The Celtics Being Able To Take A Punch On The Chin Still Find A Way To Win Is As Encouraging As It Gets

Brian Fluharty. Getty Images.

Over the course of an 82 game season, you're going to have to learn how to win in a variety of ways. Some nights everything is going to be dropping and things will seem easy. Other times you're going to get punched in the mouth and are going to have to figure out how to respond and overcome the adversity. It's not always going to be pretty, things aren't always going to go your way, and that's exactly how I would describe this win over the Pelicans.

On some level, the Celts are fighting some potential "they are actually just Kristaps Porzingis merchants" allegations. He's clearly the X factor on this roster both in terms of his size and his skill set, and coming off the ass kicking against the LAC with no KP, you heard a lot of that over these last few days. 

We hear so often how some out there don't really put stock into Celts wins if they come easy, claiming that in order to fully believe in what their eyes are seeing, they need to see the Celts beat a good team while struggling. 

"What happens when the 3s stop dropping?"

is something you hear a lot. The actual answer is "just toss it to the 7'2 guy", but on games when he's not in the lineup I think it's fair to want to see this team still be able to figure things out during stretches where things aren't going their way and they can't just lob it to the human basketball cheat code. Surviving and playing at an elite level without Porzingis is going to be crucial once we get to the Spring, so getting these reps in now can only help.

On the season, the Celts are now 11-3 in games Porzingis sits. Of those 11, a total of 7 have come against teams .500 or better. In some of their games against the better teams of that group (PHI 2x, LAC 2x, MIN, DAL, NO), the Celts have managed to put up an ORTG of 122.2. So in reality, things actually haven't been as bad as some would lead you to believe without KP, even against the good teams. That doesn't mean there hasn't been a stinker (LAC, 99 ORTG), but on the whole? The Celts have found a way.

That is how I would describe last night's performance. The Celtics found a way. It wasn't easy, they played some of the most disgusting basketball you'll ever see for stretches, but they stayed the course. They didn't panic, they didn't fold and go into the "woe is me" bullshit when shots weren't falling like in the LAC game, and eventually water found its level.

The Celts were resilient, something we've seen them be after every loss so far this season

It's not always going to be pretty, but who cares? At the end of the day, finding a way to secure the W is all that matters. Showing you can survive and execute in big moments without KP matters. 

With that said, let us begin.

The Good

- When such a key piece of your team is out and a B2B is on deck coming off 2 straight losses at home, this is the type of game where you hope to see your best players say enough is enough. Make no mistake, dropping 3 straight at home after starting the year 20-0 at the Garden would have been a tad concerning. These are the spots where your franchise guys need to show why they are franchise guys and stop the bleeding by playing efficient, smart basketball. When the stakes get higher, they need to rise to the occasion and execute. As we know, when Tatum and Brown both show up in the same game, the Celts become nearly impossible to beat.

This was one of those moments

We will begin with the play of Jayson Tatum. Sure the box score looks nice with 28/11/8 on 10-18 (2-8), but I would argue things truly took a turn in this game once we got to the fourth quarter and the team started things off by playing through Tatum at almost every turn. After a pretty bad close to the 3rd quarter, the Celts found themselves down 87-81 heading into the final frame. Tatum came back into the game, played all 12 minutes of the fourth, and had a monster 14 points on 4-7 shooting. Defensively he was everywhere in terms of breaking up passing lanes and getting out in transition.

Essentially, the best player showed up in the biggest moments and carried his team to the win. Last time I checked that's exactly what we all want to see Tatum do right? When it gets into winning time, can he come through? 

One of the most notable parts of how Tatum and the Celts closed this game was the pace at which they played. Things look a whole lot better when they are decisive and play with purpose rather than just holding the ball and letting the clock get down to 7-8 seconds before we even see the first action. If you look at Tatum's approach in that fourth quarter, I thought it was the perfect balance of inside/outside play at a time when the Celts needed to execute at high level

While the scoring output was huge and very fun to watch, what I loved even more about Tatum's 4th quarter is that nothing felt forced. In a game where he had it going, we still saw Tatum continue to make the right play and trust his teammates in big spots. THAT is the part of his 4th quarter I love the most. Once it was clear that Derrick White had it going, Tatum kept finding him. When it came to the knockout punch from Jaylen, guess who passed it to him? 

Tatum's ability to remain under control when an opponent doubles is going to be so important in the playoffs because guess what? Everyone is going to throw a double at him, especially down the stretch in the fourth quarter of a close game. You're going to see a whole lot of "someone other than Jayson is going to have to beat us" types of defenses, so his ability and willingness to make the right play is exactly how you get rewarded by the Basketball Gods. 

- Then of course there was the performance of Jaylen Brown. Like I said, when the Celts get plus games from their two stars, it doesn't really matter who is across from them

22/11/7 on 8-15 (1-5) for Jaylen in his 36 minutes, the official box score said he finished with 0 TOs, and even if I think that's a little fugazi based on what my eyes saw, the fact remains that Jaylen's leap as a playmaker continues to get better and better. The fact that Tatum and Brown were tops on the team in scoring, rebounding, and assists, pretty much tells you they set the tone. In a game where the stars had to show up, the stars showed up in a big way.

Getting a combined 15 AST and 25 potential assists from your main scoring options almost feels like cheating (Brown 13, Tatum 12), and I could argue that a big reason why the Celts were even able to come back in this game in the first place was the 2nd half play of Jaylen. He was incredible

- Every single Celtics fan needs to stop what they are doing and listen to Joe Mazzulla

Giphy Images.

I couldn't have said it better myself, and it's EXACTLY the mindset this team needs to have. Screw the entitlement, screw the idea that things should never be hard for them, this is the NBA. I can't tell you how many fans need to listen to what Joe is saying and take it to heart. The Celts are down by 10 points and my mentions are flooded with people having some sort of existential crisis, like there should be no world in which things are hard for the Celtics or there won't be bad stretches/adversity.

Honestly, it's the exact mindset that we've seen kill this team in the past. The arrogance of thinking they can just show up and win or that things are always going to work out for them no matter what. Get that shit out of here. Every game is its own battle, and sometimes you have to fight through the bullshit and still grind out a win. 

- I'm not sure things could have been worse for Derrick White for about 95% of this game. In fact, he had missed 16 of his last 17 shots before his 4th quarter explosion, but man was that shit fun to watch

13 points on the 4th quarter, massive shot after massive shot, that looked a whole lot more like the Derrick we've seen all season. Remember, this is a man who is shooting 58/52% on the season in clutch time situations, so really it shouldn't have been that surprising to see him explode like that.

While the makes were nice, it was the mindset I loved more. It didn't matter that for 42 minutes Derrick couldn't throw a pea in the ocean. Did you see ANY hesitation on those 4th quarter plays? That's the growth of Bald Derrick. In 2021, he starts overthinking  in that spot and doesn't take those shots with confidence. Now? He grips it and rips it. If he has the space, the shot is going up and chances are it's going to drop. 

The easiest way to tell if Derrick is snapping out of his shooting funk is what we see when it comes to his floater/shots around the rim and in the paint. The first "floater" off the backcourt to get things started off a Jaylen pass. The up and under move with the left soon after. Once I saw those drop I knew the 3s were coming because I've watched a shit ton of Derrick White. When those close plays rim out, the 3s tend to go cold. But once he shows that he's locked in and in that zone? You get a close like we saw last night.

- After a horrific 36 point 1st quarter, the Celts didn't allow another quarter over 27 the rest of the night. In order to pull off a comeback you have to tighten up defensively, and holding the Pelicans to just 52 points on 50/17% shooting while causing 8 TOs was the foundation of the comeback.

Scoring is obviously important, but as we know nothing else really matters if you can't get stops and have clean defensive possessions. The Pelicans only had 7 2nd chance points in the second half and just 2 fastbreak points. Forcing 5 TOs in the 4th while also not missing on the other end (72/75%) was how this team won the game. 

- Outside of whatever the hell happened in the final minute or so, I thought overall this was another very strong Jrue Holiday performance

Even without KP in the lineup it didn't feel like Holiday forced things all that much, something that you can't really say when it comes to the LAC loss. An efficient 20 points on 7-11 (3-5), I thought Holiday filled his role perfectly. Why teams leave him open in the corner makes no goddamn sense to me considering he's shooting 59.6% from the corners on the season, but boy am I glad the Pelicans did.

Defensively, I'd say Jrue did as good a job on Zion as humanly possible. In 25 possessions against Zion, he finished with just 4 points. Given that Holiday is a point guard, that's pretty damn impressive. When it came time for him to guard a smaller, quicker player in CJ McCollum, he held him to just 2 points on 12 possessions. Brandon Ingram? 0 points on 8 possessions.

You pair that with what we got offensively, and I dare anyone to suggest that's not exactly what the doctor ordered.

- If we've said it once we've said it a million times and I will say it a million more without hesitation.

Al Horford is perfect. 

11/8/4 on 4-9 (3-6) and a team high +12, that's a guy who earned his rest tonight on the B2B.

- In the first half, it felt like the Celts were losing all the plays on the margins, and the score reflected it. OREBs, 50/50 balls, they were all going NO's way early.

The game flipped once the Celts started to win those situations. Horford knocking the ball loose, Tatum steals, being quicker to the ball and being willing to give up your body to get it, it was pretty obvious the ball was finding energy, and the Celts were the ones bringing it. In turn that got the crowd juiced and the rest was history. 

It seems small, but those things matter. Especially in a comeback attempt. You HAVE to be the aggressor and win those 50/50 plays. That usually starts on the defensive end and is a great way to see just how locked in the Celts are at any given moment.

- It was great to see Hauser snap out of his mini slump to make some big time 3s. We're at the point now where you should always be trusting a proven shooter even in his struggles, but there's something about Hauser cashing huge 3s while touching nothing but net that just hit different. It's as pure as pure gets in terms of a jumpshot.

The Bad

- It was maddening how frequently the Celts let Zion get them on his hip. Everyone with a brain knows once you do that, it's game over for you. He's took quick and too strong. Time and time again letting him get to his left hand was infuriating because we all know Zion can thrive in the paint. Make him hit a jumper for me one time!

I could live with the Brandon Ingram jumpers, he was making tough looks all night. The Zion shit was annoying because it feels like "not letting him go left" should be the #1 thing in the scouting report. That's obviously easy for me to say as a blogger, but at the same time it was a huge reason why the Celts found themselves in an early hole.

- Brutal first half shooting at 6-25 from deep, which of course caused a whole bunch of people to do what they always do when that shit happens. They cry about 3PA volume. Well guess what? That 3PA volume is how the Celts pulled this win out. 

This game should serve as a reminder that the Celts should not move away from who they are just because shots don't drop. If they are generating good looks (which they were), they need to shoot with confidence. Water will find its level. That doesn't mean don't attack the paint/rim, but it means if you're open, shoot the fucking rock. 

- As awesome as he was, I can't sit here and tell you that 7 TOs for Tatum is anywhere close to an acceptable number. I mean, the team only had 11. No other Celtic had more than 1, and too many of those 7 came from lazy passes. I don't really fault him on that TO where he thought Hauser was going to be in the corner, but the 4th quarter passing? That wasn't great at times.

- One thing I do think we need to keep an eye on with Al is how there are stretches when he's on the floor as the only big where the rim protection isn't great. Guys are going right at him. I think he's much better this year as a weakside defender or defending traditional bigs in the post, but he's struggled a little bit when quicker guys go right at him.

It's just something to keep in the back of your mind as we enter the playoffs. 

- If you're curious why Brad is maybe looking for wing help, I think we saw why in this game. As awesome as Oshae Brissett may be as an energy guy and OREBer, his lack of shooting fucks up your spacing when he's on the floor. We saw time and time again where the Pelicans flat out ignored him on the floor so they could shade a defender over to Tatum as a help defender, which bunches everything up.

It's the main reason why spacing is so important for the success of this offense. If you even have 1 non shooter on the floor, teams are just going to load up on the two best players and live with that non shooter making 3s. 

You could counter this by saying he'll never be on the floor in big moments so it's not an issue, but I disagree. There's a role for him for sure, but it wouldn't hurt to have an additional bench shooter at the wing spot that isn't Sam Hauser, just to give Joe different options because as we know 

Spacing = death for the opponent

No spacing = death for the Celtics

The Ugly

- Listen, I was told Jrue Holiday was going to be the point guard that settles everything down at the end of games and finally ends the bonehead TOs that cause us all to lose years off our lives.

So far this season, I'm not so sure that's true. 

I've seen CTE basketball before, and that is exactly what these plays were. Did it ultimately matter? No. But this is the exact opposite of what I'm looking for from Jrue in these moments. All I need is to just be smart and take care of the ball so you can close this game out. 

Again, overall Jrue's night was awesome, which is what made these plays so shocking. I thought we were done with the rollercoaster end of game bullshit from the point guard position, but maybe it's just a Celtics thing. You come here and you are somehow destined to play bonehead basketball at the end of games. Make it make sense.

As great as this bounce back win was, things get no easier tonight on the B2B with the Pacers coming to town. Haliburton will be back, Siakam is playing great as a Pacer, and IND is actually 2nd in the East in wins against teams .500 or better with 15. Things lighten up once we get to February, but it's going to be crucial that the Celts don't overlook this game. If you screw around against this Pacers offense like we saw the Celts do to start this game last night, you're going to lose by 40.