As we know, not all wins are created equal. Sometimes you win shorthanded. Sometimes you win ugly. And just like we saw last night, sometimes you can win ugly while also being shorthanded. The good news is they all count the same, and now at an NBA best 33-10 with an East-leading 13 road wins, it was great to see the Celts immediately bounce back after their tough loss to the Nuggets. When you think of what you're hoping to see over the course of a season to help build a title contender profile, it boils down to a few things:
- Be elite at home
- Win on the road
- Don't lose back to back games
Just listen to Porzingis after the game talk about this very thing
Elite at home? Check. Win on the road? Check. Don't lose two games in a row? Check. That's something we haven't seen the Celts do since early November, and I'll remind you we're about to enter late January. And while the Rockets were shorthanded themselves, that is a team that was 16-6 at home prior to last night. I'll admit they are currently going through it a little bit (lost 4 of 5 and 6 of 8), but so far this season it hasn't been easy for a team to come into that building and leave with a win.
Given that these two teams played about a week ago (the Celts won by 30+), I was interested to see what Ime had coming in terms of adjustments. I mean, he's the coaching mastermind right? He'd easily be able to gameplan an approach that Joe would have no idea how to counter given everything I'm constantly told when it comes to those two. Did that happen?
Eh, not really.
In reality, it was more of the same as what we saw in the last meeting, only this time Jayson Tatum shot like dogshit.
In the first meeting? 145 points, 95 FGA, 47 3PA and 26 AST
Last night? 116 points, 98 FGA, 47 3PA and 31 AST
It wasn't always pretty, in fact there were parts of it that were downright gross to watch. But as they say, a win is a win is a win. I don't care how you get em as long as you're stacking Ws, especially during this stretch of the Celts schedule.
With that said, let us begin
- I'd say one of the biggest things fans care about when it comes to this group is a desire to be shown that this year is different. That they can adjust and find ways to still execute and be effective, even on nights where the Jays may not have it going. That they can be diversified down the stretch of games to help become harder to guard in the biggest moments. That they can find ways to utilize a more efficient offensive approach so things are sustainable once the threes go cold.
So far this season, that's exactly what we've seen. The reason? A 7'3 gift from the Basketball Gods
I feel like anyone who has watched this team this season already knew this, but last night was just additional confirmation. The reason the 2023-24 Boston Celtics have the potential to be different when things matter most is because of this man. Usually, the devastation comes by getting Porzingis' production in addition to the Jays being awesome and combining for nearly 60 points.
Last night, Porzingis had to do the backpacking and it wasn't an issue at all. I'd go so far to say I'd like to see shit like this more often over the course of the year, simply because of how awesome it is to watch. It's not like the Rockets have any sort of legit size you need to worry about, and I'm not sure if that even matters anyway when it comes to Porzingis.
We saw it all in his 32/6/1/1/5 on 11-21 (6-11), including some NBA history
What we saw in this game is a problem that I'm not sure defenses are ready to stop. When Porzingis is on the floor, all you have is lose/lose options as a defense. If you don't overcommit to the Jays, chances are they are going to burn you. If you do show that extra attention, they are good enough passers to made the simple read and find Porzingis on an easy pick and pop where he's able to take a wide the fuck open 26 footer. That's advantage #1
Then when the time comes to attack mismatches, the Celts find a way to dump the ball to Porzingis either at the FT or on the block and he immediately goes to work. This is a player who is shooting 69% on Post Ups and ranks in the 94th percentile in Post Up offense. His 1.40 ppp per Post Up is legitimately insane.
Think of what this team did offensively down the stretch of this game when the time came to put the Rockets away. Did we see Tatum force things offensively on an off night? Did we see Jaylen try and be THE GUY even when his shot wasn't great either? Nope. They kept things simple. They remembered that it's always a good idea to toss the ball to the 7'3 dude and let him go to work. Up 7 at the 4:12 mark, this was one of those swing moments we often see the Celts struggle in. A bad shot here or there sparks a run, and now we're all sweating our dicks off over the final few minutes.
In 2023-24? The Celts can do this
Quick, tell me which big is pulling that off on last year's Celts? Or the year before. Or the year before that. Give KP the ball in the post, surround him with shooters, and then have Luke on the baseline to crash the glass if KP misses. Not only does KP have the mismatch with his guy, but you're surrounding him with shooters to help keep the defense's spacing honest.
THIS is why the Porzingis trade moves the needle. When it came time to stop messing around and end this game, we saw the Celts be able to accomplish that by doing something entirely different. There was no Tatum/Jaylen iso. There was no settling for 3PA. Instead, they player through the hot hand and biggest mismatch on the floor and let him do the rest. If you're looking for little tidbits throughout a season that shows you things to mark down for the playoffs, I'd say the Celts close last night was one of them.
I do wonder if how things went in the DEN loss played a role here, and if that's the case then I love it even more. That would tell me this coach and these players are not stubborn and understand they have a basketball cheat code that should probably touch the ball at the end of games. Based on what I've seen, KP is either scoring or he's getting to the line. That's a new weapon this offense has never had before.
Which is why outside of the Jays, KP is easily their most important piece. It's why he's the true needle mover of all the moves Brad made this summer. I'm not sure what you may have expected from KP as a Celtic, but we're at the point now where he's blowing away even the most optimistic hopes and dreams. If this is the KP we get in the Spring, it takes the Celts to a level few teams can match.
- It took a few games, but it feels great to finally be out of the Derrick White offensive slump. After that pretty brutal 4-5 game run, DWhite has responded with a 20/4.8/3.5/1.0/0.8 on 46/44% over his last 4 games
If there's one thing I'll never complain about, it's Aggressive Derrick White. With guys out of the lineup it was important that White be able to pick up the slack for the guard room, and I'd say 21 points on 9-19 (3-8) with a couple blocks fit the bill.
When Derrick is aggressive, it opens everything up. The fact that he's taken 19, 18, and 18 FGA over his last 3 games is music to my eyeballs, because everyone knows the Celtics offense reaches a higher level when Derrick isn't afraid to call his own number. It's not just his three point shooter either (which has been incredible). You know when Derrick's confidence is back because he's attacking the paint with force. Look at his approach last night and and tell me this wasn't Aggressive Derrick taking advantage of the fact that the Rockets really don't have any rim protection
To me, this is a perfect shot chart for Derrick White. Last night was a game where he and KP were clearly the ones who had it going, and I think there's something to be said about everyone else sort of deferring to both guys instead of trying to force things. That tells you a level a trust and ego-less approach that this team will need to have if they want to win the title. The fact that White also snagged a career high 11 rebounds in addition to everything else, I'd go so far as to say this was one of Derrick's best all around performances of the year. Coming with Jrue out, that was huge.
- When you find yourself shorthanded and on the road, it's key that your second unit find a way to at the very least, play their minutes even. The Celts only played 3 rotation players in theur second unit more than 3 minutes, and pretty much everyone delivered in their role.
Pritchard handled the scoring with an efficient 3-6 (3-5) including a big time corner three
Kornet had another solid night in his role, chipping in 8 points and 9 rebounds (5 OREB) while not missing a shot (4-4).
Oshae Brissett did what he does best and provided some great energy as well, with 6 points on 3-5 shooting in his 18 minutes.
So while the point total wasn't huge (26), the efficiency (10-15) and defense were exactly what the doctor ordered. The fact that pretty much the rest of the roster stepped their shit up on a night where the two best players had some shooting struggles should give you even more confidence that this year's team might actually be different.
Think of how many games we've seen the Celts lose all because the Jays couldn't buy a bucket. If that happened, the Celts were cooked. Now, they seem to be able to take that stuff on the chin a lot easier, and that could matter in a playoff series.
- I loved how the Celts didn't stop shooting 3s in the 2nd half like they did against the Nuggets, and look what happened. It's pretty hard for this team to lose on a night they went 17-47 from deep, and given the way the ball moved (31 AST), it didn't feel like all that many of their 3PA were forced. When things come off good ball movement, I want the Celts shooting with confidence every single time.
When they stray from who they are, they get into trouble. This doesn't mean ONLY shoot 3s, but it means when you're open, let it fly with confidence. If that player is KP on a pick and pop, shoot it. If that player is DWhite coming off a screen into a pullup 3? Take it. If that's Pritchard or Hauser C&S? Let it fly.
- After about a 6 game stretch where it felt like the Celts were giving up 120+ a night, we've seen the Celts really strap in defensively over their last 5 games. Their 103.4 Drtg is 3rd in the NBA over that timeframe, and opponents are only scoring 103.2 points a night. The Celts are going to win A LOT of games where they are keeping an opposing team in the low 100s. It's not a murders row of offenses (HOU 2x, TOR, SA, DEN), but I don't give a shit. I don't care who the Celts play, I just want to see them defend at a high level. If that's against poor offenses so be it.
The biggest change? How the Celts have defended the 3pt line. They were at the bottom of the league basically since December 1st, but over this run? 1st in opponent 3P% and 1st in opponent 3PM. That seems significant.
- As we continue to witness Jaylen Brown take a leap as a passer, our latest example of this development comes via his 3rd career triple double
While the totals are cool and all, what I love most about a night like this from Jaylen is that in a game where he didn't exactly shoot the ball all that well to start and ended up 6-14 (1-3), he still found ways to make a BIG impact in other areas. That's what everyone wants right? On a cold shooting night, find a way to impact the game in other ways to help the team win. I'd say in most cases if Jaylen is only scoring 13 points, it's probably a stinker right? Not last night. Tied for the team lead in rebounds, led the team in assists, led the team in steals, and didn't really force things offensively.
If this game wasn't an example of Jaylen's growth this year, I'm not sure what is.
- As we know, just because the Celts won doesn't mean there weren't issues. For example, Starter Sam Hauser cannot shoot for shit. I don't understand it, I just know it to be true. Off the bench? Automatic. As a starter? A brutal 3-12 (3-12) to bring his season averages as a starter to 32/27%. It's not like he's getting different looks or anything like that, he just can't buy a bucket whenever he gets the spot start.
45/42% as a reservem 32/27% as a starter. Not great.
- You could make the case that against a fully healthy Rockets team or against any other team with a pulse, the way the Celts played in the 3rd quarter (again) probably costs them this win. We're at the point now where there is simply no denying what is happening out of the half. It's as if this team completely forgets how to play basketball. Our latest example? This gross ass shit
So far this season, the Celts own the 22nd ranked 3rd quarter offense. Their 45.6% from the floor is 26th. Their 36% from deep is 24th. We're at the point now where I'm not sure we can trust any sort of halftime lead, because time and time again we see the Celts come out braindead. 5 TOs and 8 FGM? Another instance where a 17 point lead is blown?
It'd be one thing if this was a once-in-a-while occurrence. But for the Celts, it's almost as if a shitty 3rd quarter happens in every single one of their games. I understand they were able to play their way out of it, and I get they ultimately won the game, but that doesn't mean we can sit here and ignore a glaring issue. No team is perfect, and for this Celts team one of their biggest issues is letting go of the rope in 3rd quarters, which is something they have to figure out by the Spring.
The third quarter should be a frame in a game like this you step on some throats and buy your starters some early rest. The Celts went with the opposite approach which I can't say I loved.
- Speaking of letting go of the rope, 16 TOs which led to 14 Rockets points is simply too many. Again, I'm just looking at habits here. A slow 3rd quarter with 5 TOs, 16 TOs on the night, these are things that usually lead to losses against elite teams. Some very bizarre passes by Derrick, some out of control dribbling TOs from Jaylen, small things that can add up over the course of the game and put you in a position you shouldn't even be in had you just taken care of the ball.
- Another thing that ultimately didn't matter but definitely isn't something I loved was the Jays missing FTs in the 4th. Coming off what we just saw Jaylen brick in that moment, another 0-2 in a semi-close game in the 4th just cannot happen. Tatum stepping to the line and missing one himself too. The best players need to be able to step to the stripe and knock down 4th quarter FTs. Simple as that. I could argue their 4th quarter FT shooting was a huge factor in the loss to the Nuggets with Jaylen/KP missing 3, and I'm not totally sure Tatum should be the one taking tech FTs anymore either by the way. He's got to be under 75% on the season on those things.
- The only starter with a negative +/- last night, this was certainly not the best we've ever seen Tatum play. In fact, it's one of those rare times we've seen him have back to back stinkers. Just 4-17 (1-6), 3 missed FTs, only 3 assists to 2 TOs, this wasn't even really a night where Tatum was making a big time impact in other areas. He was kind of sleep walking if we're being honest.
After an inferno start to January, Tatum is shooting just 35/21% over his last 4 games, while shooting 79% from the FT line. I'm sorry, but in no world is that acceptable for a player of Tatum's caliber and importance. He hasn't had a game of double figit FGM since 1/10, and he's been under 43% shooting from the floor in 5 of his last 6 games.
It's fair to say we're currently living through a Tatum shooting slump. The good news is the 2023-24 Celts seem better equipped to handle it
But at some point, Tatum is going to need to get back to playing at the MVP level we saw earlier this month. Guys go in and out of slumps all the time and this is probably Tatum's first true run of dogshit shooting so there's no doubt he'll snap out of it, but I'm not sure how anyone could watch Tatum's night last night and consider that one of his better performances.
Even outside of his shooting, the effort and energy just didn't seem there either. Maybe he was saving himself for tonight and the B2B against Luka, but all I know is another 4-17 (1-6) tonight and things could get ugly quick.
Given the fact that the Mavs haven't played in 4 days, this has the potential to be another MIL disaster. Celts on the B2B, maybe Porzingis sits tonight and the Mavs are home and rested ready to roll. This was already a tough stretch to begin with, and while this certainly doesn't make it any easier, it is another opportunity for the Celts to show up that they are in fact a different team than we're used to. Show up tonight and take down a rested Luka and Kyrie, and that gives you a whole lot of momentum for the MIA/LAC games on deck.