The Celtics Have Finally Stopped Playing With Their Food And It Has Turned Them Into An Absolute Wagon

Maddie Meyer. Getty Images.

Just like I said back on December 31st, nobody is throwing the Celtics a parade because they blew out the Spurs. That was the case with their 33 point win to end 2023, and the same is true with their 19 point win last night. To me, the value I put in this win has very little to do with the Spurs, instead I think it helps illustrate an interesting part about the 2023-24 Celts through the first half of their season.

For years, one of the more frustrating things we had to deal with was all the times we watched the Celtics clearly overlook an opponent because they stink. Your classic "we can just show up" type of effort and focus, which almost always led to a very annoying loss. I'm not talking about the random games where a team might get hot from three and end up winning. I'm talking about the ones where the Celts are clearly sleepwalking. They're careless with the ball, they're lazy on offense and put more focus on iso ball than moving the rock. Those who watch this team know what I'm talking about.

Well, here the 2023-24 Celts sit, at 14-2 against teams under .500 through their first 41 games. Looking closer, one of those losses was the OT game to the Hornets (bad), and the other was on the road in OT against GS (at the time, not so bad). Part of being a true contender isn't just taking care of the good teams (18-7 btw), but it's about dominating your division (11-1) and making sure you handle the bad teams on your schedule. Those are the games that you need to help stack Ws, and so far that's exactly what we've seen the Celts do.

So what changed? Part of it I'm sure is the maturity aspect. The best players on this team have been around for a while, Horford, Jrue, White etc are all vets. While the talent of the team sure helps, I think things start with their mindset. How many times can you say we've seen the Celts have a game against these bottom teams and you're saying to yourself they're overlooking their opponent? I would say Joe and the coaching staff are also playing a role, making sure the players are prepared and focused. At the end fo the day this is still the NBA, and we all know if you fuck around against anyone, you can get your ass beat.

Watching this team play, I can't shake the feeling that they finally "get it". Don't ask me to explain what "it" is, it's just something you know when you see it. That doesn't mean they're perfect or won't ever lose a game again, but it does feel nice to know that when it comes to the lighter games on their schedule, the Celts are just as locked in as if they were playing a conference leader. That is the growth and maturity I think we all were hoping to see as time went by, and now here it is.

The Good

- Knowing that the Spurs don't exactly have what I would call "good" wing defenders combined with the fact that the Celts were down 2 starters, this was one of those opportunities for the Jays to do what they do best and put this team on their back. Safe so say that's exactly what we got

We'll begin with Jaylen, who for my money had one of his best all around games of the year in his 31 minutes. He finished with 21/7/5/1/1 on 8-16 (3-6) and was a +13, and even with some rather hilarious fuck ups like that behind the back pass turnover in transition, when you closed your eyes and thought of the type of impact/production you were hoping for out of Jaylen in this game, I'd say he lived up to it.

An efficient 50/50%, led all starters in rebounds, led the team in assists, showed up defensively for the most part, and was perfect from the line. To anyone who has been paying attention, a night like this wasn't possible just becuae the Celts were playing the Sprs. Jaylen has been at this level ever since that 11/22 win against MIL. Since that win, Jaylen has played 25 games, putting up 24.4/5.4/3.7 on 52/39% splits with just 2.7 TOs a night. I could make the case that he's been even better than his All NBA season last year. 

When going up against these bad teams, I expect Jaylen to dominate. In just looking at what he's done in his last two games against HOU/SA (26.5/6.5/3.5/1.5/1.5 on 61/58% splits), I'm not sure what else to call it other than domination. While the passing is great and the decision making continues to progress, I'm probably happiest to see his three point shot return like it has, both as a C&S guy and off the dribble. Remember how poor Jaylen started the year from deep?

Guess who's now at 37% for the season.

- It has to be so discouraging for opposing teams to realize that while your hands are already full having to deal with Jaylen Brown, you look over and realize that there's this other unstoppable force giving you just as much hell in Jayson Tatum

You know who sets the tone for a team in a game like this? The best players. You know who was awesome last night and set the tone for the Celts? The best players.

The same way the Spurs had no defensive option for Jaylen, things weren't any better when it came to Tatum. As a reminder, this is a player who is shooting 49.2% from three on 7.4 3PA since we arrived in 2024. I called him Supernova Tatum the other day because everything he seems to be throwing up is going in, and we had more of that last night. It's these moments, when Tatum is so locked in like we're seeing offensively right now that my brain truly starts to go to dangerous places. I don't care if this came against the worst defense in the league, Tatum has been doing this to everyone he faces this entire month. It's been glorious.

Again, so many of the bad losses of previous seasons against bad teams came as a result of the best players fucking around and playing with their food. I haven't gotten that feeling ONCE with either guy in any of these games. I'm seeing Tatum mix up his approach to play inside/outside, I'm seeing them defend, I'm seeing them take care of the ball, it's hard to really complain how either guy is playing right now.

- If you needed any more evidence that the brutal showing in MIL where the Celts had dead ass legs was the exception and not the rule, I'll just point out how this team has shot the ball while having normal rest ever since. 

vs HOU: 24-47 (51.1%)

vs TOR: 16-39 (41.0%)

vs SA: 18-38 (47.4%)

Hm, seems like the strategy and approach are just fine to me. They've gone 50-105 (47.6%) on their open/wide open threes since that blowout loss, which should help comfort you if that loss still bothers you. Basically, shit happens. Just because the Celts might have an off night every once in a while does not mean it's time to panic. The body of work we've seen through 41 games should tell you everything you need to know.

- I love pretty much every single thing I'm seeing from Jrue Holiday right now. The only gripe I have is his inability to make point blank shots, but if he's going to continue to play like he has been these last few weeks, I can easily overlook that

I'm not kidding about his rim issues though. Those are very real, with another 2 point blank misses last night. But overall? Jrue has been the very definition of a "chef's kiss" on both ends of the floor. He's dropped back to back 22 point games which is the first time we've ever seen him do that as a Celtic, and even with guys out in both of those games, I've never felt like Holiday is forcing anything offensively. 

Just like with Tatum/Brown, Holiday's outside shooting during this stretch has been otherwordly. The man is shooting 76.9%(!!!!!) over these last two games, and 42% since we got to January. It hasn't mattered if it's C&S in the corners (where he's the best corner shooter in the NBA), or a C&S from the wing, or maybe even a stepback off the dribble. Holiday has been one of the few Celts that have been locked in from three all season, and to me that's just an added bonus. Watching Holiday cash threes at this rate almost feels like house money at this point, and given how much attention the Jays require, it's not really a surprise. This man is living in a world where almost all his looks are wide open.

Compare that to what he had to deal with last season and my guess is he loves his life.

- I'm just going to say this once. While I cannot get enough of every Grande Nugget like this

and every Dick Lipe nugget like this

I'm going to have to ask the 2024 Celts to live up to what we're being told and actually win the whole thing. Hearing that 8-12 teams won the title with a +10 scoring differential and then 9 of 13 teams who started 32-9 won the title, I'm at my limit. I am begging. Literally begging. All I am asking for is for this team to be like the majority of the others who had pulled off what we're currently watching. Is that so much to ask? I feel like it isn't. 

We lived through this in 2023, and the Celts choked. Here we are again in 2024 and they continue to check off box after box after box. This has to be the year, it just has to be.

- At first, it used it as mostly a joke to call Neemias Queta "Rob-Lite", but the more he plays the less it looks like a joke and more like it might actually be reality. You tell me

I mean, that's Rob-Lite. I watched every second of Rob's Celtics tenure so I know it when I see it, and there's something there. At this point I think it's safe to assume Queta is going to get his Two Way converted so he can be playoff eligibile in case of an emergency. Why not? The way he impacts the game on the offensive glass is a real weapon. Sure he's a bit slow in space and he tends to foul a lot. OK? We're talking about the 4th center here. Tell me the player you are going to bring in to fill that role who will be all that different from the minutes Queta gives you?

This also does not mean he should play over Kornet. I feel like people go too far for that. Both thrive in their roles. If you need a big rebound, Queta is your guy. If you need a good shot? That's Luke. His chemistry with the starters is real, and his ability to pass off the short roll is just as much of a weapon as Queta's OREB.

- I know the Spurs stink, but I'll always give props to holding an NBA team under 100 points in 2024. Especially with how many points we've had to watch the Celts give up lately. 

- It's been really fun to watch the development of Payton Pritchard. No longer is he just a shooter or an undersized 2 guard. I'm seeing a player who looks WAY more comfortable running an offense, a guy who is confident in his role and knows what to expect each night, and as a result that confidence is translating onto the floor. Another 4 AST and 0 TOs in his 27 minutes off the bench, Pritchard's progression as a floor general is probably the most notable difference in his season.

The shooting will always be there (2-4 from deep), but the fact that Pritchard looks like a more complete player is what is truly going to help put this team into a different level. As we know, good guard play is extremely important to how this team operates, and Payton has answered the call and then some.

- Just watch and take in the vibes

- 20-0 at home is simply insane. That's all there is to say about it. We're watching something many of us have never seen in our lifetimes. Take a minute and appreciate that because lord knows it's pretty rare throughout NBA history. 

The Bad

- How many things can you realistically put here in a game the Celts once led by 30? It's slim pickin's for sure, but let's start with the obvious. Not only was it bullshit that Jordan Walsh only played 3 minutes, it was even more bullshit that Svi and the other end of bench guys basically froze him out on the offensive end. 

Hey guys, we've already seen what you can do and it's not great. You know what we want to see? Jordan Walsh cook. It was brutal to see him fight for his life on the glass looking like a young Dennis Rodman pulling in every board we saw only to never even touch the ball on the offensive end. 

Maybe getting him some touches would have helped his nerves and chances are he cashes in that open 3. While it was cool to see Walsh make his NBA debut, it was very annoying how nobody seemed to want to pass him the ball. I don't need Banton/Svi shooting the ball when Walsh is on the floor. When that happens, everyone just needs to pretend he's the long lost Jay and let him initiate everything, just so we can finally see it!

- Is it me or does it feel like Tatum misses a ton of tech FTs? 

- Let's be fair here. The Jaylen behind the back turnover was gross. I get why he tried it, but I can't sit here and tell you it was good. Thankfully everyone seemed to have fun with it

but maybe I'm just triggered by watching the Celts fuck up so many easy transition plays over the years. I get it was a blowout and this is about having fun, but I am man enough to admit it triggered me a little. 

The Ugly

- Pretty obvious what should go in this section. Another disgusting 3rd quarter showing. Maybe this was the Celts taking their foot off the gas up 25, maybe this was a regression to the mean given how the game started, but we can't sit here and act like this is the first time this has happened. 

Celts gave up 33 points, the Spurs shot 60/40%, and then on the other end the Celts shot 40/28% with 4 TOs. Watching a 30 point lead get trimmed down to 13 is pretty gross, especially when the team stinks. Yes, the Celts recovered and the game was never truly in question, and I understand that runs happen in the NBA, but let's tell the truth. In no world should the Celts have a 30 point lead more than cut in half in a single quarter against a team with 7 wins. Please be serious.

- I love the energy, I love the rebounding, but I am still amazed how much of a lack of buckets there appears to be with Oshae Brissett. Open or wide open, jumpers, layups, it doesn't really matter. Granted his role isn't to score, but it is a little crazy how almost nothing ever drops for him.

Now that the "easy" games are out of the way and the Celts have regained their momentum coming off the MIL loss, now is the true test. The rested Nuggets come to town tomorrow night, then we see the Celts have a stretch of HOU/DAL/MIA/LAC/NO/IND/LAL, which certainly won't be a cakewalk. At some point their schedule will flip, but not until they get through that gauntlet. There are 2 B2Bs in that stretch but the majority of it is at the Garden, so really there's no excuse.