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The Boston Celtics Are Morphing Into A Machine Right Before Our Eyes

Gregory Shamus. Getty Images.

As we've talked about before, the Duck Boats do not get cued for beating the 12-58 Detroit Pistons. It shouldn't matter what version of the Celts they throw out onto the court, walking away with a win is the bare minimum when it comes to this type of matchup. That's something that was also true when it came to the Celts beating the 12-58 Wizards a few games ago. These games are for rest and for the Hospital Celtics to do what the Hospital Celtics do best, which is kick the shit out what whoever they play. Sometimes that's a team with a pulse, sometimes that's a team with fewer season wins than the Celts have in a single month. 

And you know what? I apologize for nothing. These are the types of games the rest of the conference has been able to feast on all year to help boost their record, it just so happens that for the Celts this part of their schedule is coming in late March while they already have an 11 game lead over the 2 seeded Bucks (who they just beat, again). Last night was only the Celts' 28th game of the season against a team under .500. I know I'm not a math guy, but they've played 70 games. I look around the conference and see MIL (30), CLE (31), ORL (32), NYK (27), IND (31), MIA (32), PHI (32), CHI (27), and ATL (27) and as you can see among the top 6 seeds, only the Knicks have played fewer games against shitty teams. 

Given the Celts have the 30th ranked toughest schedule remaining, matchups like last night are essentially how we are going to end the season. I would urge you not to let that distract you from the fact that the Boston Celtics also own the best record in the entire NBA in games against teams .500 or better (29-13), it just so happens they also own the best record in the entire NBA in games against teams under .500 (27-1). 

This entire season I think we've all been looking  for signs that this could finally be the team that gets to the top of the mountain. Given their prior success (and failures), I think most of us have a pretty good idea of what it will need to look like in order to win a title. Well one area I can't ignore is games exactly like last night. What did you see when you watched that performance?

A machine.

Over the previous two seasons, the Celts ended the year with double digit losses against teams under .500. In both seasons that was the 2nd highest loss total of any top 6 seed. It was very clear that they had a focus problem. To put it clearly, they fucked around. A lot. The Celts were a team that would always be able to hang and beat the better teams in the league. As I said, they are 29-13 this year and were 33-15 last year against good teams. Their issue would be losing games they shouldn't. Taking an opponent lightly, thinking you could win just by showing up. All the things a team does that ultimately isn't ready to win a championship.

You know what a championship caliber wagon does? They never relent. 

It doesn't matter who is in or out of the lineup, it doesn't matter if it's home or on the road, every single game and every single opponent is approached the same way. You maintain a level of focus that I think really only comes from prior heartbreak. I think you have to go through pain in order to truly change, and what we're seeing is a more mature approach from a team that knows what it has to do to win. With that comes consistent play, and with consistent play comes wins, and with wins comes titles. 

What did we see last playoff run? The Celtics fucked around. They lost games they shouldn't through bad basketball and self inflicted wounds. They took their opponents lightly and paid the price. The same sort of trend we saw during the year. 

This time around? The Celtics have become a machine. THAT is what is different about the 2023-24 Celtics.

Now, let us begin.

The Good

- I can honestly say watching the season of Jaylen Brown has been one of the more enjoyable experiences of my life. He's legitimately turning into the exact player we all pretty much dreamed he'd be. Hell, he probably has exceeded some people's expectations, and the beauty is that we're just at the very early stages of his NBA prime years. Please remember that as you enjoy a nice little 33/4/0/4 on 13-19 (3-8) in just 33 minutes

For those now keeping track at home (I'm aware there's a strong chance that it's just me), we are now a month in of being able to experience watching Jaylen Brown play the best basketball of his life, bar none

I would then like to also add All NBA caliber defense to this entire run for those who care about the other end of the floor (me) as well. Every night he's taking the best offensive player on the other side and giving them absolute hell. A complete two way monster in every sense. 

Even on a night where his box score says 0 AST, Jaylen was 3rd on the team with 9 potential assists. His ball movement was just as much of a factor as his scoring

The numbers since the All Star Break are even better than you may think. 28.8/6.1/3.2 on 54.3/41.4% with 2.8 3PM and just 1.6 TOs a game in the 13 games since the break. Oh, and the Celts have gone 11-2 over that stretch.

The way Jaylen sees the game and is able to process things quicker, the patience he's playing with, and how he's able to remain forceful but also stay in control have unlocked the best version of Jaylen's game that we've ever seen in all of our years watching him play. It makes you think that this isn't some sort of fluke, this is just what it looks like for Jaylen as a player when all the pieces start to fit together. In other words, an NBA prime. 

And the best part? Even while on the biggest heater of his life, look where his mindset is at. This is what being a leader is all about

- If you're curious what makes the Hospital Celtics such an unstoppable force, a big reason is because of Payton Pritchard. He comes in and plays 25-30 minutes and you're going to get a show. .The beauty is the majority of those instances are going to come against teams with 12 wins, and if there's one thing we know it's that when Pritchard is allowed to morph into Pro Am Pritchard, he becomes a mix of Steve Nash and Steph Curry

20/2/9 on 8-15 (4-9) with just 1 TO in his 37 minutes, if we're going to talk about players who have made a leap this season, Payton has to be on the list. His development into a legitimate back up point guard has changed everything about his ceiling as a player. No longer is he just some sort of all ball undersized two guard. He's a complete point guard now and to me that's all due to hard work and opportunity. We all knew Payton had this level in him, and this is what it looks like when he's allowed to show us. 

Payton Pritchard as a starter in 2023-224: 18/4/8 on 52.5/45.5% splits

Guess what Steve Nash averaged in his second MVP year? 18.8/4.2/10.5 on 51/43.9%

Pritchard is also averaging about 3.3 3PM as a starter. You know what that's close to? Steph Curry's career average as a starter in 3PM a game (3.9). So like I said, when we get to see Pro Am Pritchard against a dogshit defense and fringe NBA caliber talent, we get Nash and Steph. 

- If I could pick one thing to carry over from this historic regular season into the playoffs, it would be games in which the Celtics finish with 30+ AST and under 10 TO like they did last night. To me, this tells me they played Celtics basketball. There was no playing with their food and they executed at a high level. If you can hit that 30/10 mark, it puts the Celts in a tremendous position to win. The data doesn't lie.

When the Celts finish with at least 30+ AST in a game, they are 20-2 on the season. 

When the Celts finish with under 10 TO in a game, they are 19-3.

When the Celtics have more than 30 AST and under 10 TOs in a game, they are 9-0.

It's not overly complicated. Ball security and ball movement are the foundation of any successful offense. If this team isn't turning it over, that means teams have to beat them in  the halfcourt, and given what the Celts halfcourt defense looks like, good luck. 

Then on the other end if the ball is moving that's going to mean the defense is forced to rotate, and a rotating defense means an open 3PA for someone on the floor that is at least a 40% shooter, which leads to the Celts making 3s. We all know what happens when they make their 3s above a 33% clip correct? 

So yeah, this is what I want to bring with me into battle next month. The way to the top of the mountain is through 30/10s.

- Hard to complain about what we've seen from Derrick White during this 8 game winning streak (7 games played). Even on nights where he maybe isn't the most efficient, he's still making an impact everywhere else on both ends of the floor. A triple double the last time these two teams played, White nearly backed it up against last night with 19/8/11 and only 1 TO in his 35 minutes. If you were curious how the Celts got to that 30 AST number, the answer was the backcourt.

As we know, good guard play is what takes this team up to a level few teams can match. When the Celtics get good to great guard play, that's how they win by a billion. So with no Tatum or Jrue, for White/Pritchard to step up and have 20 AST / 2 TOs is big time stuff. Derrick being aggressive (9 FTs) which helped a tough shooting night (5-14, 1-7), but to no surprise he was a team best +23. 

- A much better bounce back performance from KP after what we saw against the Bucks where he was mostly dogshit.

All I really care about is that KP gets his legs back under him and his rhythm is good for next month. If we're being honest, 26 minutes was way too many in a game like this, but that's going to be the challenge. KP needs to play given the rest he's already had since the ASB, but at the same time, I almost want to just put him in bubbly wrap until late April. 

I think the compromise is any game that is at least a 20 point lead against a 12 win team, KP sits immediately. Watching him be on the court for late 4th quarter minutes was probably a top 5 stressful moment of the season for me. It's March 23nd, we're so fucking close. 

- It was also great to see Queta and Walsh minutes, and I couldn't help but notice JD Davison's form looks a whole lot better, but my only complaint was that we didn't see them enough. Only 2:48 of floor time, this is the part of the season where we should be getting out look at the Maine Celtics. Let's see what they can do because the flashes in those 2:48 had my brain going places.

Watching Queta catch lobs and drop dimes like Rob used to do? Seeing Jordan Walsh be the only Celtic on the roster willing to make an off ball cut? JD knocking down catch and shoot 3s? Jesus Christ when Brad cooks does that man cook. 

The Bad

- Of course it can't all be good. I know how to spend the next few weeks trying to convince myself to remain calm about Jrue Holiday's "dead arm" or whatever the fuck that is. I'm not a doctor but I can't say I loved when I doom Googled "dead arm" last night and frankly given the history of the Celtics lying to us about injuries I don't know how to feel. 

Yes, there's plenty of time for Jrue to rest. But I dunno, I'm reserving judgment until I can see what his jumper looks like once he returns. I want to see how he navigates screens and if he protects that shoulder and maybe holds back. His screen navigation is a HUGE part of what makes him so impactful as a defender, hell it's how he got hurt in the first place. 

Worst case, this is Rob 2.0 like when he tore his meniscus in late March right before the playoffs. Best case, a few weeks of rest will take care of it and we'll be good to go. Is that maybe some spinzone mixed copium? Yes. But what other choice do I have other than to pray?

- I think we have now reached the point where it's OK to be nervous about Jaylen's FT shooting. This is honestly one of the more fascinating parts of his season. There are moments like the Nuggets loss where he'll miss 7 in a game. Then there are moments like the Bucks win where he'll step to the line and knock down 2 FTs to ice the game (after already missing 2). Last night, even in a game that didn't matter, he was 4-7.

The point is this. Since the All Star Break, Jaylen is shooting 65.8% from the FT line over a 13 game sample. Given his role and how much he's going to have the ball, we cannot be living in a 65.8% range. I think a fair compromise is 75%. Leaving points on the board in a playoff game is the kiss of death. They always come back to bite you. And while I would never expect him to be perfect, that's why 75% works. Cut these games out where you're having 3-4 missed FTs and keep it to 1-2. 

- I don't think Joe loved the Tillman/KP pairing, and we only saw Tillman play 19 minutes. The original starting unit with a KP/Tillman frontcourt had a 141.7 DRTG in their 6 minutes together and a -25.0 net rating. That's not great, even if this is all with an EXTREMELY small sample. 

The good news is this is exactly what the rest of the schedule is for. Try new shit, see what combinations may or may not work, all so you can be fully prepared for in game adjustments when the games truly matter.

- Pretty embarrassing to let James Wiseman actually look like an NBA player against you. Watching him get whatever he wanted I thought for a second it was actually someone else. Maybe I'm just not watching enough James Wiseman or something? 24/9 on 11-13?? Not great.

The Ugly

- Rules are rules. Up to 8 in a row no so who knows when we'll be back.

If the Celts are able to win tonight against the Bulls, they will become the only team in the NBA who has had 2 separate winning streaks of at least 9 games. B2Bs are never easy, especially when you know another group of players is going to sit, but thankfully this is exactly why the Hospital Celtics exist, and something tells me the machine will roll on.