Even after all this time has passed since the final buzzer, I still can't really believe the Celts actually pulled it off. Not beating the Bulls, I think we all figured that would happen. A team that was 1-7 on the road heading into a building where the opposition was 7-0, it's not crazy to think the Celts had a good shot of winning, but we all knew the deal. The Celts couldn't just win, they needed to win by at least 23 points, and honestly, it needed to probably be a little higher given they were also dependent on what happened between BKN/TOR. It could have very well been a situation where the Celts got their +23 and still didn't advance to the knockout stage, so for everything to fall into place the way it did is pretty nuts.
For every tournament game we've seen the Celts play, my brain has always cared more about what the game meant for the regular season standings compared to the IST. I didn't care more because the game had more meaning, I simply wanted the win because right now, stacking Ws is important for the regular season record. I didn't care if the Celts won by 5 or 50, my brain just cared that they won.
Well last night even I can admit, the tournament aspect of the game was entertaining. Once it was pretty clear that the Celts built a lead that even they couldn't blow it was fun as shit watching the Celts trying to make sure they kept their lead to at least +23. We saw Joe go complete psycho-mode, we saw the bench guys make it clear they very much want that 500K, we saw the stars at a time when we would never see them on the court in a regular game, it was fun.
Most importantly, it worked!
The only thing now standing in the Celts way of reaching the Finals of this thing is a Pacers team they put 155 up on earlier this season and either the Bucks or Knicks, two teams the Celts are 3-0 against so far this season. You just know Adam Silver is already salivating over a potential Celtics/Lakers Final for the first ever In Season Tournament title, and as of this moment that is still very much on the table.
So while it's fun that the Celts actually got their prayer and are still alive, the truly important part of last night is the fact that they kept pace with the teams behind them (MIL W3, ORL W7), stayed perfect at home and continue to own the best overall record in the entire NBA.
Lost in all the talk about the +23 and the tournament is the fact that we witnessed one of the best two way performances of the Celts season, which to me matters way more. Let's talk about it.
- If the Celts were going to beat a team by at least 23, that was going to require the two best players on the team to cut the shit and show up for a full 48. No sleepwalking through the game because the opponent stinks, no missing 50 shots in a row and having inexplicable turnovers, they were going to have to come correct.
Luckily, that is exactly what happened, starting with Jaylen Brown
To put it simply, Jaylen was the best player on the floor in this game. He finished with 30/8/6 on 12-23 (3-8) with 1 block and was a team best +22 in his 34 minutes. As he so often does, it was Jaylen who did the carrying early, getting the Celts off to a great start with another solid first quarter (9/6 on 3-6, 3-5), and it was very clear from the jump that outside of Caruso, the Bulls certainly didn't have the type of perimeter defender that was going to give Jaylen problems.
Just look at his shot chart and you see a guy who was able to get basically any shot he wanted
While the efficient 30 is something we'll always take, we continue to see Jaylen make progress as a willing passer, something that every Celtics fan was praying he would get better at over the summer.
With his 6 assists last night, it marked the 8th time in 17 games played this season that Jaylen finished a game with at least 4 assists. It was the 5th time he finished with at least 5 and the 3rd time he had at least 6. For reference, Jaylen had just 14 games total last season where he finished with at least 5 assists, and he already has 5 in 17 games. We went from seeing it around 20% of the time to already getting it 29.4% of his games. That's a trend I think we can all support. Combine that with the fact that this is one of the lowest TO average and TOV% seasons of his career, and it's now pretty undeniable that not only is Jaylen becoming a more willing passer, but he's also taking better care of the basketball.
Remember, Jaylen's primary role on this team is to get buckets. That's what he's out there for. So to also be getting this type of playmaking production to start the year is like the cherry on top. It's not perfect, there will be plenty of times where he makes mistakes, but one of the biggest complaints from fans last year was that Jaylen had to find ways to impact the game outside of his scoring, most notably as a playmaker. He didn't need to be Tatum, but he couldn't be completely useless in that area. I'd say so far things look pretty good in that department.
It was also nice to see Jaylen set the tone. Extra hustle for loose balls, playing good defense, he did his job when it came to the best players making sure they showed up and put the team on their back in an effort to get to that +23 differential.
- Of course, so did Jayson Tatum. That's the beauty of having both of these guys on your team. I'll never understand why this fanbase is obsessed with pitting one guy against the other when we literally can enjoy both. That's also an option too if you weren't aware. There doesn't have to be this weird Jaylen vs Tatum debate. They are both Celtics! Not only that, they are both pretty fucking good!
This wasn't even a massive offensive showing from Tatum, and that's perfectly fine. It didn't need to be. He still finished with 21/7/4 on 8-16 (2-8) and was a +18 in his 35 minutes. The 4 TOs and the passing is starting to get a little annoying mostly because we're seeing lazy pass over lazy pass, but everything else? Exactly what you wanted to see from the best player.
When it came time for someone to throw the knockout punch, Tatum was there with his timely 3s. Just like the Jaylen, we saw a good balance in his approach offensively, mixing in post/paint touches with his 3PA. Given the fact that the Bulls don't really have a shot blocker, I thought Tatum was great at making sure he was aggressive and didn't just settle. Sometimes against these bad teams we see Tatum just try and bury you from deep, but last night we got the full offensive package.
I don't know much, but what I do know is that when the Celts two best players are both locked in at the same time, this team is virtually unbeatable. Sure last night it was against the Bulls who have their own issues, but we've seen that it doesn't really matter who the Celts play when their two franchise guys don't fuck around. With things looking a little shaky these last 10+ days, it was great to see both guys show up when the team needed them most.
- I'm just going to leave this here
But weirdos on Twitter demand he be fired because he didn't call a timeout that one time. Makes sense.
- We're reaching the point where Al Horford has played his way into a lifetime contract. Don't ask me how that works, I just know that it's time for Brad to fork it over. Whatever worries Al may have given you with his first handful of games, it feels more like that was just a weird bug going around the roster at the time because look at this man
He's perfect. Find me a complaint right now about Al Horford, you can't.
His defense? Elite as ever
His rebounding? He has the 2nd highest REB% since the 2014-15 season
His shooting? Over his last 7 games, Horford is shooting 44% from three and is now back up to 35% on the season
Is he 37 or 27, who knows? What I do know is Horford is another guy on the roster that has snapped out of their funk and is back to being a two-way monster. Ever since the 11/11 game against TOR, Horford has turned back the clock and it's no surprise the Celts are 6-1 in the last 7 games he's played in. Whether he's starting or coming off the bench, the Celts have been getting the best version of Horford recently and it's further proof of why he's so important to what they do.
- Speaking of snapping out of their funk, I'm choosing to believe that we are starting to see Jrue Holiday do the same thing. As awesome as Holiday has been defensively, and he's been a monster, there's no denying his offensive start has left way more to be desired. His 42/37% splits are much lower than many of us expected, and his 52.8% TS% is one of the lowest of his career. Heading into last night, it was 47.7%. But watching him finally get buckets last night has me thinking that TS% number is about to skyrocket
Nothing crazy, 14/7/9 on 5-8 (4-5) and a +19 in his 33 minutes, it was just nice to see Holiday start to knock down his open catch & shoot looks. That's really the only thing he hadn't really been doing as a Celtic so far this year, and his body of work as a scorer is too large to think he was going to be so inefficient forever.
I thought this was easily his best combined performance in terms of a creator for others and as a shooter, and you pair that with his All NBA Defense and this was just a glimpse of what's possible with Holiday in the lineup. Sometimes guys take a while to get comfortable, and I see no reason why Holiday can't continue to feast like this offensively. With so many weapons around him, he's going to get the easiest looks of his life. I'm not saying he has to go 4-5 every night, just make his open looks at a respectable clip and we're gucci.
Like the rest of the roster, it's crazy what things look like when the players don't suddenly become overtaken by CTE. For Jrue, it makes a world of difference.
- Fortunately for us, Jrue is just one half of the Stock Exchange. Im not sure what teams are supposed to do when the Jays are killing you, Jrue and Al are giving you efficient buckets, and then you throw in the dominance of Bald Derrick just for fun
Just like last year, I cannot stress how important guard play is for this team. When they get elite play from their backcourt, good fucking luck.
White essentially had the same exact night as Jrue with his 14/3/7 on 5-7 (2-3) and to get a combined 28 points, 10 rebounds, 16 assists, and just 3 TOs while shooting 10-15 (6-8) is rather ridiculous. The Celts aren't going to lose many games when they get that type of production from their starting backcourt in addition to everyone else also producing. It's simply too much.
We say it all the time, but watching Derrick play truly is a gift from the Basketball Gods. He just always does the right thing, it's crazy. Whenever there's a smart play to be made on a possession, chances are Derrick is making it. Those little things add up to big things over the course of a game and it's the ultimate sign of a winning player. That's the best way I could describe White. He's a winning player. Both in his skillset and his basketball mind. He's unselfish when he needs to be, he can take over a game when he needs to, he never ever ever ever ever ever complains about anything and is the ultimate team guy.
Essentially, I don't care what the price is on his extension. Pay the man his money. He's arguably their 3rd most important player and that might even be low.
- Joe Mazzulla going with a hack-a-Drummond up 32 was everything I love about Joe. It's not his fault those were the rules and it's not his fault Drummond stinks at FTs. Watching the game I didn't even consider going that route and I guess that's why I'm not an NBA head coach. As always, Joe was just a step ahead of everyone.
While I didn't think he needed to, it was also a class move making sure Donvan and Drummond knew it wasn't personal and it wasn't meant to embarrass them. It was just business. Year 2 Joe man, he really is different.
- It was great to see the Celts get back to dominating the margins. They crushed the glass 52-28, they only allowed 9 OREB for 13 2nd chance points, their largest lead was 35 and it never felt like they ever took their foot off the gas. Given how much of a problem that's been once the Celts established a big lead, that was a pleasant surprise.
- We also shouldn't ignore the insane 36 total assists. That's a big time number. Every starter finished with at least 4 assists, something that usually doesn't happen all that often. When the ball is moving like this and guys are taking their open 3s with confidence, that's how you get a performance like this. Hitting the magic 120 number never fails, and the Celts never had a quarter under 27 points. Add that to having two separate quarters of not allowing more than 20, and that's precisely how blowouts happen.
- The Celts didn't shit their pants in a 3rd quarter. Honestly, that might have been the most surprising part of the entire night. 12 minutes that are usually a disaster turned out to be a 28-18 quarter. Sure that might be because it was the Bulls, but I'm here to tell you I do not give a single fuck. The Celts have been so bad in 3rd quarters this year, I'll take any strong showing I can get, no matter who it comes against.
- What are the odds Sam Hauser gets drug tested by the NBA? I'd say it's a lock
Wayyyyy too many big time dunks from Hauser recently, the NBA is 1000% going to make sure nothing fishy is going on. They just don't know that Sam has it like that I guess. Hell, even though I know he can do it plays like that still shock the hell out of me. That was a man who clearly wants the 500K considering he only makes $2M this season.
- In a real life NBA quarter, the Celts put up 78/62% splits. They missed a total of 4 shots in the 2nd quarter of this game. Outside of the 6 TOs, this is as close to basketball perfection as you're going to get
- It feels like nitpicking, but outside of a few 3s early, this wasn't even a game where the bench came in and blew doors. Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser combined to shoot 7-22 (5-17) and it literally didn't matter. I'm not sure what was crazier, neither guy being able to buy a bucket or the fact that they combined for 15 rebounds.
I don't think we've had a game all year where Hauser came off the bench and shot 3-12 (2-10), those are the numbers he usually puts up when he starts. So to hit the +23 goal while your two bench shooters were cold as shit was certainly surprising.
- It's too bad we didn't get any Queta minutes. I don't even think Luke Kornet was all that bad in his 19 minutes, I just really wanted to see some Queta run given what we saw the other night. I get why Joe didn't, but once it was clear we were going to hit the +23, I do wish we could have seen if Queta could have backed up his strong showing from the other night. Especially with Porzingis out, I'm someone who thinks it's important that Queta continue to build confidence because they could very well need him against Embiid on Friday.
- In a game the Celts once led by 35 points, there's certainly not a whole lot that I think fits in this section, but one thing that absolutely does is the turnovers. 16 is still way too many. Having 4 of the 5 starters finish with at least 3 TOs is not exactly what I would deem "good", and so many of them were just lazy passes. I don't know why Tatum suddenly can't throw a pass in the first quarter without it being stolen, and when I see smart vets like Al also have 3 it's just one of those nights I guess.
As we know, turnovers usually mean death for this team, so even though it didn't matter in this game, they do need to be better overall with their ball security. Part of the reason the offense has looked like shit the last 10+ days is the fact that the Celts can't stop turning it over.
In the end, the win was big and it's cool that the Celts are moving on. I certainly didn't think it was possible when the night started, mostly because the Celts made things extremely hard on themselves with what happened against ORL. But they pulled it off, the vibes remain high, and now it's time to go out and win the whole damn thing.