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The Celtics Are Back To Kicking Ass And Taking Names And The Best Part Is They Can Still Get Even Better

Sarah Stier. Getty Images.

There was a time when beating the Nets used to mean something whenever BOS/BKN linked up. Both sides loaded with star power, the Kyrie drama, KD vs Tatum, there used to be real juice in this matchup. But as the Nets have fallen apart over the last few years most of that juice is gone, as is any sort of a competitive balance between the two sides. 

Last night's win now made it 9 in their last 10 against BKN, with none of them being all that competitive. Now with most of the star power gone, this is simply just a bad matchup for the Nets. That's really all this is, and they certainly aren't alone. Just look across the East and you'll see a lot of similar runs. The Celts have won 6 of 7 against MIA, because they're a bad matchup for the Heat. They've won 8 in a row and 10 of 11 against TOR, because the Raptors can't match up. They've won 6 of 8 against PHI, because guess why? The Celts are a bad matchup for the Sixers. 

So the Nets should take comfort in knowing that this type of ass kicking isn't exclusive to them, the Celts do this kind of thing to anyone who doesn't have the size on the perimeter to limit their wings. One thing we know is true is if you don't have the wing defenders with the size, length, and quickness to bother the Celts' two best players, things are not going to end well for you.

For me, this isn't really about the Nets. They are a nonfactor. To me what matters more is how this team is staying focused and locked in as we get into the All Star break. We hear all the time about how guys are looking ahead to vacation and the play on the court can sometimes end in a bad loss as a result of that lack of focus, and yet…..

Is that group of wins impressive? I dunno, all those teams kind of stink. But what it does show is that the Celts are not playing with their food ahead of the break, dropping a game they have no business dropping. We'll see how they do on the second night of a B2B tonight against BKN for Round 2, but last night marked 5 in a row and 6 in a row on the road. That's not nothing. 

At this time of year, what matters is stacking wins. Good wins, ugly wins, blowout wins, close wins, wins at home, wins on the road, who gives a shit. What matters is that green W. If you want to rest in March/April, this is how you get it. You don't screw around ahead of the break, you stay focused and take care of your business against inferior opponents. 

That's what we got last night and boy was it glorious. Let's dive in.

The Good

- As explained in previous blogs, we live by a certain rule in these parts. If Jayson Tatum steps onto a basketball court and does some shit we haven't seen since Larry Bird, he kicks us off

It was pretty clear right from the start of this game that Jayson Tatum was going to be able to get whatever shot he wanted. Once we saw the 3 ball start to drop early, everyone who has ever watched Tatum play knew what type of night we were about to get. When Tatum's shot is dropping and he's also getting to the rim with ease paired with being fully engaged on the board and defensively, he's one of the best players in the world. Fact, not opinion. 

I think it's more than fair to say we are watching a generational Celtic at work, and it does get kind of scary when you think of what Tatum is going to be able to morph into in terms of a Celtics legend if he's finally able to bring home that title. He's doing everything else, that's the final step. If he brings the 18th banner to this franchise, he is an instant God. That is what is on the line here. 

As awesome as his monster performance was, perhaps the best part of his night is what he told everyone after the game

Giphy Images.

That's the good shit right there folks. That's a leader. That's someone who knows winning is more important than anything else. Let other young stars obsess over 60+ scoring nights, over here on this team the eyes are on a larger prize, and that starts with their best player. They way Tatum was scoring with ease this absolutely could have been a 50+ or 60+ type game for him, but that's not what matters. What matters is playing the right way, getting others involved and making sure the team walks away with a win. 

- I know the Heat and the Nets are nothing to write home about in terms of an opponent, but given the fact that we all watched the Celts defense give up a billion points a night ahead of this little two game mini road trip, I do think they deserve recognition for only allowing one 30 point quarter in 2 games.

As we know, offense and shooting will come and go, but the one thing that should always remain constant is defense. If you have dreams of winning any sort of playoff game, especially ones on the road, you have to defend. This team is at their best not when they are dropping 20 3PM in a game, but when they are making life absolute hell for an opponent on the defensive end. So close to the break it's easy to just let go of the rope and get into a shootout over these last handful of games, so I like the fact that the Celts have actually dug in and looked competent on that end.

- He's so quiet that his play can sometimes be overlooked, but make no mistake, Jrue Holiday's basketball impact is VERY loud. 

Maybe you liked the 60/50% shooting splits, maybe you were a fan of his 12 assists, maybe you liked his exceptional defense, maybe you like how well he's accepting and thriving in his role, there's honestly a lot to love about how Jrue Holiday is playing right now, and I think that deserves every bit the praise and hype that the other stars get.

Since returning to the lineup after missing the Hawks game with that elbow issue, Holiday has been fantastic

16.3/5.0/7.7/1.3 on 64/75% and 3.0 3PM with only 1.7 TOs

As a reminder, this is the Celtics 4th/5th offensive option. I'll admit, that feels like cheating. 

I love how Joe uses Holiday as a screener at times because teams have to respect him as a roller, and he's someone who I trust to either take that floater or to find a shooter in the short roll. I love how he's a free safety of sorts in their 2-1-2 zone given that he can guard 1-5. I love him from the corners, where he's the best corner 3pt shooter in the entire NBA (look it up). I love his ball security as long as he's able to avoid his late game CTE. 

Basically, whatever your expectations may have been for Holiday after this trade happened, I think it's fair to say he's exceeding them. The fit and transition has felt seamless, and that's not always the case when you look around the league. Part of that is on the team for finding ways to get him into the mix, and a huge part of it is the player being open and willing to do whatever is asked of him, and then to thrive in that role. Things don't work if you have one without the other, and that might be what I love most about the Jrue Holiday experience so far. 

- Just a quick update as to how things stand entering tonight's games in the East

I mean holy shit. I believe this is what the kids call "separation". Is it possible to have a conference locked up before the All Star Break? Is that normal?

Oh, and then you remember the Celts have the 29th toughest schedule the rest of the way because that 42-12 comes after having one of the hardest schedules all season.  

Again I say, holy shit.

- Why is that 42-12 significant? Oh I dunno, let's just see what Celtics history has to say about that

It just has to happen. It has to. Not only that, we also got this little nugget last night as well

Who wants to guess what happened in 1959-60? Oh that's right, the Celts won the title.

I'm going to be honest, I'm not sure how much my heart can take seeing all these stats/graphics/wins and then not cap it off with the trophy at the end. Just be like everyone else! That is all I am asking for here. I don't need the 2023-24 Celts to do anything other than what those before them did when they found themselves in a similar spot. I feel like that's not too much to ask at this point. 

- Not a day goes by where I don't thank the Basketball Gods for creating Al Horford

In the spot start for KP, off the bench, it never matters. If there's one thing Al Horford will always be, it's consistent. A nice little 16/6/4 without missing a shot (6-6, 2-2), I would give anything to be able to go back in time and put 30 year old Al Horford on this current team. I need at least 5 more years of Al with this group, and that's at a minimum. 

- You will never, ever hear me complain about a game in which the Celts offense finished with 31 AST on 43 FGM. Even against a team that we all knew couldn't stop any Celtic in isolation, I loved that they stayed committed to moving the ball and making the right play. No starter had under 3 AST, with 4 of the 5 finishing with at least 4. When the ball moves like this, I just don't know how anyone guards this team. With shooters everywhere you have to attack closeouts hard, but if you do that they all have the size and strength to just drive past you and get into the paint/at the rim. It's really a lose/lose for opposing defenses.

- From Joe starting the game with nothing but post ups, to intentionally fouling bad FT shooters in the 2nd quarter, to his comments postgame, I think we can all agree that aside from being a damn good coach, Joe is a master troll. It might be my favorite part about him. He sees everything and hears everything and then lets you know about it.

For some reason, people still don't like the guy, but all he does is win and call out the bullshit. Who wouldn't like that? Grow up.

The Bad

- I think we're starting to see why Brad Stevens went out and traded for Xavier Tillman. If these last two games have shown us anything, it's that whenever Luke Kornet is on the floor, he's going to be targeted. While he does plenty of things well, this is an issue. Too often are we seeing teams put Luke in space, and when that happens things don't look all that great. It's why Joe had to take him out against the Heat the other night, and it was more of the same last night.

Granted, this is the 3rd big we're talking about here so I wouldn't call it a "major" issue, but it is an issue. In a playoff series where possessions are limited, having a weak link defensively can easily be exploited. I do think there are ways Kornet makes a positive impact in certain matchups, but I'm ready to see what Tillman can do in these minutes given he's a much more versatile defender, especially in space against smaller, quicker players.

- Tough night for the bench shooters as well considering they combined for 6 points on 2-9 (2-8) splits. This was one of those nights where you maybe would have wanted to see a shot creator off the bench, and it certainly didn't help that Lonnie Walker IV was automatic off the Nets bench given that's a name fans hoped Brad would trade for.

A game like this is an example of one of the road blocks the Celts may find themselves in during a playoff series. If the shooters aren't making their shots, the only other bench wing to go to was Brissett, who is an energy guy and not a go get a bucket guy. It didn't cost them last night, but it is something to monitor.

- Missing 6 FTs is gross. Don't do that shit again.

The Ugly

- For the majority of the season, Jaylen Brown has done a great job cutting his turnovers down. His 2.5 a game are his lowest since 2019-20, and his 11.5% TOV% is right in line with where he's been the last few years.

Having said that, his ball security these last two games has been awful. A 6 TO performance against the Heat, and another 4 TOs last night, this type of carelessness simply cannot happen from such a high usage player. 

Aside from the TO total, it's the way they are happening that's not ideal. We're seeing him force things offensively these last two games, where in an attempt to be aggressive and make a play, he's playing himself into trouble. These last two games have been very different from Jaylen's approach most of the year, but it's the exact approach that got him into trouble in the ECF.

Where things get dicey is it's very apparent when Jaylen starts to get on tilt. When that happens, ball security isn't the only issue, his decision making takes a hit as well. For example, in an 8 point game in the 4th quarter with momentum starting to swing, there was no need for Jaylen to gamble at halfcourt for a steal (that he didn't get), which opened things up for the Nets offensively. I care way more about the decision making than the ball security of we're being honest, because the team can overcome TOs. What you can't overcome is bonehead decisions in big moments of close games. 

- A lot of the chatter after this game was about how gross the 4th quarter looked, and to some degree that's true. The Celts only scored 20 points in that quarter with a 95 ORTG and a 23% TOV%. That is the very definition of gross basketball. 

With Jaylen initiating most of those sets, it was a mixed bag of results, mostly things that didn't look all that great. The thing is, these are the games/moments where the Celts SHOULD be trying all this stuff. Scroll back up to the standings graphic, they can afford to test things out right now. Getting reps with guys doing a wide variety of things can only help, even if it doesn't always look great. We all want the Celts to be less predictable offensively, well trying things out with different players in different situations is how you build that. There are times it's going to look great, and then times like last night where it makes you want to rip your eyes out.

The point is, getting mad that the team is experimenting with things (and still winning) seems pointless to me. It should be encouraged. That doesn't mean you ignore the results, but I prefer this team be prepared for any possible situation they may see in a few months. If that means one game Jaylen gets reps initiating the offense and the next game it's White and the next game it's Tatum, so be it. I would like this team to learn to be balanced and effective no matter who is handling the ball.

You know what nobody should want? For this team to be Jayson Tatum merchants. If all you do is just let Tatum handle everything, what happens when a playoff defense takes the ball out of his hands? The others have to feel comfortable in that spot, and the execution has to stay the course.

That is why 4th quarters like last night are important, even if they suck ass. The reps and the experience are what matter for this team big picture.

With one last game to go before the break, the Celts have an opportunity to ride into their vacation with all the momentum in the world. These little home and home series can be tricky, but with KP back in the lineup there should be no reason why we don't see this team wrap up the first half of their year 43-12. Just typing that record felt so insane, but that's just what a wagon looks like.