The Celtics Went Into Dallas And Reminded The World That The Best Duo In The NBA Resides In Boston

Tim Heitman. Getty Images.

The last time we saw the Celts play a B2B on the road against a rested team, they were completely annihilated. I'm talking an ass kicking so bad not only did Joe Mazzulla pull all his players at halftime, TNT desperately tried to find another game to put on TV in real time. A classic beatdown like you read about.

Last night the Celts had a chance at redemption, heading into Dallas for a B2B against a Mavs team that had 4 days off, in part because of the tragic death of Warriors assistant Dejan Milojevic which postponed their 1/19 game. Coming off a win against the Ime's Rockets (again) where the stars were pretty awful, it was a great opportunity for Tatum and Brown to step up and carry in a game the Celts were going to be without Porzingis. It was their chance to remind everyone that what took place in MIL was more the exception than the rule, and seeing as how the Celts have now moved to an NBA best 6-1 on B2Bs, I feel confident in saying that's exactly what it was. 

Since that loss, the Celts have immediately responded by winning 5 of their next 6, with that single loss being the 2 point loss to DEN the other night. Not bad! Given where they are in their schedule combined with the types of teams both MIL/PHI are currently playing, it was pretty damn important for the Celts to hold serve and keep stacking Ws. Whether that was against an under .500 Rockets team or a 24-19 Mavs team. 

In a game like this, you tend to need your stars to show up. Thankfully, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown did more than show up, they dominated.

Let's talk about it.

The Good

- In general, I like to live my life following the rule that any Celtic finds themselves doing something in an NBA game that puts them in a sentence with Larry Bird, they get our top spot. You know that if someone fucks around and does some Larry Bird shit, it's most likely a pretty rare performance, which is exactly what Jayson Tatum gave us

If there's one matchup you can tell Tatum circles on his calendar, it's Luka. Over his last 7 games against Luka and the Mavs, Jayson Tatum is putting up 30.1/10.7/4.7/1.4/1.3 on 44/32% splits. If you narrow that down to over his last 3 games, it's 35/12.7/6.7/1.3/2.0 on 44.8% shooting. It's been made relatively clear it hasn't mattered what version of the Mavs they throw at Tatum, they don't have the defenders or the size to stop him. I mean you see Grande's tweet and the video above, does that look like the Mavs had any answers for Jayson Tatum?

And that's just the offensive end of the floor. Whenever we hear about these Luka vs Tatum debates, the discussion seems to always gloss over the difference in defense between the two and I'm not sure why. That difference is what ended up playing a HUGE role in this game, with Tatum putting up one of the best two way performances the NBA has ever seen

While on the other end, Luka was being hunted every single possession with relative ease. That seemed rather significant.

It was pretty obvious early in this game that as long as Tatum was aggressive and played with force, he was going to get whatever he wanted. Given the fact that he went 15-19 from the FT line, I'd say that's exactly what he did. Not only was he aggressive, but we saw Tatum be much better in terms of actually finishing in the paint/at the rim. With his 11-21 (2-8) performance, I thought Tatum did a great job of scoring at all three levels, as you can see here

Grant Williams tried his best on 14 possessions, but he got cooked (7 points). Kyrie tried, and he was simply too small (9 points). Maxi Kleber tried as well, but he's too slow (8 points). Josh Green has good energy, but none of it mattered (7 points). Basically, it did not matter which Mav tried to guard Tatum, he got to where he wanted whenever he wanted. There was only maybe one or two 3PA where you could say Tatum "settled", and when you compare this version to what we saw the other night in HOU, I'm not sure they are playing the same sport.

It was your classic case of Tatum taking this game seriously, which he's obviously going to do when the games matter most. If this is what locked in Tatum looks like, that should have you pretty excited. This is the version we all pray for, and when we finally get it in a big game against a fellow young star, it should get just as much publicity as his stinkers. That never happens, but it should.

Maybe the best part of Tatum's entire night for me was his 0 TOs. When the two best players on this team don't turn the ball over, good fucking luck. That's basically all a defense can do at this point. Either pray the Celts stars miss all their shots or that they can't take care of the ball. If neither happens, you're going to find yourself on the wrong end of an ass kicking.

- As awesome as Jayson Tatum was in this game, what makes the Celtics so devastating is there's also Jaylen Brown that you have to deal with. So while Tatum is lighting your ass up for 39, here comes Jaylen with a two way masterclass of his own

34/3/4/0/2 on 13-22 (2-7) in his 36 minutes, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Jaylen Brown outplayed Luka as well. It wasn't just his beautiful move to send Luka to the center of the earth, when it came to someone taking the Luka assignment defensively and shutting off that production, it was Jaylen who rose to the occasion.

In 33 possessions defending Luka, Jaylen held him to 5 points on just 2-6 shooting. That was over 2x the number of possessions compared to the next guy (Jrue, 6 points on 2-5), and we continue to see Jaylen put up an All NBA caliber defensive season. He talked the talk before the season, and we're currently seeing him walk the walk

Inject this shit directly into my goddamn veins. 

Like Tatum, the 0 TOs for Jaylen stood out, but also I could make the case that it was Jaylen's close in the 4th quarter that ultimately put this game away. At the 5:01 mark, Luka hit a nice stepback 3 to bring the Mavs within 7. Joe called a timeout and Jaylen did the rest. There was his 12ft midrange bucket out of the timeout, then on the very next possession you had his 4pt play to give the Celts some breathing room. A few possessions later after a Kyrie 3PM, Jaylen answered again with another pullup of his own. Every time it looked like the Mavs were going to make one final push in the final 5 minutes, Jaylen answered. That's exactly what you want from your star player in that moment. 

In the end, the Jays combined for 73 points, were dominant defensively when they had to be, and pulled out an impressive B2B win without one of the most important pieces of their team. If that doesn't impress you, I'm not sure what you're watching.

- Technically, this game didn't fall under the NBA's "clutch" criteria considering the lead only got to 7 and not 5, but make no mistake, this was the exact type of "clutch" close and execution in big moments that we all want to see. Remember all that questioning about it in the DEN loss? Well naturally people will be just as loud about a time the Celts came through on the road against a playoff team right?

Of their 9 FGA in the final 6:37, 6 of them were either at the FT line or closer. They were aggressive, they didn't turn the ball over, and they executed. When it came to not fucking around and instead exploiting a mismatch, that's exactly what we saw the Celts do. To put it simply, they didn't play like assholes.

This is really my general point when it comes to the DEN loss. This idea that the Celts "stink in the clutch" and "can't win close games against good teams" just isn't true. What those people are crying about is that the Celts are not perfect in these spots, to that I say no NBA team is perfect in those spots. On the whole, there have been way more nights like last night's close than what we saw against the Nuggets, and to me that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement but it also doesn't mean things are as big of an issue as it gets claimed to be every time the Celts lose close.

- Great bounce back game from Holiday as well, on both ends of the floor

I'm sure there are some out there who are raging that 12 of his 13 FGA were 3PA, but he made 5 of them (41.7%) so who gives a shit. Add in his stellar defense and his all around production on the glass and as a passer all while only turning the ball over 1 time, and it was great to see Jrue get back to the level he'd been playing at prior to that DEN stinker. 

He's shooting 44.7/41.5% for the month and hasn't had more than 1 TO in his last 6 games. I'll admit, that is refreshing as hell. You just never get the sense that Jrue is going to be careless with the ball or force things for flash. He's just solid. That's the best way I can describe him with the ball. Solid. When he does turn it over I'm more shocked than anything, and I'm thinking him being this 4th/5th offensive option at times helps keep him fresh, and as a result you don't see those turnovers that come via exhaustion. All he has to do is just launch open C&S 3PA and create for others, and it seems like he's thriving in that role.

- 11/6/3 on 4-7 (3-6) in 31 minutes for Al Horford. He looked fresh as hell after not playing the front end of the B2B, and for those curious Al is now shooting 47.8% from deep over his last 16 games since mid December. Pretty good!

- When the Celts move the ball like they did in this game (26 AST), and take care of the ball like they did in this game (6 TOs), they are nearly unbeatable. On a night when their 3s weren't dropping (32%), the Celts still found a way to win this game and they did it without the guy who they traded for to win them games when the 3s don't drop.

If the regular season is about accumulating check points and signs of this team being different than previous years, I'd say this is a great place to start. Good ball movement, good ball security, an aggressive offensive approach, and elite execution in the biggest moments of the game on the road. That is the shit that matters to me.

- He only had 5 points and shot 2-7 (1-4), but I thought this was one of Payton Pritchard's better games of the season. He did everything else in his minutes, finishing with 7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 1 block and only 1 TO to finish an impressive +16. Finding ways to make a winning impact outside of just making threes is a big step in the development of Pritchard, and he feels WAY more comfortable as a traditional point guard/offense initiator than in previous seasons. I think part of that is probably the confidence in knowing he has a legit role this season, but it also speaks to his willingness to improve as a player. He got his $30M and has gotten better, which isn't always the case (see: Grant Williams).

The Bad

- I'll be honest, given how this game started it did look like we might have been in store for another MIL ass kicking. It took a while for the Celts to get going coming off the B2B, the Mavs came out firing and the next thing you knew the Celts were down early with s 20/0% start from the floor. If not for Jayson Tatum's dominant run to close the quarter (13 points) to bring the Celts totals to 36/10%, this game could have gotten out of hand quickly.

When all Celtics not named Tatum combine to go 4-14 (1-7) in the opening frame, that usually spells disaster. Thankfully Jayson Tatum does exist.

- I know it didn't end up costing the Celts in this game, but they need to figure their shit out from the FT line. In no world should Tatum and Brown be combining to miss 7 FTs. This game is a blowout if the Celts don't fuck around from the FT line, especially in the 4th quarter. That is not the time to start bricking and leaving points at the line in my humble opinion.

They did a great job of getting there (30 FTA), but only 22 FTM (73.3%) is not quite up to their own standards. 

- If there's one thing I think the Celts still need to improve on, it's how they end quarters. I'm talking about the final 2 minutes of every frame. Part of the reason I think we see the Celts make these games harder on themselves is because they have a bit of an issue closing quarters strong. Up double digits with a minute to go should not result in your lead being cut in half.

This isn't just an offensive issue where they go cold, it's also a defensive issue where it seems like they give up these small 6-0 runs all the time to end a frame. That's the difference between a 12-13 point lead and a 6-7 point lead and in a playoff series, you HAVE to close quarters strong and step on throats when you have an opportunity. 

So while it's great that they pulled out a win like this on the road, it is still a little concerning how they continue to have these mental lapses on both ends to quarters. Sooner or later, that shit is going to come back to bite them.

- Celts lost the rebounding battle, points in the paint battle, and the fast break points battle. Pretty surprising to do all that and still win on a night you didn't go nuts from three, so maybe things actually are different?

The Ugly

- I hate to do this to him because I did feel like he made an impact in other areas, but I can't sit here and tell you a 2-12 (1-7) performance (and 1-2 from the FT line) from Derrick White was all that good. It was the opposite actually. His first true stinker in what feels like forever, the man simply couldn't buy a bucket. Several of his 3PA rimmed out so that was tough, but even his floaters were short. 

I like that he stayed aggressive and engaged, but I think we can all agree we're going to need a better showing than 2-12 moving forward. Derrick has been so good this season he's obviously owed a stinker here and there, and I'd say a starter worst -11 fits the bill.

With these two Texas road games (both Ws) now in the rearview mirror, we turn our page to the Miami Heat, who just traded for Terry Rozier. If you wanted another measuring stick game, enter the Celtics boogeyman. Another opportunity to make a statement, you know Spo will have something planned and you know the players aren't going to be afraid. Win that game and keep this train moving and before you know it the Celts schedule gets a whole lot easier.