Even In Their Wins, Nobody Has The Ability To Take Years Off Your Life Quite Like The Boston Celtics

Brian Fluharty. Getty Images.

After the Celts comeback against the Pelicans on Monday night, Joe Mazzulla stepped up to the podium after the game and talked about how he prayed to the Basketball Gods that his team would blow all sorts of leads so they could eliminate this idea of entitlement that the Celtics should never lose or never have a bad stretch over the course of a game. I think he was partly talking to his team, partly talking to the media, and definitely talking to the fanbase.

So what happens the very next night? The Celts blow a 21 point lead and have to figure out how to take another punch and still find a way to win. Basically, they gave exactly what he asked for. Now there are a few ways of looking at a game like last night. On one hand, I think there's value in exposing yourself to a situation like this, where you have to deal with an elite offense that gets hot and completely flips the script in a game, forcing you to execute in high leverage situations in the 4th quarter. Getting those reps in have value.

At the same time, can we not? I get that teams go on runs and no lead is safe, but I'm going to need a 20+ point lead to be safe when we're talking about the talent that is on the floor for the Celts. A 10 point lead? That's one thing. A 20 point lead? I need to be able to trust that. I dunno if it's possible for something to be both good and bad at the same time, but that's what this is. It's good that they were presented with a challenge and overcame it, but it's something that initially happened via a completely unacceptable brand of basketball that if I had my choice, the Celts would avoid playing with. 

I get what Joe was saying and mostly agree, I'm just someone who also doesn't love blowing massive leads, especially at home, so last night has me in a bit of a pickle. Happy with the result and thought a bunch of guys played great, but annoyed with how they once again completely let go of the rope which helped give life to their opponent. That's mostly playing with fire, and not every team the Celts blow a 20 point lead to is going to bench their franchise player for the 4th quarter as he gets back into shape after missing a bunch of games due to injury.

It's probably best described as a situation where you're relieved the Celts pulled it out, but wouldn't hate if they never did this shit again. 

But hey, a win is a win is a win and now at 37-11, who are we to get picky? They all count the same whether they're stress free or they take years off your life. 

Let's begin

The Good

- When Jayson Tatum is locked in, it's some of the most beautiful basketball you will ever watch. When he knows that the defense has zero answers for him, you may as well get comfortable because it means we're all in for a show. When it comes to the Pacers, they unfortunately have a problem that so many other teams around the league also face when playing the Celts. If you don't have the wing/perimeter defenders, you're cooked.

It didn't really matter who the Pacers threw at Tatum, it was buckets for everyone. Aaron Nesmith got the assignment the most (27 possessions), and Tatum torched that matchup for 11 points on 5-7 shooting. When the Pacers tride to maybe throw more size at Tatum and switched a big onto him, between Myles Turner and Jalen Smith, Tatum had 21 points on 8-8 shooting.

A locked in Tatum means more than just his scoring, and why he's such a devastating player. What separates Tatum from some of the other young stars that everyone loves to throw in the MVP conversation is that he is a TRUE two way player. You're not just getting elite offense, you're getting elite defense to go along with it. I'd say last night's 2 blocks and 1 steal, including a game saving block in the final moments, was a great example of what separates Tatum from most.

Over Tatum's last 5 games, we're seeing what this locked in version looks like, and as you can imagine, it rules

The numbers that truly matter in that tweet above are the efficiency, and that's coming on about 18 FGA a night and 7 3PA a night. If Tatum's jumper is falling like it has been since 1/22, then I'm not sure how you guard him? If you play up too much to take away his space like Nesmith tried to do last night, he'll just go through you. If you allow him to get downhill, it's curtains. If you give him too much space, well that's probably not a great idea either given how he's shooting the ball right now. I'll also mention that over this sample, Tatum is also getting to the line over 8 times a game, which is a perfect number for him. 

What was impressive about his 30/7/7 last night was the fact that he did it while only taking 3 FTA. That's another thing that makes Tatum unique. He doesn't get the Embiid or Giannis or Luka whistle. His 30s usually aren't coming from taking 14 FTA, they mostly come from getting buckets. Sure there are times he has double digit FTA games because he gets his ass in the post and draws contact, but no one in their right mind would suggest that his whistle is anywhere close to those mentioned above. Last night it was his 12-19 (4-9) from the floor that did it, and like he so often does we also saw Tatum control pretty much every other aspect of the game. He was 2nd on the team in rebounds, led the team in assists, was 2nd on the team in blocks, etc. 

That is the version of Tatum that can no only continue to rise in the MVP conversation, but it's the version the Celts are going to need if they want to win the title. Efficient, dominant on both ends, unselfish when it was warranted, selfish when he needed to be etc. Great night.

- And oh yeah, then you get to add Jaylen Brown to this equation

Having to deal with a locked in Tatum is tough enough, but what exactly is a team supposed to go when Jaylen Brown also shows up in the same game? How about 25/6/2 on 9-15 (0-3) for Jaylen in his 35 minutes. Not too bad as the secondary scorer if you ask me.

A night after the two combined for 50 points on 18-33, they backed that up with another 55 points on 21-34. Here we were again, in a big spot against a good team on the second night of a B2B, a situation where you expect your stars to show up and carry. I think we can all agree, that is what happened.

Looking closer at how Jaylen has been playing, we cannot ignore something that every single Celtics fan considered a major issue for Jaylen after last year. His ball security. I just want you to look at something. Please look at how Jaylen performed in this area during the month of January

2.0 TOs a game? 5 games with 0, 7 games with 2 or fewer. In the month of January, Jaylen finished 2nd on the Celtics with 114 potential assists (Tatum, 126), 55 AST and just 30 TOs. His AST to Pass% was 11.8%, which was the highest of any rotation player on the team. On the season, Jaylen's 10.8 TOV% is his lowest since 2018-19, and the best he's ever looked since he became the #2.

Basically, he's showing us all exactly what we all asked for over the summer. Better decision making, playing more in control, keeping his eyes up and not playing with blinders on. The easiest example of this can be found on this simple play to Holiday

Is that a play that blows your dick off? No. But that's not the point. The point is it's an example of Jaylen's development as a playmaker and how he's reading defenses/playing more under control on drives. Previous versions of Jaylen probably try and force a shot through Buddy Hield who rotated over, but this new version of Jaylen saw that developing the whole way because his eyes were up, and the easy pass to Jrue was there for the taking. 

Again, this is a simple play and a simple read that you could argue 99% of NBA players make. That's sort of my point. Jaylen doesn't have to do anything crazy as a playmaker. He doesn't need to be Tatum. He just needs to play smart and make the right/easy play. Lowering the degree of difficulty on his offensive possessions has completely changed Jaylen's season and it's honestly as simple as that clip. Don't overcomplicate things and make things tougher on yourself, and things will continue to look better and better.

- I think this is a good spot for us to take a second and take a step back and appreciate what we are watching when it comes to the 2023-24 Boston Celtics. We have seen them now play 48 games of their season, which is 58.5% of the way through their schedule. At this moment in time, they

Are 7-2 on the second night of B2Bs (most wins in the NBA)

Are 20-9 against teams .500 or better (most wins in the NBA)

Are 22-2 at home (most wins in the NBA)

Are 15-9 on the road (most wins in the East)

Are 37-11 on the season (most wins in the NBA)

Own a +9.4 point differential (highest in the NBA)

Own a +9.5 net rating (highest in the NBA)

Own the 2nd best offense in the NBA

Own the 3rd best defense in the NBA

So while other teams may be the flavor of the month, let's not get it confused. The Boston Celtics have been the best team in the NBA since Day 1. At home, on the road, against good teams, against bad teams, with rest, with zero rest, offensive, defensively, you name it.

I say all this because stuff like this should be appreciated and enjoyed. We ALL know the only thing that truly matters is raising the 18th banner. Nobody would argue that. But that does not mean you shouldn't enjoy the ride along the way, especially when it looks like this. They aren't perfect, no team is. They are going to fail and make mistakes and look like shit at times, that's just the nature of an 82 game schedule.

But they are also having one of the best seasons many of us have ever seen as a fanbase. In this RINGGGZZZZZ culture, I just think it's important to not lose sight of what is happening on the way to the playoffs.

- Whatever flipped in Derrick White in that 4th quarter against the Pelicans, boy am I glad it did because a version of Derrick White who is not missing every shot he takes is an absolute weapon

It was Derrick who did most of the carrying early with his 15 first quarter points, and he finished with 24/5/2/1/1 on 8-16 (4-7) in his 35 minutes. To say he's busted out of his slump might not even be doing it justice, but one thing that's clear is that when Derrick is in that zone, it changes the entire look of the Celtics offense.

If teams have to worry so much about Tatum and Brown, they don't usually have the resources to also deal with an aggressive Derrick White who is making everything he throws up. You can tell when Derrick is in one of these modes by simply looking at his floater. That is his barometer. When the floaters drop, the 3s don't even consider touching the rim, that's how pure they are. It's a sign that he's found his feel, and in those moments are when the Celts need to play through him. His off the dribble pullup 3s are cash, his C&S threes are cash, and when he puts it on the floor he has a great ability to use his size to get into the paint for a high percentage look.

I think Joe said it best

- For years now Boston Celtics basketball has shown that when this team gets elite guard play, it's simply too much for an opposing team to deal with. While things will always start and stop with Tatum and Brown, it's the guard play that vaults them into another dimension of basketball dominance. We saw that with Derrick, and we also saw that with Jrue Holiday as well

Only 8 FGA for Jrue in this game, but he made 6 and was 3-3 from deep. A little bit of everything in his 17/5/4, and while there were some issues again late, you add in his 1 steal and 3 blocks and I'm more than willing to overlook it.

You take the efficient 55 from the Jays and add it to an efficient 41 from the guards, and I'd say that's more than enough to win. The crazy part? I haven't even mentioned the 7'3 basketball cheat code yet. 

While Jrue doesn't need to worry about his offense, it allows him to focus on shutting down every matchup he has defensively, which is pretty much what he did last night. Siakam had just 6 points on 21 possessions, and Hield/Nesmith had just 2 points on a combined 26 possessions. Haliburton just 2 points on 1-3 shooting against Jrue. 

I get it can sometimes be frustrating when he takes the early shot clock threes, but that's nothing we haven't lived through before at this position. You deal with it because he's shown the ability to make those shots at a high clip. If part of the Celts success this season is how well everyone is buying into their role, I think Jrue has to be at the top of the list for that. He's the one making the biggest sacrifice, and we haven't heard one ounce of complaining. All he does is hoop, which is refreshing.

- OK, we can now all take a moment and enjoy the 7'3 unicorn. I am still at the point where no fewer than 5 times a game I sit on my couch and shake my head in disbelief that not only is Porzingis a Celtic, but that's he's an actual real person. It makes no sense

I'm no doctor, but that ankle looked OK to me. Will I still be nervous every second KP is on the floor? Yes. Will watching him play and knock down stepback 3s as a 7'3 center give me a raging Porzingis in my pants? Also yes. 

If we've said it once we've said it a million times. Porzingis is the X Factor. He's the one who changes everything on both ends of the floor. That doesn't mean the Celts can't be elite without him, but with him they are a monster. 

- It's becoming more and more clear that when things are in the balance and the Celts need a "no bullshit" offensive possession out of a timeout, Joe is repeatedly calling for something in the post.

We saw it against the Pelicans, and we saw it multiple times last night. I'm starting to call them "cut the bullshit ATOs". 

So far, it's worked pretty much every time. The beauty with it is it doesn't always have to result in that player scoring. Often times it does because Tatum/KP/Brown are able to overpower anyone in the post, but there are also times where we saw Tatum get it, the defense crowd him, and he immediately makes the right read to get the ball swinging, resulting in an open 3.

This matters of course because there are going to be times in the playoffs where the Celts need a "cut the bullshit" type play. One of their faults in previous years was they never really had a "cut the bullshit" play. Something they could go to in high leverage situations that didn't involve holding the ball and taking a stepback contested 3PA.

That is what they now have, and it makes them way more dynamic. 

- Listen, blowing leads stinks, but it was nice to see the Celtics once again show their resiliency and fight back to pull out the win. It was a little different from the NO comeback, but how many times have we seen a Celtics team blow a 20 point lead and then things snowball into a loss? Last night there was an immediate correction. After not playing defense for 2 quarters, the Celts tightened things up and only allowed 21 points in the 4th. 

Knowing that sometimes runs will happen, seeing this team not wilt under the pressure and adopt a "woe is me" attitude when things start not going their way is absolutely worth paying attention to given that's been their achilles heel in previous seasons.

- Good to see HAUS3R back to making all his open looks. Him and White both snapping out of their funk at the same time has helped this team look much more like the team we've seen all year.

The Bad

- I know there are some Celts fans out there who hate on Aaron Nesmith for how he plays and can't stand that he seems to have career nights against the Celts (26 last night), but I don't really agree. I'm happy for him. He wasn't going to turn into this type of player if he was still in Boston, and it's clear he has really worked on his game to turn himself into a more well rounded player.

I don't really mind that he has "beef" with Boston either, that's whatever. Players use all kinds of things to motivate themselves. While I don't love having to deal with someone who throws his body around pretty recklessly, I don't really get the Nesmith hate. He plays hard, worked on his craft, and has carved out a real career for himself as a Pacer. 

What I do hate is how the Celts couldn't seem to guard him in this game. There's no real excuse for that, and it's been a thing all year for them. 

- If I could make one request for Neemias Queta, it's to make quicker decisions. Things are still a little too slow for him, especially around the rim. He's not explosive enough to allow defenders to recover and time his shot, and it feels like he's holding onto the ball just a tad too long in those situations. 

I'm sure that's something that comes with reps and minutes, but you can see the potential when he's out there. He's basically Year 1 Rob. 

The Ugly

- The biggest problem in this game and why the Pacers were able to come back and make it competitive was the fact that this may have been the worst rebounding performance of the Celtics season.

In no world should they ever have a game in which they give up 19 OREB and 31 2nd chance points. Those numbers are so outrageous I didn't even believe them when I typed it. It's losing basketball.

What good is a defensive stop if you can't finish it off with a DREB? In the 2nd quarter, the Celts gave up 40 points, with 12 coming on 2nd chance points via 7 OREB.

In the 3rd quarter the Celtics gave up 37 points, with 9 coming on 2nd chance points via 6 OREB

I don't really care that Horford and Kornet were out either. That is as pathetic as it gets when it comes to protecting your own glass. Giving a historic offense like the Pacers 2 or 3 tries on a single possession might be the dumbest thing you could possibly do. They finished with game with 108-87 FGA difference in just 4 quarters, which is a staggering number.

Luckily their defense is also dogshit, but against a team that can play a lick of defense, having that type of night on the defensive glass is going to result in a loss. That was gross.

- Then there was the Jrue possession in the final minutes. Immediately after he had a few CTE end of game moments against the Pelicans, we were right back to it last night with his 8 second violation up 7 with 1:49 to go. Wouldn't you know it, that helped spark a little IND run to cut it to 127-124 with about a minute left.

I'm sorry, but it has to be said. Jrue has to cut the bullshit with this stuff. He was brought in here to be a calming presence at the end of games against ball pressure. That's what everyone has said the Celts needed and was a big issue with Smart during his time here. That you couldn't trust him at the end of games.

Well, does anyone feel great about Jrue handling the ball in the final minutes right now? I'd say it's been more disaster than not so far this season and frankly I don't get it. He's more than good enough to not have these moments at the end of games and yet here we are. Is it just a Celtics thing? Like part of being the point guard for this team means you need to lose your brain in the final minutes and suddenly get careless with the basketball? 

It's bizarre and it needs to stop. We can't all beg for some diversification to the offense and have the guards run things and not just rely on Tatum, and then have the guards not even be able to get the ball up the floor in the final minutes without turning it over.

The good news? The Celts have made it through the gauntlet of their schedule with an 11-4 mark. Things now open up for them and they finally get to see how the other half lives. At 37-11 it's hard to have too many complaints right now, especially when we're seeing the Celts win all types of ways. We still have 4 more games in this homestand too, so it's not a stretch to think the good times are going to keep on rolling.