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We Are Currently Witnessing A Level Of Play From The Celtics That Can Best Be Described As Basketball Nirvana

Brian Babineau. Getty Images.

For the first time since March 3rd (a 140-88 win over GS) we finally got to see the Celts play at the Garden, and boy did they not disappoint. This time a healthy and rested (hadn't played since Monday) Suns team was coming to town as they looked to get some revenge for when the Celts went into their building and won rather comfortably less than a week ago. For a team like the Suns who happen to own the 3rd toughest schedule remaining this season and are fighting for their Play In lives, this was a pretty important game. For the Celts, none of these games mean anything in terms of the standings, but I was interested to see the matchup because in the previous game the Suns were without Devin Booker, who I would argue is a pretty important piece of their puzzle.

The result?

Another complete ass kicking. 

The final score may say 127-112, but it really didn't feel that close after the first quarter. Just like we saw in UTA and POR, the Celts are operating like some sort of basketball death machine right now. No screwing around, no overlooking their opponents, no making excuses, just pure basketball domination. So much so, that as we sit here on March 15th, they've already clinched a playoff spot

The fact that there is still a month to go in the season and I'm seeing tweets like that on my timeline is pretty outrageous, but that's what happens when you find yourself 52-14. There is a strong case that the Celts not only hit the 40/20 rule and a 50/20 situation, but a 60/20 reality is absolutely still in play. That is absurd.

Since the All Star Break, the Celts have attacked this second half with a 9-2 record, the #1 offense in the NBA (127.4), and a +17.5 net rating, which also leads the NBA. How good is that? Well, the Nuggets are second in that regard at a +11.5. As dominant as the Celts were entering the break (43-12, #1 offense, +10.3 net rating), they've somehow found a way to go up a level, and the impressive part is of those 11 games, 7 of them have come on the road and only 3 are against teams under .500. 

Oh, and did I mention they did all this last night against a healthy Suns team without having Kristaps Porzingis? You know, their human basketball cheat code. Seems pretty good!

As I said earlier in the week, every single Celts fan on the planet understands that their goal is not to be 52-14 and awesome since the ASB. The goal is to win a goddamn title. But at the same time, you cannot do that in March. We are watching special hoops every single time the Celts take the court, and you should not be taking this for granted, especially how they are playing right now. It's honestly unlike anything we've ever seen from a Celts team and it's perfectly acceptable to take a step back and appreciate it. 

The Suns had never lost a game this season when their Big 3 of KD/Booker/Beal all scored at least 20 points like they did last night. Did it matter? Nope. Because they, like so many before them, ran into a buzzsaw.

Let's talk about it.

The Good

- I would like to take this opportunity to show the class what it looks like when an NBA player is EXTREMELY locked the fuck in. I'm talking about playing nearly flawless basketball. Not just got a game, not just for two games, but every single game since the break.

First, the video evidence

Next, the supporting documents

Remember how we all couldn't wait to see what things looked like as the Jays inched closer and closer to their NBA prime years? Well uh, for Jaylen Brown that might mean playing at a top 15 level. Hell, if you want to tell me he's been playing at a top 10 level since the break I don't think I'd push back too much, I mean look at that shit. 

Add it all up and since the break we're seeing Jaylen put up 28.9/6.0/3.6 on 54/40% splits with 2.8 3PM a night and ONLY 1.3 TOs a game. To me, the turnover part is still my favorite aspect of this run. Please look at that column again. We've seen Jaylen have efficient scoring runs before, but the ball security is something different, and for my money is truly what matters most. When you hear his mindset though, it shouldn't really surprise you

Giphy Images.

What we are witnessing isn't just the best basketball of Jaylen's season, it's the best basketball of his life. Oh and lets not forget, this isn't just an offensive player. This is a two way star who has as legit a shot as any to also make an All NBA defensive team in addition to an All NBA team

To help put in perspective just how impactful Jaylen has been since the break, all you have to do is look at the on/offs

Mind you, this technically isn't even Jaylen's NBA prime years yet. He's only 27. We're just now entering the early stages, and all I know is if THIS is the Jaylen we are able to get for an entire playoff run, holy shit.

- Al Horford. That's it. That's all you need to know

I will die for this man, no questions asked and frankly, I'm not even kidding. Do I have any idea where his 24 points on 8-14 (6-10) came from? Nope. Was it incredible to witness? Absolutely. 

And it's not just me either. Everyone loves Al. Everyone understands how important Al is and how crucial it is that the team finish this thing off so he can FINALLY get the ring he so clearly deserves

Whatever the load management plan has been, it's working. We all know the playoffs are going to be grueling, and having Al as fresh as possible is going to be as important as anything else the Celts do. That's why the younger guys cannot fuck around and blow winnable playoff games. I need series to be as short as possible so Al doesn't have to put more miles on his legs, because it's pretty clear what is still possible when Al has fresh legs.

If you need a reminder, just watch those clips again. 

- If we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times. If you do not have the wing defense to handle the Jays, you're cooked. It's over for you. The Suns unfortunately do not have it, and as a result not only did we get Jaylen Brown getting whatever he wanted, there was also this Jayson Tatum fella who had that entire team in hell as well

You knew almost instantly that Tatum was on one given how he started this game in the 1st quarter (14 points on 6-8). When his threes are that pure to start, you know it's going to be one of those nights where he's simply unguardable. If you play up to try and take away his three, guess what? He's now used his size and quickness and is at the rim. If you back off him and give him space to shoot, you get what we saw to start this game. It's a lose/lose for the defense when Tatum is locked in like this offensively, and I love that he (and everyone else) played under 34 minutes. 

When I say the Celts are playing like a machine, what we saw from the Jays last night is what I mean. There's no fucking around. There's no wasted movement, everything is done with a purpose in a way where it's clear they are imposing their will. They are the aggressors, and when they play that way it changes everything. 

I think we also saw why KD speaks so highly of Tatum as the next face of the NBA. From the BKN series, to every matchup since then, he's had an up close and personal view of what an unstoppable force Tatum is becoming. If anyone knows what that player looks like, it's KD. 

- I fucking love Joe Mazzulla

The man is a basketball psycho, and he's our basketball psycho. How many other coaches in the league even consider doing something like that? I say zero. The best part is, this is just who Joe is. He's nuts. But he's also someone who would never ask his players to do something he wouldn't do himself

Incredible.

To this day, I still have no idea how someone can look at the last 2 years of evidence and suggest that Joe

A) Doesn't know what he's doing

B) Isn't the guy

C) The job is still too big for him

What are those people watching? Or, is it more likely they were stuck in their weird narrative coming into last year and are take committed? Maybe they are too embarrassed to admit they were wrong about Joe? Who knows. All I know is that he's the perfect coach for this group and that's not me saying it, that's Jaylen Brown saying it

- Speaking of Mazzulla Ball….

Those numbers are not only ridiculous, they help illustrate what a historic offense this has been since Joe took over

You are not beating the Boston Celtics when they throw up 127 points on 52/50% with 25 3PM. I mean holy hell.

- While Jaylen/Al/Tatum did most of the scoring/heavy lifting, that meant the backcourt could focus on doing everything else. As we know, when the Celts get elite guard play they pretty much become unbeatable when you get to add that to everything else, and I thought both Jrue and White were fantastic in their roles

White: 13/8/5 with another block on a 7fter and a +8 in his minutes

Jrue: 9/0/10 with legit defense and a +26 in his minutes

Together, they finished with 15 AST and not a single turnover while also going 6-14 from deep. That's big time stuff. Derrick is back to shooting without hesitation (which makes all the difference). Jrue has come in and filled his role in a way that is without a doubt better than any of us could have possibly imagined all while not giving a shit about his shot volume. Together they are giving you elite three point shooting, elite defense, and elite ball security.

It's hard to ask of much more from a starting backcourt, and it's been this way since Day 1. 

- Call me crazy, but holding Kevin Durant to just 5 total points after the 1st quarter is pretty damn impressive. In fact, the Suns as a team didn't crack 30 points in a quarter the rest of the way. 

What we saw was a perfect example of basketball math and the very foundation of Mazzulla Ball. The Suns were very efficient pretty much all night (finished 47/35%). Both teams made 47 FGM, and the FTM was pretty much even (8 vs 7).

So how did this turn into a blowout?

Simple. You can't beat the Celts by trading 2s for 3s. When they are shooting like they did last night from deep, you have to keep pace. Coming down and getting a midrange 2pt FGM does nothing when the Celts are going back down and getting 3. It's not really that complicated and yet some Celts fans still don't understand this. In 2024, if one side is lighting it up from 3, you HAVE to match their volume if you hope to stay close. The Suns didn't (50 vs 31), and they paid the price. 

- Another game with 30+ AST and under 10 TOs. I'm not sure about anyone else, but just thinking about that makes me emotional. It's all I ever wanted when it comes to this team. Move the ball, take care of the ball. If you do those things, you will be a champion.

The Bad

- Didn't love how the Celts started this game defensively, with no real resistance. It felt like the Suns were getting to the rim with ease, there was a stretch there where they made 7 straight shots, and I thought the point of attack defense was a big reason why. You just didn't get the sense that the Celts were making the Suns feel their pressure.

That of course changed after the first quarter, but I would like to see that pressure start from the opening tip. It's obviously not outrageous that a team with KD/Booker/Beal has success offensively, but I would just like to avoid making things easy for scorers like that, even if it's just for a quarter.

- It's nitpicking of course, but Jaylen's mental block at the FT line is so bizarre to me, especially during this stretch. The guy is making everything he throws up yet he steps to the line and I have zero idea if he's even going to split his FTs. It's a very weird feeling that I can't say I love. We all know how important FTs are about to become in a month, and I'll gladly trade in some of his offense to the Basketball Gods if it means in return we can live in a world where Jaylen is 75% or better from the stripe. That's all I ask. I don't need him to be Tatum or be a 90% FT shooter. I just need 75%.

- I still can't say I loved the Celts end of quarter sets. It still feels a little too predictable. I get that usually in those moments with only a few seconds left you're most likely going to just give the ball to your best players and say go make a play, but all I'd ask is to consider having some variation in those moments once we get to the playoffs.

I'm not suggesting they need to score on every final possession of a quarter, that's insane. I'm just asking for a better process.

The Ugly

- If there is one thing I've been harping on since about January when it comes to my true playoff concern with this team, it's opponent OREB. If you need an example of why, just look at last night. The Celts couldn't miss in the first half and yet it was only a 5 point game, why?

Because they couldn't rebound. The Suns feasted on the offensive glass in this game, finishing with 19 OREB and 24 2nd chance points. Those numbers are HORRENDOUS and quite frankly, are going to lose you a playoff game. How do I know that? Because I've seen it.

The last thing you can do against a good team, one with elite offensive firepower, is give them multiple chances. In a playoff series when you get a stop, you NEED to finish off the defensive possession cleanly. You need to box out. You need to stop trying to tap the ball and go up and fucking grab it. Those are the small margins that add up quickly in a playoff game, and it's how you find yourself in a series that maybe should have been over in 5 games but is now going 6 or 7. Those are more miles for everyone, which leads to potential burnout in the later rounds.

I know that Nurkic is a beast on the glass, but to me that's not an excuse. I see that as even more of a reason everyone needs to be locked in when it comes to putting a body on a guy and attacking the glass with force. What good is getting stops if you can't finish off the possession? 

The Celts defense is going to force a lot of misses. We know this. That also opens the door for a shit ton of OREB, which the Celts have been near the bottom of the league in all year in terms of opponent OREB average. That shit can get deflating and then in turn you start forcing things offensively to make up for it, which we know gets this team into trouble. Take care of the glass and everything else will fall into place.

With WSH/DET up next, it wouldn't surprise me to see guys get some additional rest days ahead of the showdown with MIL on 3/20. That's a game that means jack shit in the standings seeing as how the Celts are 9.5 games up, but absolutely means something in terms of mentality given what happened the last time they played. This time around the Celts won't be on a B2B while the Bucks have 4 days rest to prepare, and I think we all want to see what that looks like.