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Welcome To 2024 Where The Boston Celtics Are Still The Best Team In The NBA

Ronald Cortes. Getty Images.

I don't think anyone is all that surprised that the Celts went into San Antonio and beat the Spurs by a billion without really breaking a sweat. While the Piston got most of the attention for their massive losing streak, let's not pretend like the Spurs haven't been right behind them, even with Wemby. After starting 3-2, the Spurs are currently 5-27. They have just 2 wins since November 2nd, and seeing as how today is January 1st, that's not great. 

So yeah, I don't think you're crazy if you assumed a mostly healthy Celtics team (just without Jrue) was going to have a pretty strong chance of winning last night. Coming back from the 3-1 West Coast trip, part of what went into the excitement about that record was what the Celts schedule then looked like after a grueling trip. Finally, they get their games against DET/TOR/SA. All of the other top seeds in the East have been able to feast all season on this group of teams, so finally we'd see the Celts get their chance. These are the games against under .500 teams that every contender needs to handle. This little stretch was a great opportunity for the Celts to extend their winning streak and continue to stack Ws. That is all that matters at this point of the season. 

As it stands today, the Celts are now 11-2 against teams below .500, which is tied for the 2nd fewest losses of the top 7 seeds (CLE is 11-1). 

We all wanted to know how the Celts were going to respond after another gut wrenching collapse and loss on the road to Steph Curry and Golden State. He buried them, again. In 2022-23, it destroyed the entire flow fo the team. For a while there, the Celts were broken. This time around?

6 in a row, 4 of 6 on the road, 3 of 6 against at least play in teams and 2 back to backs.

A completely different response to the same situation that we saw last season. I would argue it's actually impossible to do any better. Go ahead, check my math. Tell me how you could possibly have more than 6 wins in 6 games. It's not like the Celts won 6 in a row during a crazy long homestand against all bad teams. 66% of the wins came in the road, you had weird start times and back to backs, and then when it came time to face the slate of dogshit teams, the Celts took care of business. It wasn't exactly stress free against the Pistons or the Raptors, but what letter do you see next to the score? A green W? Me too, and that is all that matters.

Last night told us that we might not have to worry about this team's focus level against the bottom of the league. Their 2 losses to teams under .500 are GS (15-17)/CHA and both of those came in OT. Other than that, they've taken care of their business. There has been no playing with their food. 

Of our 32 game sample so far this season, that is definitely something to note. Not only are the Celts beating all the good teams they play (15-4), but they're also not losing to the bad teams (11-2) now either. Add it up and you have the best team in the league.

Let's begin.

The Good

- I can only imagine what it feels like to know you have to go up against Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in the same game. Some part of you has to be praying that one of them is off right? You're banking on Tatum having another tour date performance and Jaylen having so many turnovers you need two hands to count them all. Because let's get one thing straight, when they are both on in the same game, I don't care who it is, that team stands zero chance.

If Tatum's 25/6/2 on 58/50% with 5 3PM felt familiar, it's because we just saw this near exact performance a week ago against the Clippers (30/4/2 on 56/50% with 5 3PM). Pretty much the exact same approach, 9-16 vs the Clippers and 10-17 last night. He played 30:20 against LAC and 30:50 last night. 

What those games had in common was Tatum's jumper being locked in right from the start of the game. Instead of getting his first few looks with low percentage iso jumpers, we're seeing Tatum instead get to start off with some open catch & shoot 3PA. Why is that important? Well, Tatum went 3-5 on his catch and shoot 3s last night, and is currently shooting 43.6% on the season on catch & shoot 3PA. His shot isn't really broken, it's mostly his decision making and stubbornness to take low percentage iso pullups. If you leave Jayson Tatum open, he's going to bury you. This is not new news. 

The whole point of what makes the Celtics so tough is the fact that the defense has no good option, especially when the Celtics move the basketball. If the guards are putting pressure on the rim, the Celts become unguardable. What exactly do you do? Once someone rotates, the ball swings, now at least 3 other 40% shooters are potentially going to have a great look. Being able to initiate offense with Tatum off ball means you can make it so he's the guy who gets the cleanest look off an extra pass. Something tells me getting your best player wide open looks is generally a good idea and tends to lead to good things. Last night was an example of that.

It was Tatum's 12 point second quarter that carried the Celts into the break up double digits, and then once this team came out of the half and we saw the Jays combine for 26, it was a wrap. This is what I meant when I talked about both Jays showing up. As good as Tatum was, Jaylen was right there with him

- There may not be a more consistent Celtic over the last month than what we've seen from Jaylen Brown. This has gone on long enough to where it might be time to just accept that the version of Jaylen we've been seeing since 11/22 (17 games), is just who he's developed into as a player. Whether you want to look at the box score production

or you prefer the video evidence

The worst thing we've seen Jaylen do in over a month is probably the ORL loss or the 7 TOs against TOR, but he also had 31/10/6 and barely missed a shot in that win so I'd say it's not that big a deal. He's been efficient, he's taking care of the basketball, his decision making has been about as ideal as anyone could realistically want, the passing continues to get better and better, this is the version of Jaylen Brown that I think most of us expected to see. 

The best way I could describe it is when you watch Jaylen play, he's forceful, but under control. It's almost like controlled chaos or like Jaylen has finally learned how to harness his aggressiveness and use it the right way. I'd say this entire season it's been much more likely that Jaylen drives and creates for others than it is he tries to force things through 3 defenders and turns it over. 

Since that 11/22 date, not only have we seen Jaylen's scoring and efficiency return, but he's also 3rd on the team in AST (68) and potential assists (129). His +167 in his 572 minutes is 2nd on the team, trailing only Derrick White (+192). If a team already has to deal with an efficient and locked in Jayson Tatum, and then you also hit them with an efficient and locked in Jaylen Brown, they're cooked. That team is especially cooked if it's the San Antonio Spurs.

- As we enter a new year here in 2024, let's take stock of where the Celts currently stand in the league. Through 32 games, they own the

The best record in the NBA

The best home record in the NBA

The best road record in the NBA

The best point differential in the NBA 

The best net rating in the NBA

To that, they own the 3rd best offense and 3rd best defense in the league. Quite simply, they are the best basketball team on the planet. Be mad about it if you want, that's the reality of the situation. That's the standard we all held them to before the year started, and so far they've done nothing but live up to the expectations. Let's hope 2024 brings more of the same.

- It is pretty insane that Kristaps Porzingis can be shooting 32% from three on the season, and it has not mattered one bit. He's been just as dominant even without the ability to made an open three to save his life. If you thought that 32% number was tough, it's even worse over his last 13 games. In that sample, Porzingis is only shooting 26.7%. 

Just think about that for a second. Look at how hard the Celts are to beat right now, and one of their main three point shooting threats is shooting UNDER 30%. How the hell is this possible? Because the beauty of Porzingis is he's a 3 level scorer. If the three isn't dropping, it's all good. The Celts will just get him a switch at the FT line and that's automatic points. Either he's hitting the jumper or he's getting to the FT line

A big question that always comes up when talking about the Celtics is 

"What will they do in a playoff series if their 3s aren't falling?"

Watch that video again. That's it. That's the plan. Give the ball to Porzingis at the nail/in the post off a switch and watch him cook. That's the element the Celts have been missing this entire Tatum/Brown era, and it's the one aspect that completely changes how they are able to attack defenses on the random nights their threes aren't dropping. 

Porzingis was 0-7 from three in this game, and was still a +33 in his minutes. Why? Because his defense was still great, and he continued to exploit the FT line/paint by drawing fouls and hitting bunnies. Now imagine what things look like when he shoots say…..34% from three instead of 26%.

- This team is Mazzulla Balling so goddamn hard right now

For those keeping track at home, the Celts are now 56-5 over the last 2 seasons (including playoffs) when they hit 120. 

- It's one thing to hear myself and other Celtics fans gush about Derrick White. We're fans. It's another thing when that kind of stuff is coming from Pop

Not only does Derrick White belong in the NBA, he's morphed into one of the best guards in the entire conference if not the NBA. The man shaved his head and turned into a completely different guy. When exactly could you ever remember Derrick dunking the ball like this while he had hair???

Never. That would have been a quiet, fundamentally sound right handed layup in seasons past. Now? Bald Derrick is bringing the thunder and then screaming afterwards. That's a guy with an entirely new aura. Back in his old stomping grounds, Derrick gave his old fanbase a look at the player he's turned into, someone who I'm sure Spurs fans always felt was possible. You mix that love with the Celts fans in attendance 

and Derrick put on a show. 17/3/5 on 7-11 (3-6) and a +24 in his minutes, it was mostly more of the same in terms of what we expect from Derrick on a nightly basis.

I will say, it was noticeable how effective he was operating in the P&R, especially when it came to playing with the right amount of patience combined with quick decision making. Plays like this

are a great example of that. When White comes off the KP screen, his job is to force KP's man into making a decision. If he commits to cutting off the drive, the lob is there. If he plays off the drive and worries too much about the lob, that's where White needs to keep it and finish himself. Watch what he does off that screen, he notices the defender is in dropso he continues to push towards the rim, and once he gets to about the elbow, it's decision time. Who is the defender going to worry more about? Once it was clear that the answer was not Derrick White, he made the right decision and made the easy layup. 

What opened that shot up is what White did earlier in the game involving the same defender, this time with Kornet setting that KP screen

Looks familiar right? The only difference is look how much more committed the defender is to stopping White at the rim. He's making an attempt to play him more at the level, which immediately makes Kornet wide the fuck open on the roll. That's an easy pass that Derrick can make with his eyes closed. 

Here it was again

On the season, Derrick White ranks in the 91st percentile as the P&R ball handler. He averages 1.09 ppp on 48% shooting, and when he's not shooting I trust him to throw every pass in the book to the roll guy. Whatever decision Derrick wants to make out of the P&R, I have seen enough to blindly trust him. 

- Good to see Sam Hauser snap out of his funk for the moment with  3-5 showing from deep. He's a guy who has really been going through it for about 8-9 games, so I'm sure it was a relief for him to see a few drop. I know it was for me. 

- Against fringe NBA players, Payton Pritchard may as well be Steve Nash. It's why watching him in Summer League/preseason is so much fun. That's basically what last night was for him against the Spurs. An efficient 10/7 off the bench with 0 TOs in his 18 minutes, it's great to see him embrace a playmaking role, especially on a night where his outside shot wasn't dropping (1-5). To then also finish without a single turnover is how you earn Joe's (and mine) trust.

- 37 point lead, never trailed, 58 points in the paint, 57-39 rebounds, 17-4 second chance points, and only 10 TOs. That's how you blow a team out by 30+ points.

- What did I tell you? Queta is Rob-Lite

The Bad

- Outside of KPs outside shooting, there's not a whole lot to choose from. Maybe we just go with this play

What the hell even is that? George Gervin is blushing watching another fellow Spur execute a finger roll like that. I was certain Derrick was going to go for it once we saw him sprint back like that, and then the next thing I knew Wemby was flying through the air stretching his arm out like he was MJ in Space Jam. I still think White should have gone for it, part of me thinks the aerodynamics of his bald head would have helped him get high enough, but ultimately he made the business decision

- Tough night for Svi to be a shooter off the bench and then miss every shot you take. I'm still intrigued at his skillset/size, but part of the deal is he makes his wide open 3s. 

The Ugly

- Nope, the rules are the rules. After 5 wins in a row, we skip this section until the Celts lose again. Feels great tbh.

As easy as these last 3 opponents may have been, that is not the case moving forward. We now turn the page to a run of @OKC/UTA/@IND/@IND/MIN/@MIL. Another great opportunity to prove what we're seeing is as real as it gets. The Celts have passed seemingly every one of these tests on their schedule so far this season, and now's the time to keep the wagon moving.