Heading into the first game of the 2 game mini series against the Cavs on 12/12, I think pretty much everyone agreed that the following week was going to be a pretty big test for the Celts ahead of their 4 game West Coast trip against GS/SAC (on a B2B/LAC/LAL, so closing the homestand strong was important. Granted, being tested is nothing really new for this group so far this season, as they've played just 2 teams under .500 since Thanksgiving (9-2), so while other teams in the East can pad their early record with a ton of games against bottom feeders, the Celts have had to show up every night against some of the better teams in the league.
A perfect week
Entering today, here is how things stand. The Celts' overall record is 20-5. They are 14-4 against teams .500 or better. Against the Top 6 in the East, they are 9-2. At home, they remain an NBA best 14-0. Let's just put that into perspective for a second. That 14-4 record against good teams? That. 's a 0.777 winning percentage. That winning percentage would be good for the 3rd highest in the entire NBA. Only the Celts (.800) and the Wolves (.792) have a higher overall winning percentage than the Celts do with JUST looking at their record against good teams.
That is, insane.
So while I'm sure there will be a few other teams in the East that are getting headlines right now and people are starting to slob on their knobs, let's not get things confused. We are not the same
18 of their 25 games against teams .500 or better. A conference leading 19 wins against the East, and a +9.1 point differential while owning the hardest schedule in the entire NBA. There are levels to this I'm afraid.
So let's go back to this past week. If you wanted to see what the Celts were made of, these last 4 games gave us a great look. If things feel different, it's because they are different. At least so far. There was no lack of focus. There were no signs of not being ready to play Game 2 against either of those teams after the Celts won the first game handily. The stars showed up and carried. The role players showed up and filled their roles to perfection. We saw late game execution, defense, ball movement, literally pick something you hope and pray the Celts do while playing a basketball game, and they did it over these last 4 games.
As we know from last season's 21-5 start, the NBA season does not end in mid December. Just like in 2022 when the Celts were 21-5, they found themselves on the road in GS where they got whooped, and then things started to unravel. In 2023 when the Celts are 20-5, they now find themselves on the road in GS tomorrow night. This time around, things feel much more sustainable. Last year the Celts were feasting on pretty insane outside shooting. Now? They're winning games while their three best players are shooting under 32% from deep. They are winning with a more sustainable approach on both ends of the floor, which is pretty scary. This isn't even close to the ceiling of what this team can be, and they are 20-5. Let that marinate for a second.
Whatever you thought these back to back mini series were going to look like and would mean for the Celts, my guess is the reality exceeded your expectations. I'm not sure how they couldn't. I don't think we could have drawn it up any better, so let's go ahead and dive in.
- Through the first 13 games of the season, there was this sense that Jaylen Brown was off to a horrific start. I never really considered that to be true, considering the only real issue was the fact that he just wasn't hitting shots. His splits weren't even that awful over those 13 games (44/34%) but for his standards, they certainly weren't good enough. There just wasn't that consistency you were looking for.
I look at Jaylen's start to the year in two groups. We have the first 13 games, and then we have from the MIL win on 11/22 on. That was the first time Jaylen looked like the All NBA Jaylen from 2022-23 for me, and ever since that moment, I could make the case he's been the best and most consistent offensive player on the team over the next 11 games. Over that timeframe, we're seeing Jaylen put up
23.5/4.4/3.8 on 51/34% with just 2.4 TOs and 2.1 3PM a night.
The 23.5 points are 2nd on the team. The 51% from the floor is the highest FG% of any rotation Celtic not named Al Horford (54.8%). His 3.8 AST ties him with Jrue for 3rd on the team, and his 82 potential assists are also third, barely trailing Tatum's 86. All while having just 26 TOs. You want consistency? Well isn't this the very definition of consistent?
A big part of why the Celts just completed their perfect week is because the stars put the team on their backs. As the best players, that's the expectation for both Jaylen and Tatum. On a night when you have the opportunity to send a message, Jaylen Brown was the messenger
The best way I would describe how Jaylen is playing right now would be forceful, but under control. It feels like a long time since we've seen Jaylen play with this type of anger while also not spiring out of control trying to force things.
He was dominant, but not reckless. Now that the shooting efficiency is back, this sure does look a whole lot more like All NBA Jaylen, and we already know that guy is an absolute force. The only difference is now we're seeing a player who is MUCH improved at reading the defense and making plays for others. In a weird twist, I now trust Jaylen's decision making once he hits the paint more than I have at any point in his career.
What Jaylen did in that 4th quarter (17 points) to once again bury the Magic was big boy stuff. The perfect mix of an inside/outside approach, having the right balance of attacking the rim but then also throwing dagger 3s, he nearly outscored the Magic all by himself (23 points). It didn't matter what defender the Magic threw at him, it was as if they weren't even on the floor, and when Jaylen gets into this zone where nothing a defender can do matters, this team is legit unstoppable. The growth we're seeing is the patience with which Jaylen now operates with. That doesn't mean he's perfect or won't ever make a mistake, but what it does mean is Jaylen is on the path to playing some of the best basketball of his life, and that in turn takes the Celts to another level.
- What a luxury it is that Jayson Tatum can throw up a 23/8/3 on 8-21 (4-6) with a massive block and we all just sort of look at it as a "meh" game.
In the first game against the Magic, we saw dominant Tatum. An efficient 30 piece, he did a little bit of everything. Last night while he didn't need to be the dominant scorer, Tatum still found other ways to make an impact to help the team win. A "down" game for Tatum is basically a great game for anyone else, and I certainly don't hate the fact that the Celts only needed Tatum for 31 minutes in this game. That was the second fewest minutes he's played in a game this month, and the 4th lowest he's played all year. I'll take that everyday of the week and twice on Sundays at this point. The only thing that matters is keeping Tatum fresh for the Spring, so if there's a night like last night where they don't need to rely on him for everything, I consider that a positive.
I liked how he didn't let his early foul trouble impact his aggressiveness, and I'd say this was probably his best performance from deep (4-6) since his 5-13 performance against the Hawks on 11/26. That's nearly a month! Just like Jaylen, I thought Tatum showed up in all 4 games of this mini homestand, and to get both guys rolling at the same time for multiple games is certainly a welcomed surprise. No my turn your turn shit. They are dominating together.
- I've been trying to think of a traded player that made such a seamless transition combined with such a massive on the court impact than Kristaps Porzingis, and I'm going to say we haven't seen something like this since the Isaiah trade. When Porzingis is on the floor, everything about the Celts changes
Was I terrified every time Porzingis hit the floor or went up for a putback dunk? Yes. Did I thoroughly enjoy watching him get whatever he wanted against the Magic? Also yes.
That's just how things are going to go with KP. With each game he plays, we see more and more of Brad's vision. He truly is the missing piece. His impact on both ends is undeniable, the way he works with both of the stars is seamless, the skillset is something the Celts haven't had at his position during this entire era of Celtics basketball. He's bought in. He's saying all the right things
I cannot think of a single complaint when it comes to KP since he became a Celtic. It almost feels like things are too good to be true, but what if this is just how things are? We all understand the health concerns, how could you not, but as long as the team continues to be smart with him, I'm starting to worry less and less. To think things look this good and they've only played 25 games this season is pretty encouraging, and then you remember that KP isn't even shooting well from deep right now. He's under 30%!
- Imagine that there are still those out there who don't believe in Joe. They sit online and still cry wishing for Ime Udoka. I'll never understand it honestly. All Joe does is continue to show that he is the guy for this team. From the way he sees the game, to the relationship he has with the players, to how the team has played since he took over. It's all been about as good as you could physically be.
If all that still hasn't sold you, I'm sure this will
That's the Psycho Joe I know and love. That's the basketball madman that says fuck your conventional way of thinking basketball should be played and it's time to get with the program. Mazzulla Ball is so hot right now, Mazzulla Ball. Either get on board or get the hell out of the way.
- As more time goes by, I think it's time we acknowledge that Jrue Holiday is starting to round more into form. Over his last 10+ games or so, we're starting to see the same guy that was in MIL, which is a pretty big deal.
Over that last 10 game sample, Holiday is shooting 50/50% from the floor. His 62.7% TS% is higher than what it was as a Buck (59%). He's always been pretty lethal as a C&S guy this season, but now we're seeing it all come together. There are still some struggles at the rim, but that's nothing we haven't lived through before (see: Malcolm Brogdon). What I continue to be impressed with when it comes to Jrue is how freaking good he is at perfectly timing his strips on drives. These may not seem like huge plays, but I don't think they should be overlooked.
It may have taken him a little longer to get comfortable compared to Porzingis, but the Jrue Holiday we've seen since Thanksgiving has been just as impactful on both ends of the floor.
- Oh yeah, the starting backcourt combined for 5 blocks in this game. Five. Derrick White had 3 and Jrue had 2. Find me another backcourt that is doing that shit. You can't.
- Am I crazy or does Al look more spry this season? Maybe it's just cuz he got the previous game off, but I thought he looked quick as shit last night, especially on the boards. It also shouldn't surprise anyone that he was a team best +19 in his minutes.
- The Celts are going to win a lot of games if they hold a team to three straight quarters where they score under 24 points who finishes the game with 38/30% splits. The defense turned up in the 2nd (19 points), and never really let up. The 97 points allowed tied the 11/28 win against the Bulls for the 2nd fewest points the Celts have allowed this season (94 to TOR is 1st).
This was only the 4th time this season they've kept a team under 100 (4-0), and in fact, the Celts have not lost a game this season when they've allowed 105 or fewer (9-0) and are 19-3 when they allow 119 or fewer. Call me crazy, but that seems good.
- Hard to not love the resilience after falling behind 16-6 early. Normally in early afternoon tips when that shit happened it meant the Celts got killed. Now? It never felt like they were letting go of the rope, even with their 2-11 start. To me that shows mental growth. There was no "woe is me" bullshit. Or "goddamit it's happening again" nonsense. The Celts instead hunkered down and found ways to execute. That was great to see.
- It's nitpicking, but it did feel like the Celts were a little too careless at times. 14 total TOs isn't a disaster, but it's not great. KP having 4 felt a little odd, and it did feel like while some of the passing TOs came with good intentions, they weren't always the best reads, especially against a team like ORL that has legit length.
- Paolo went nuts for 36 on 14-30, and while some of his buckets came with contests like this
I do think it's fair to say the Celts struggled containing him. Part of it was early open 3s, but even when Paolo put the ball on the floor it didn't really feel like the Celts prevented him from getting to where he wanted to go. He's going to be a damn good player as he continues to develop, and you knew he would be motivated coming off his stinker in the first game, but it also didn't matter who defended him. Paolo gave that guy buckets.
- I'll admit I was shocked to see the bench shooters go a combined 4-10 (1-4). I'm just not really used to Pritchard/Hauser missing given how solid they've been for about month now. Both were still fine in their minutes, I just simply expect them to never miss an open look. It's not fair, but that's how good they are and how much I trust them in those spots.
- The NBA's hanging on the rim tech call is the worst thing to happen to the sport. Grow the fuck up
- You should know the rule by now. This team wins 5 in a row, we skip this section. Hope to see you never again!
So now we turn the page to GS. The Celts have an opportunity to really bury that team given everything going on right now, but as we know the Warriors to mentally own the Celts a little bit. Fuck that 2022 Finals. I want to see this team go out and go for the kill, because the B2B in SAC the next night will not be easy. Weird shit always tends to happen on these West Coast trips, and I see it as another test to see what the 2023-24 Celts are made of. They passed the homestand test, now let's see them do it on the road as well.