes to his turnovers. He has just 2 games all season with 4 TOs, and of his 16 games played, Jaylen has finished with under 3 TOs a total of 9 times. At just 2.4 TOs a game, Jaylen is averaging the fewest TOs a game since the 2019-20 season. His 10.8% TOV% is his lowest since 2018-19. 

Not bad for such a high usage player.

- When you compare the energy/effort we saw from Tatum in the CHA game and last night and compare it to his effort we saw against the Magic, you can see why that game was so fucking frustrating. They were completely different players. As always, things start with rebounding when it comes to Tatum, so it's no surprise that in a game you could tell he took seriously/decided to try the whole time, he finished with 9. 

Outside of some lazy passes/turnovers (6 TOs), Tatum did pretty much everything else you want to see from your best player in a game like this. His efficiency ended up being fine (11-25, 5-13), he held his own on the defensive glass and moved the ball well (4 AST). Defensively I thought Tatum was engaged (allowed 7 total points in all matchups), and when it came time to win the game Tatum put the entire team on his back and delivered. 

We've all seen what Trae Young can do in the fourth quarter of these games where he goes nuclear and can't seem to miss (let's not forget the playoffs this past Spring), so in a spot where the Celts needed someone to step up and go shot for shot with Trae, it was great to see Tatum rise to the occasion. That's his role. As the best player, when you have a lead in the 4th quarter and it's time to close the door, that is what the superstar does. 

I'm not sure calling his 34/9/4 "quiet" is the right way to describe it, but honestly this just felt like normal Tatum. Nothing spectacular, but dominant when he needed to be. He played with the right effort and energy that helped set the tone. Nothing really felt forced, and then the next thing you know you look down and he has 34. That's just a testament to his dominance.

- One thing the Celts have sucked with for the last week or so is their play around the margins. Turnovers, OREB, 2nd chance points, missing FTs, all that shit added up almost always leads to losses. 

After some early OREB issues, the Celts figured their shit out and won the rebounding battle 58-43. They had 18 (!!!!) OREB for 17 2nd chance points. They finished 16-20 fromt he line and only turned it over 12 times. When you clean things up around the margin, that's how you have a wire to wire win.

The Celts never trailed, it was never tied, and their lead was as high as 20. They basically did the exact opposite of what we'd seen them struggle with during this down stretch, and wouldn't you know it translated to a win. It's honestly that simple. Stop fucking around when it comes to these small details and chances are you're going to win the game.

- I am at the point now where I am getting ready to demand that Brad give Al Horford another extension. Fuck it. Whatever the price is, pay it. Not only is he not slowing down, but he's playing like he's 27. An astonishing 15 rebounds last night, Horford is also shooting 39% from three over his last 6 games.

When you're 50 years old and you're making hustle plays like this

You can play for my team any day.

- It was definitely shocking when we all learned that Joe was starting Dalano Banton in place of Jrue Holiday, and overall I'd say the decision worked for a few reasons. Starting with Banton, he was fine in his 18 minutes. He finished 3-5, his length made things tough for the Hawks defensively, he only had 1 TO, and mostly he just stayed out of the way.

What this decision also did was keep the bench in their normal rotations. This is an example of Joe understanding his roster. The bench unit has really recovered lately from their poor start, especially when it comes to shooting the ball. 

As a starter, Sam Hauser can't make a shot to save his life. Don't ask me to explain it, it's just how things are. He's shooting 22/17% as a starter this year (2 games).

Off the bench?

Hauser is shooting 54/50% in 14 games. You don't think Joe knows this? So not only was pushing the Banton button something that paid off, but keeping the reserves in their established roles proved to be the right move. The production doesn't lie. Another 12/4/2 on 4-9 (4-9) from Hauser in his 31 minutes, and it's no surprise he finished +11 in his minutes. 

None of this should be a surprise. This is just who Sam Hauser has developed into.

- It wasn't like he had much of a choice with KP out, but Neemias Queta getting his first real run of the season and then immediately doing this

has me VERY intrigued. Remember in the preseason where Queta had like a 30% OREB%? It was unreal and unlike anything we'd seen a Celts center do not named Robert Williams.

For him to immediately come in and finish with 10 REB (6 OREB) while setting screens and just being an energy guy is exactly the role I want him to play. Nothing we saw in this game tells us that Queta doesn't deserve to be in the rotation if someone is out or Al is sitting for a B2B. 

I'm not saying Queta needs 20 minutes a night every night, but for a team that can be streaky shooting the basketball, I think having someone who inhales OREB with ease on the floor can only help. There will be times where quicker guys get by him, he'll probabyl struggle defending the elite bigs of the NBA, but we're talking about a 3rd/4th center. Getting 7/10 in 15 minutes off the bench was house money.

- I don't care how many times I've said it, I will continue to say it. Derrick White is a tremendous Celtic

15/4/11 with 3 steals in his 37 minutes, mostly I was just relieved that his injury against the Magic didn't carry over. To make that type of impact all while missing every 3PA he took (0-6) is the very definition of finding ways to make an impact when your shot isn't falling. 

The Bad

- Pretty crazy that the Celts won a game in which they shot 13-47 from three (27.7%) and the Hawks shot 19-53 (35.8%). The thing is the Hawks got 18 of those 19 3PM from just 3 players, and while part of it was Bogdanovic making crazy transition threes that had a good contest, there were also a shit ton of Trae Young 3PM coming via drop coverage.

I get why you may want to do this with who the Celts had on the floor. Horford, Queta, Kornet are not all what I would call "quick" on the perimeter. That's a mismatch for Trae every time. Yet, we've also seen before what happens when this team plays a heavy drop against a scoring PG like Trae. Ime wouldn't stop doing it against Steph Curry in the Finals and it cost the Celts a ring, and last night it felt like Joe wouldn't stop doing it againt Trae Young in the 4th quarter, which allowed him to catch a rhythm.

They eventually changed things up and switched late, but it felt like you could have done something like that sooner. Fortunately Tatum was matching Trae shot for shot, but I certainly didn't love those defensive decisions when trying to close out a team. 

Maybe the Celts just have a Trae Young problem or something. We saw them switch a lot during their playoff series and it still didn't matter, but it's certainly something to keep an eye on.

- With the 3PT difference and then Tatum also finishing with more TOs than AST, those things usually end up in losses.

- The early OREB/2nd chance points from ATL was very frustrating to watch. There is no world where it's acceptable that Clint Capela can be surrounded by 3 Celtics and still be the one the come down with the ball. I feel like it's the same story every time the Celts play ATL. They continue to give up OREB which lead to 3s. It's why their playoff series went longer than it should and it's why the Hawks were able to stick around at times during this game.

It eventually got cleaned up, but to start this game? Gross.

- Then of course there was the whole 20 point lead getting trimmed down to 6. Just our classic Celtics refusing to make things easy on themselves, By now you should know better than to trust any lead, whether it's 20 or 10 or 6. NBA teams go on runs, we all know this, but anyone who suggests it's not at least slightly concerning that we've had like 7 straight games of the Celts not being able to sustain their big lead is lying. 

While they didn't blow the lead, it would be nice if just once we could see them get up by 20 and then also not find ourselves sweating out a game in the 4th quarter. Is that too much to ask? 

The Ugly

- The 3rd quarters are a problem. At this point I'm not even sure this is debatable. Another 21 point quarter which was the 5th loweset of the season and yet another game where the Celts failed to even break 22 points. 

The Celtis own the 29th offense in the 3rd quarter this season, with an ORTG of just 102.1. That is so bad I can't even believe it's real. Their TS% of 53.8% is 27h in the NBA.

Essentially, once a game enters the 3rd quarter, the Celtics become one of the worst teams in basketball. That cannot happen. What good is a halftime lead if you're just going to immediately give it back after 12 minutes? This isn't a one time thing either, this has been an issue ALL YEAR.

It's almost as if the entire roster gets collective basketball CTE. It goes without saying that if the Celts continue to do this, it will ultimately be their demise. Remember those big MIA 3rd quarters in the ECF? Or the GS 3rd quarters in the Finals? It changed everything about those games and those series. For whatever reason, this team cannot stop playing like assholes for those 12 minutes. It's astonishing at this point.

- It takes the opponent a few possessions, but once they realize they should be attacking Luke Kornet in space, that is proving to be an automatic bucket. I don't even think Kornet has been bad in his minutes lately, but this is a problem that doesn't seem to have a solution. We're at the point now where teams are targeting Kornet and essentially playing him off the floor, which is why Queta may have an opportunity if he can prove to hold his own in space. It's just tough to defend when you know you have an auto bucket for the other team on the floor. 

Getting the first win of the homestand is big because things certainly don't get any easier. You'd be silly to sleep on the Bulls tomorrow night given the history between these two teams, and then you have PHI/CLE/ORL up next (plus whatever the IST shit ends up being). After the toughest schedule in the NBA to start the year, now is the time for the Celts to stack Ws in their own building. Don't play with your food, play the right way, and things should continue to look like we saw last night. The Garden becoming a tough place to play is important, because I'd say it's fair to suggest teams haven't really had too many issues winning on that floor when the games truly matter.