The Celtics Buried The Raptors Back In The Bubble And It's Been Pure Domination Ever Since

Cole Burston. Getty Images.

Back in 2019-20, the Raptors and Celtics played one hell of a 7 game series. It had everything, prayer game winners with 0.3 seconds left, series saving chase down blocks by a point guard, I would say it was a series that took years off the lives of both fanbases. 

The Celtics won that series and ever since then, it's pretty hard to find a more one sided matchup in the league. Whatever juice there used to be in the Bubble and the seasons prior, that has not really been the case lately

Hey, I'm not complaining. Last night's win moved the Celts to 11-1 in their division and an impressive 23-6 in their conference, not to mention their 12 road wins are now tied for the most road wins in the NBA. Even with no Jaylen in the lineup, I think we all expected the Celts to take care of their business while being north of the border, especially against a team that had lost 4 of 5 and 3 in a row. Not only that, but the first game back from a long West Coast trip can always be tricky (which is what last night was in TOR) so I don't think anyone was all that surprised byhow this game turned out. 

While it can be challenging to take anything major away from a win against a team the Celts haven't lost to in two years, I look at it like this. The Celts could have gone into this game just assuming they'd win given their history. They could have fucked around and the next thing you know the Raptors are in a position to steal the win. 

Instead, what we got was something I would call a "professional win". It was all business. No fucking around, no overlooking the opponent, locking in defensively, and everyone stepping up their games just a little bit more to overcome Jaylen's absence. They flew in, took care of business, and got the hell out of there healthy. They can now focus on the upcoming Wemby/Jokic dates later this week, and we continue to see this team respond well after losses. To me, that matters more than simply beating the Raptors. They're whatever.

One last point about how this team doesn't appear to be playing with their food like previous Celtics teams, this win moved them to 14-2 against teams under .500. That 14 number isn't the highest given that a bunch of East teams have feasted on bad teams for the majority of the first half of their schedule, but the 2 losses are tied for the 2nd fewest in the entire NBA (NYK, 16-0). Anyone who has watched this team play over the years can appreciate that improvement. 

The Good

There may be some disagreement with who we're starting with tonight, mostly because there were a few guys who eneded their nights with more efficient shooting, but for me the best player on the floor last night was Jayson Tatum. Yes, he finished 7-19 (1-6), but he was also a starter best +8 in his 38 minutes and when the time came for someone to take over this game and get the Celts their much needed separation, it was Jayon Tatum who answered that call at the end of the 3rd quarter

On a night without Jaylen, it's Tatum's responsibility as the best player to make sure he does his part to make up the difference. The same way when he sits, it's on Jaylen to elevate his game. That's the beauty of having these guys on the roster, and this game was a great example of how Tatum is able to do that. Sometimes it's dropping 40, other times like last night, it's a combination of everything. 

Timely buckets when the team needs it, leading the team in rebounds (14), being second on the team in assists (6) and potential assists (11). Defensively, Tatum helped set the tone, holding Scottie Barnes to just 2 points on 21 possessions and RJ Barrett to just 6 points on 23 possessions. Tatum took care of the basketball, finishing with just 1 TO despite his high usage. 

Again, doing this against the Raptors is mostly whatever. Even though in theory they should have the length on the wing to give Tatum fits, he tends to get whatever he wants whenever he plays TOR. That is why if you're looking for something to put a pin in from last night in regards to Tatum, let's start with the fact that we have reached a point where you can no longer double him. His passing is too good. The way he can read the floor and make a quick decision has turned this tactic useless. Will Hardy tried it, Ime Udoka tried it, and the Raptors tried it last night as well. All three failed, and all you can do is credit Brad's brain. He knows defenses are going to try and take the ball out of Tatum's hands in a playoff environment, so he went out and built a roster that is going to kill you the second you decide to put yourself into rotations by doubling.

Tatum no longer getting spooked and being careless with the ball when a team doubles is a very important step for when things truly matter. I'd also suggest that his ability to identify what the game needed late and changing his offensive approach to be more aggressive and attack the rim is a big reason why the Celts were able to close the 3rd quarter on that 20-4 run. Everything he did was at the rim, and it worked. 

So yeah, his shooting wasn't the best we've ever seen, especially lately. But anyone who watched this game could see that Tatum was the best player on the floor, and found ways to dominate and impact the game in other ways than just making shots. That's truly what any Celts fan should care about in a game like this.

- As we know, a great barometer for this team is their guard play. When it stinks, chances are they lose. When it rules? They become virtually unstoppable. I imagine that's not too different across the league, but what makes the Celts guards unique is you're getting it on both ends of the floor. 

With no Jaylen, this was another opportunity where the guards were going to have to slide up a little bit in terms of their offensive role. That's no issue given the fact that both Jrue Holiday and Derrick White are awesome offensive players, and if it's OK with everyone I'd like to start with Jrue Holiday

We know about Jrue's defensive impact. His hands are ridiculous, his ability to read an offensive player so quickly is a true skill. What we hadn't seen so far this season is Jrue score 22 points in a game. That feels crazy given his talent, but that's just the reality of having a roster like this. His offense is a luxury, not a necesity. 

Just because he's not asked to be a #2 scorer doesn't mean he isn't capable. It's great to know we can always activate that type of player when needed, and Jrue responded with his 22/6/7 on 7-14 (4-6) with only 1 TO in his 33 minutes. Don't ask the guy to hit a point blank layup, but when you need a big time shot in the 4th quarter? Jrue is your guy. His 3s in the 4th were gigantic shots, and did you know Holiday is shooting 45/56% this season in the 4th quarter? 

As someone who lived through these Jrue Holiday dagger threes while he was in MIL, it is nice to be on the other side of those things now. I know there are times where you can maybe start to get a little uneasy in terms of shit shot selection, but I've seen enough from Holiday to the point where I trust whatever he wants to do. The way he's sacrificed and been so good right away with zero drama, he has the ultimate green light for my brain, especially a night where the Celts are without their 2nd best player.

Hearing Joe talk about how Jrue is starting to feel more comfortable after the trade (just like DWhite)

you can see it in his play. We've gotten a much more comfortable Jrue Holiday these last few weeks, and that's to be expected. You sometimes forget he was on a completely different team like 5 months ago, and that should have everyone very excited. As good as Jrue has been, he's getting even better.

- Then there's Derrick. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but it feels like we have made it through the other side when it comes to his brutal post JJ Redick podcast shooting slump. Over his last two games, we're seeing Derrick shoot 44/50% which is a pretty drastic change from his 32/26% during his slump. He's so important to this team as a shotmaker and consistent scoring option, it;s no surprise the team didn't look quite right during his struggles.

It's also no surprise that they look a whole lot more like themselves once his open shots started to drop again

It's also not at all surprising that when it came to someone making a gigantic pressure filled shot in a huge spot, Derrick White was that guy

There are two ways to look at this shot. First, it's a little terrifying that this was the late game look the team got. I wouldn't exactly call that a "high percentage" look. In a playoff game, you probably are looking for something a little btter.

On the other hand, this is what Bald Derrick does. As I've talked about before, this man possesses the clutch gene. I'm not sure how many more times we need to see it until people fully accept it. Hell, we already got a huge corner three in TOR from Derrick earlier this season!

It remains very confusing how broken White's floater still remains to be, sort of like how Jrue can't make a shot around the rim either, yet both guys can immediately turn around and knock down huge pressure 3s. I've learned not to question it and just thank the Basketball Gods instead. 

White's 10 4th quarter points led the Celts and essentially closed this win out, and if this is the type of performance that helps keep him out of his shooting slump, I'm all for it. 

- This was now the second game in a row we're seeing Joe's in game decisions and coaching adjustments help secure a win. Him switching things up defensively to the 2-1-2 zone with Tatum in the middle is what helped change the momentum, and if you remember this was something that Ime couldn't break to save his life either.

In my opinion, now is the time to get these types of reps in. Try new shit, see what works and what doesn't against different lineups so that if you need to unleash it in a playoff series, it's something everyone feels comfortable doing. I do think an overreliance on the zone can have issues, but busting it out every once in a while, especially against a team that can't shoot, is exactly what I want Joe to be doing. 

- 23-25 from the FT line. Not a bad showing if you ask me, and every single one was important. 

- I don't care who the team is, holding an opponent to under 100 points in 2024 is pretty impressive. Especially for a Celtics team thas has been giving up WAY TOO MANY points as of late. Even if you wanted to make the case that they got a little lucky with how TOR shot from deep (4-32), allowing only 1 quarter of 30 points is big time stuff and exactly what you need to do in order to pull out a win on the road. Defense, ball security, and rebounding. The Celts were great in all three areas.

- We're all looking for what makes the 2023-24 Celts different from last year's version, and I think all you have to do is look at the performance of KP. Guy couldn't buy a bucket to save his life, so what did he do? He got his ass to the FT line (10-12). No other Cetlic took more than 4 FTA, and this is the element that Porizingis brings that no Celtic big ever has during this era. Having an ability to still get production from KP on a night where he can't make a shot is very encouraging, because there are going to be bad shooting nights in the playoffs that will require KP to find other avenues to score. His ability to get to the line changes everything.

- I'm running out of ways to praise Al Horford so I'll just keep it simple. He remains perfect. No chance that guy is 37 years old, I refuse to believe it. 

The Bad

- If someone were to tell you Tatum/Pritchard/Porzingis would combine to go just 3-16 from three, my guess is you'd think the Celts got worked. Hauser went 1-1 so it's not like they got a ton of shooting from him either, but my point is that even on a night where their main 3pt shooters on the night weren't all that great, it still didn't matter.

Of everyone, I'm really only slightly concerned over KPs shooting. That's something that just hasn't been at the level I think we all expected heading into the season. He's been so good everywhere else it hasn't mattered, but he's shooting just 27.7% since Christmas and just 28.6% since mid November. That's not great.

- Granted he missed a couple of late bunnies, but I didn't love the resistence against RJ Barrett. It felt like every time he put the ball on the floor he was able to get to his left hand and right to the rim. The entire feel of this game late changes if he makes a layup, so in that regard the Celts caught another prayer. I feel like you live with the reality of him making threes, but you have to shut off his ability to get into the paint/at the rim. Nobody really did that.

- Whenever you play the Raptors, you're best bet is to force them to beat you in the halfcourt. Here's a secret, they can't do it. What they can do is kill you in transition, and last night's 30-15 transition points differenc is not something I would call good. Part of that is their ability to score off TOs, but the Celts should never be getting doubled up in transition points. Especially when they're one of the best transition defenses in the NBA.

- The Al/Kornet double big lineup might just stink. A -20 net rating in their 8 minutes last night, this isn't all that different from the trend we've seen all year. Granted, the Al/KP double big lineup wasn't all that great either, finishing with a -23.5 net rating in their 21 minutes together with the starters. 

That's such a change from what we're used to, but it is something to file away for later. Against teams with no real frontcourt presence, the double big option might actually be doing more harm than good. 

The Ugly

- Didn't love how the Celts started this game in terms of their ball security. 5 TOs in the first quarter, KP not being able to handle a double and turning it over, when a team shoots 37/22% and the Celts come out firing with 57/55% with 5 3PM, that should be a blowout quarter.

Instead, it was 29-25 after one because the Celts gave up OREBs and turned the ball over. Against a team with a pulse who can actually shoot, that's a recipe for disaster.

- Classic Celtics to build a 14 point lead in the fourth quarter and then go like 4 minutes without a point. Why have a stress free win when you could instead make us all sweat a little bit? The game was never in danger, but you couldn't fully exhale until the Celts hit 104. 

If that doesn't accurately describe what watching Celtics basketball is like, nothing will. Your rational side knows the game is out of reach, but our past trauma prevents us from truly enjoying things until we see the clock hit 0.0, and those 3-4 minute scoring droughts while you're giving up nothing but layups is always going to be stressful.

With SA up next, these are the types of games we all want to see the Celts stack Ws with. Not playing with your food is a big part of being a legit contender, and a rested Jokic is coming to the Garden on Friday so now is the time to take care of your shit against inferior teams. So far, that's exactly what the Celts have done this season, and it's made a world of difference.