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Imagine Not Having 50 Wins At This Point Of The NBA Season? The Boston Celtics Can't Relate

Alika Jenner. Getty Images.

If there's one thing we know, it's the late night West Coast trip games can get pretty weird. I'm not sure if it's because were all a little delirious from staying up so late, but strange things tend to happen more often than not. 

So you can imagine the relief to see the Celts show up in Portland and essentially lead this game wire to wire, without it ever really being close. Just 4 total lead changes which all came in the first few minutes, with the Celts biggest lead coming in at 24 points. Despite being shorthanded, it was as relaxing and stress free a Celtics experience as one could possibly have. I don't know about anyone else, but I'll take as many of those moments as I can get, especially against a bad team.

Coming off the Suns win, the only thing left to do was end this West Coast trip strong, and that meant taking care of your shit on a front end of a B2B against a team with 15 wins. Some Eastern Conference contenders have gone into that building only to lose to a team like that, the Celts meanwhile…

Pretty sure they were the first team in the NBA to reach 10, 20, 30, 40, and now 50 wins. Not bad! If they keep playing at this level, something they've done since October, they should be the first to 60 as well.

The point is, at this stage of the season when we are all starting to look ahead to the playoffs, it's important that this team still stays locked in. They have things to improve on and get reps with before the real games start, and a game like last night does a good job of illustrating their mindset. There was no overlooking the Blazers last night, and I imagine we'll see the same tonight against the Jazz. That was about as business-like execution as we've seen all year. There was no messing around, no careless play, no lack of energy on defense, you know all the things that tend to lead to bad losses against bad teams.

Instead, they looked like a machine. I know we're coming out of the Celtics losing back to back games a few days ago and the basketball world tried to tell you the Celtics playoffs hopes were cooked/they weren't that good etc, but I dunno, sitting at 50-14 on the season while having this type of point differential compared to the rest of the league

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that this team is every bit the wagon they've shown to be all season. That doesn't mean they are perfect or can't ever lose, this is basketball. But what it does mean is that when they don't play like assholes, they are as devastating a team as we've seen throughout the NBA's entire history.

Nobody is certainly throwing a parade because the Celts blew out the Blazers. But to me, that's not really what this is about. This is about playing your best basketball at this time of year, and doing everything you can to be ready for when the time comes for the most important playoff run of our lives.

But it also doesn't hurt if you stack Ws along the way. Those are pretty fun.

Let's begin

The Good

- If you haven't noticed, Jaylen Brown is on a bit of a heater since we returned from the ASB. I'm not just talking about a scoring heater either, we've seen those before. This one is a tad different, and it's translated into perhaps the best basketball of Jaylen's life

It was pretty clear right from the start of this game that the Blazers had zero options when it came to preventing Jaylen from getting to where he wanted to go, especially on possessions where Tatum was on the floor and the Celts could utilize his gravity. That video above is what that looked like. Here it is in shot chart form if you're interested in that as well

Outside of about 2-3 forced 3PA, it's hard to have too many complaints about Jaylen's night. Not only is he playing a full game on both ends of the floor, combining legit defense with a fully engaged offensive performance (27/6/5), he's also not turning the ball over. Since the ASB, he's well under 1.5 TOs a game, and as great and efficient as his scoring has been since the break (53/38%), it's the ball control that means the most to me. 

Please look at the TO column. In his one high TO game, the Celts won by a billion and he shot 78/50% from the floor, so even that didn't hurt as bad as they normally do. 

Is Jaylen taking a lot of shots right now? Absolutely! But personally, I'm of the thought that if one of your best players is rolling out of bed and dropping 26+ on 50% shooting, he should shoot whenever the hell he wants as long as it comes within the flow of the offense like it has since the break. Finishing with 29 FGA in 2 of the last 3 is a fuck ton of shots, nobody is denying that. But if someone can't stop you, why make it easy on them?

There are going to be times in a playoff series where Jaylen is going to have to carry, there will be times in a playoff series where Tatum has to carry. That's the beauty of having both! I'm not really sure how people still don't realize this. It's a luxury to have 1 elite offensive player, having 2 is almost cheating. It's what makes the Celtics hard to guard. If you don't put all your focus on Tatum, he's going to crush you. But then if you do that, Jaylen immediately has the advantage over whatever defender is left to check him, and that's easy money. 

The idea that there still has to be this Tatum vs Jaylen debate is as stupid now as it has been since this whole era started. The fact that you are seeing it at this moment in time, when Jaylen is playing at this level and the team is winning at this rate is bananaland stuff.

- This feels like a good time to remind you that Sam Hauser is making $1.9M this season and has a team option for $2.2M next season. There are teams in this league that pay $30M A SEASON for the type of shooting production that Sam Hauser provides. Just think about that for a minute, and once you're done, go ahead and click play

22 points on 8-10 (6-10) off the bench, I'm still not sure how Brad pulled off that deal. Easily some of his greatest dark magic at work, because finding one of the best shooters on earth, a guy who is shooting 42% from deep on the season and has never had a season under 41% for his entire career and only having to pay him peanuts doesn't feel fair. To those who watch, Hauser isn't even "just a shooter" either which is what makes this so much better. He's turned himself into more than a passable defender, his rebounding is severely underrated, and once he sees one drop and catches fire, good luck even touching the rim.

I think that's maybe the part I love the most. We haven't seen a pure shooter like this since Ray, and I find myself legit shocked any time Sam Hauser's jumper even graces the rim. Everything is pure, regardless of the zone. Corner 3s? Pure. On the wing? Pure. Off screens? Pure. From the top of the arc in a C&S? Pure. 

Again, all for the low low price of $1.9M. I don't know how Brad does it but I sure am glad he's doing it for my favorite team.

What makes him unique and important in a playoff series is he's really the only shooter the Celtics have that thrives off movement. That's been one things they've missed when it comes to the different scoring profiles of their players. They needed that guy who could run off screens and never miss from deep, if anything just to get the defense to move when he's on the floor. It's why I love the Tatum + bench lineups so much, because it gives them another look/wrinkle to their offense as opposed to everyone just standing and waiting for a drive and kick catch and shoot 3PA. 

- We say all the time that Al Horford is perfect, and I can understand why some may feel like that's a bit hyperbolic. The thing is, it's not. He is perfect and last night was a great example of what that means

11/4/4/3/1 on 4-4 (3-3) shooting in his 29 minutes filling in for KP in the spot start. Knowing he's getting tonight off, we saw Al empty the tanks last night and I'll admit, he looked 25. Those HGH injections seemed to have worked seeing as how he looked so spry, his jumper wasn't flat which told us his legs felt great, and now he can sit back and relax and have a few days off before their game on Thursday. 

All I know is this entire roster has to lock in and cannot waste this version of Al Horford. We already did that in 2022. This man deserves his ring and he is more than doing his part, even if he's old as hell. 

- I've seen a lot of Celtics stats that have made it move, but I'm not sure any of them come anywhere close to this one. This is it, this is the pinnacle

I could fucking cry.

Over their last 5 games, the Celts rank 3rd in the NBA in assists per game, sitting at 29.2. For reference, the team that leads the league who employs the greatest passer we've maybe ever seen, is putting up 32.4. Pretty good!

When the Celts are at their best, the ball is moving. That's always been the case. The difference now is that not only is the ball moving, the Celtics are actually being better about not passing it to the other team. Since the ASB, the Celts average the fewest TOs of any team in the league, at just 10.2 a night. We're basically living a 3:1 life right now when it comes to AST:TO, which is something that feeds my soul. 

Why does this matter? Well just think of what tends to get the Celtics in trouble in the playoffs. You know, those times when the ball doesn't move, they fall into bad iso habits and then turn it over a shit ton? Well, this is the opposite of that and there's no surprise the team looks so much better. 

- The standard for Jayson Tatum is insanely high, as it should be. When you enter the 1st All NBA caliber tier, you have more pressure, more expectations, more slander etc. That's just how it works at that level. So in a game like last night, there was a lot of chatter that Tatum "stunk", and I'm not really sure that's the best way to describe it

26/5/8 with only 1 TO and a starter best +16 isn't really "stinking" to me. If it is, I think anyone would gladly take that. This wasn't a game in which Tatum was disengaged, had bad body language, or didn't show up in other areas because his shot wasn't falling. Those are Tatum stinkers. The DEN loss was a Tatum stinker.

Last night, the guy just missed a fuck ton at the rim (more on this later). That's really it. Maybe he's a guy who could use a day off here and there to close out the season (only missed 3 games all year), but I do think there are some who are taking his "struggles" a little too far. 

Is his MVP case cooked? Oh yeah. Big time done. But also, who cares? I care about Tatum playing his best basketball when it matters most, if that means this current stretch has ended his MVP campaign, maybe that's for the best. Forget that and continue to play team basketball, something he's done since October. 

- The Celts have now gone 2 full games without allowing a 30 point quarter. That feels pretty hard to do in 2024, especially when one of those games came against Kevin Durant. That guy can have a 30 point quarter all by himself. 

It remains true that as important as offense and scoring is during this era, to win a title the Celtics are going to have to be elite on the defensive end. Shooting can come and go. Sometimes you're going to miss all your wide open 3PA. 

But you know what should never waiver? Your defense. Your effort. Your focus. Being able to lock in defensively is the backbone of every deep playoff run and it's how this team is going to reach the top of the mountain. I've said it for years, if you don't defend, you die.

Part of that elite defense comes from taking care of the basketball and limiting fastbreak points/points off TOs. Celts won the fastbreak battle 23-6 in case you were wondering. The only team in the NBA that is top 2 in offense AND defense on the season, that is why things feel different. When you are elite on both ends, the sky is the limit.

- Derrick White's 1st Team All Defense selection is going to hit like crack

Another game with 3 blocks, the fact that I even typed the word "another" when talking about a point guard's block total is insane, but also the beauty of Bald Derrick. Did you know he's 21st in the NBA in blocks per game? Not just among guards, but all players. That is fucking insane. If you go by block totals, Derrick's 76 on the season is tied for 14th. Again, he's a point guard. 

Last night was a great example of what things look like when Derrick is making a loud impact without being all that efficient. He shot just 5-14 (1-5), but as you can see, his value is much more than just his shooting. He's the ultimate connector, not to mention he never misses a game. I don't know what his price is at the moment when it comes to his extension, but I do know I need Brad to cut the check regardless of what it is.

- Shoutout Payton Pritchard for his spot start as well, with a very efficient 11/8/8 with 0 TOs in his 29 minutes. You knew he'd be jazzed up playing in his hometown and he certainly did not disappoint. The shooting, ball security, and defensive tenacity were all important factors in this win, and you can't help but feel great for the guy who finally has his role set in stone and is thriving.

There was always the possibility that he got his extension and then could have mailed it in, but it's been the opposite. That seems to be a trend on this team.

The Bad

- It was only 8-12 so not a huge disaster, but another sub 70% team performance from the FT line is gross. Over their last 5 games, the Celts rank 25th as a team in FT%, at 74%. That's a pretty big drop from their season average of 81%. I know I'm pretty much the only one who cares about this stuff, but seeing as how FT misses just played a part in one of the biggest losses of the season and it's still happening, I can't ignore it.

Jaylen's struggles, Tatum's struggles, these are the small margins that cannot happen come the Spring.

- Didn't love the 9 OREB / 15 2nd chance points either. Even in a blowout, those are bad habits that we know will kill this team in a playoff series. It's a bit of a double edged sword becaues their elite defense forces a shit ton of misses, I just think we've seen enough to know that an opponent living around 10 OREB / double digit 2nd chance points is how this team loses playoff games they shouldn't.

- Is Tillman hurt? He was the only player to not see the floor last night, and he's barely played since the break, sitting these last two games. I feel like a game like last night is the perfect chance to get him minutes and build chemistry, so what's the deal there? Especially in a game that KP sat?

The Ugly

- In a game the Celts never really had to sweat, it's tough to find something for this section, and really the only thing I felt like made sense was Tatum's production around the rim. I mean, this is insane for a player of his skill level

Over Tatum's last 10 games, he's shooting just 61% from the restricted area. That….stinks. 

In his last 5 games, that number falls to 57.4%.

In his last 3 games, that number falls to 54.5%.

I'm not really sure what's going on right now, because for the season Tatum shoots 73% at the rim, which is more than good enough. Yet lately, I have no confidence in his shots around the rim, which is an issue. There are plays where he should dunk, that he doesn't. Easy mismatches leading to wide open layups, and those rim out. 

We all know that Tatum is at his best when he's aggressive and attacks the rim, but a big part of that approach is the fact that he needs to finish the plays. Enough of the smoking bunnies bullshit to where he's leaving 6-8 points on the board every game. Those are points that are going to matter in a playoff game. Maybe it's his legs and that's why he needs a rest day, who knows. What I do know is it does no good to use your size and quickness in order to get right to the rim with ease, only to smoke the bucket. 

I wouldn't even say it's his old habit of shying away from contact either. We're at the point where he's smoking uncontested layups. I do wonder if like Jaylen's FTs being a mental block, if Tatum's rim finishing it his mental block. It's the only thing I can think of that makes any sense during this stretch.

As fun as last night may have been, you can't take a step back and throw up a stinker tonight on the B2B. Finish this game strong and end the West Coast trip on a positive note. A 3-2 trip isn't the worst thing in the world, and it wouldn't shock me if we see a few of the guys who played last night get tonight off. Health and rest are obviously the most important thing right now, especially when the Celts have such a huge gap in terms of the standings. Be smart, play smart, and things should take care of themselves.