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Life Is So Much Better When The Celtics Don't Embarrass Themselves

Layne Murdoch Jr.. Getty Images.

If you're like me and were completely disgusted with what we saw from the Celtics in their back to back losses against the Hawks, chances are you were looking forward to seeing how they would respond. While these games technically don't mean anything the rest of the way, that still doesn't excuse playing a bad brand of basketball. No ball movement, no energy, dogshit defense, these are all things that no one should ever be OK with seeing, even at this point of the season. We know the Celts are better than they showed in ATL because we've seen it all year, so I was interested to see how they would respond to a pretty legit challenge Saturday night.

Not only are the Pelicans in a situation where they are in a fight for seeding and can finish anywhere from 4th to 7th, but they've also been playing some of the best basketball of their season as of late. A solid 12-6 since the All Star break, the Pelicans own the 10th best offense, 3rd best defense, and 3rd best net rating over that timeframe. They had just beaten the Bucks a few days earlier, and even without Brandon Ingram, they've been able to survive mostly because Zion has been crushing people.

What we saw, was a team that looked a whole lot more familiar to me. Not only is it hard to win on the road, but to do it against a Pelicans team playing well, and to hold that team to under 100 while winning by double digits is what I would call answering the challenge. 

When you get to the playoffs, if you have dreams of making a deep run, history tells us you have to be able to beat good teams on the road. So in a game where the Celts are on the road against a playoff caliber opponent, their performance should give you confidence. 

In fact, it was the Celtics who were tied for the best road winning percentage in last year's playoffs at .667 (6-3). You know who they were tied with?

The Denver Nuggets (6-3).

In 2021-22, the year we saw another deep run, this time to the NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics owned the best road winning percentage in the playoffs that year as well at .667 (8-4).

So far in the 2023-24 regular season, the Boston Celtics own the NBA's best road record at 26-13. 

To win on the road against a quality opponent when things matter most, you not only have to be able to defend, it has to be at a high and consistent level. Your offense isn't always going to travel, shots aren't going to drop and scores are going to be low. True title contenders can then prove the ability to win through defense. Defense is something that travels, it's something that when you see complete buy-in and full effort is just as much of a weapon as an unstoppable offense. Given the offensive firepower this team has, when they also bring the defense is what transforms them into another level. 

Given how they lost to ATL, to see that type of performance against that type of team was the reminder I think a lot of people needed.

And if you missed it, well then keep reading.

The Good

- In big bounce back games like this, I've always felt that when it comes to stopping a skid, saying enough of the bullshit and getting everyone back on track, that starts with the best players. 

That is why I would like to kick this off with the play of Jayson Tatum. 

Now his line was not better than we saw the other night against the Hawks when he had 31/13/6, but that's why watching the games is important. I thought Tatum was WAY better last night, pretty much in every area. He was engaged, he was efficient (10-17, 3-6), he played good defense, he made an impact on the glass, he showed up in the 4th quarter, the list goes on and on.

And maybe more importantly, nothing felt forced, even down the stretch. It was a pretty drastic contrast to what we saw in both games against the Hawks, and as the best player and one of the tone-setters on this team, I don't think that's an accident.

Mind you, he also did all this without taking a single FTA. It was just the 3rd time all year Tatum has ended a game with 0 FTA, and it hadn't happened in almost 3 months to the day (12/31). 

So, on the road, against a top 3 defense in the NBA since the break who had their best wing defender (Herb Jones) active, I thought Tatum mostly got whatever he wanted. This looked much more like the version of Tatum we've seen all year, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

- Then there's the other side of the tone-setting coin via the second best player on the team. While not as efficient due to multiple smoked bunnies late, the two way play of Jaylen Brown should also not be ignored

The way we saw Tatum be fully engaged last night, the same is true for Jaylen. Just compare his night to what we saw the other night. From a rebounding perspective, Jaylen was much more active (7 vs 1). Offensively, he moved the ball and consistently made the right decision while keeping his TOs low.

Defensively? You could argue Jaylen's defense was one of the biggest reasons the Celtics won this game. As is tradition, Jaylen Brown took on the best offensive player. It's something we started to see in the playoffs last year and has absolutely exploded this season. The way Jaylen not only takes on that challenge but the fact that he consistently thrives in those moments is what has made his season so impactful. 

The work Jaylen did defensively on Zion Williamson is arguably the stuff of legends

When the two best players on the team are making this type of impact and are playing with right level of engagement and energy, it's contagious. That's why it is so important how both guys play, because when they are on it's the start of the avalanche. If defenses have to worry about them offensively, and then defensively they are shutting the water off of the best players on the other team, that's the formula for a wagon.

- Because you know what happens next? This team hits you with a heavy dose of Kristaps Porzingis

Another player who by his own admission was complete dogshit in the OT loss against ATL

There was all this doom and gloom about how Porzingis can't play against physical teams or physical bigs, and who knows we'll see how that looks in a month. But what I do know is he looked pretty fucking good on both ends against a physical team with physical bigs. I imagine this was a performance that Porzingis would describe as more playing to his level because as an outside observer, it was certainly much better than what we saw against the Hawks.

The encouraging part for me is also the fact that this type of impactful performance all came without KP even making his 3s. He finished just 1-6 from deep and is shooting only 21.1% from three over his last 5 games yet we're still seeing him make an impact. I think within all of us is the fear that KPs jumper might disappear in a playoff series, so it's good to see that even against a quality team with a legit frontcourt he can still be a game-changer even without the 3 ball.

- There should now be no debate. Derrick White possesses the clutch gene. We have seen enough. The GM6 tip in last year, the fact that he's shooting 53.3/52.2% in the clutch this season, shit like this

or this

You could make the case that Derrick White is the best big shot taker and maker on the roster. 

Of all the great moments that we saw from White in this game, it's what we saw over the final 3ish minutes that I think everyone should make a mental note of.

Coming off the ATL losses, I would say most fans were at the point where they were desperately asking Joe to show us something different at the end of these games. It didn't matter what it was, it just had to be different. 

What we got, could be the difference in winning a title or not.

Possession after possession after possession, we saw the Celtics run the same play. Nothing complicated, just a Derrick White/KP 2 man game. 

Think back to what Brad Stevens told us back in June about Porzingis and why they traded for him in the first place

Then rewatch those clips and what do you see? You see the plan.

Running the two man action with KP/White will almost always mean that if that defense switches, KP is going to be matched up against a point guard/smaller player. Once that happens, more often than not opposing teams are going to send a double. That then forces the defense to get into rotation. As we know, when the Celtics get a team in rotation, it's over. You know what doesn't get a defense in rotation? Isolation. 

If both defenders stay with Derrick, you have KP wide the fuck open for a wide open 3. The defense will then rotate, and you can either swing it to Tatum or do what we saw in those clips and attack the paint, force more rotations and boom, Jaylen is there at the rim.

Then if someone sends the double on KP, you have a 40% shooter in Derrick White wide open. 

If they don't switch, you have Derrick going downhill and getting into the paint for his floater.

We're being told that these games are for getting reps in different situations and feeling comfortable using them when it matters most. Well, let me be as clear as humanly possible for Joe

THIS IS ALL YOU NEED TO RUN AT THE END OF GAMES. THIS IS IT. EVEN IF YOU WANT TATUM AND BROWN TO BE THE ONES TO SHOOT, THIS IS HOW YOU GENERATE IT. KP/WHITE 2 MAN GAME. IT IS VIRTUALLY UNSTOPPABLE.

Listen, we all have to do our part. Sorry for yelling. 

- Whatever nervousness I may have had about Jrue Holiday's shoulder injury as a result of decades of the Celtics having the worst injury luck maybe of all time right before they begin a playoff run, they are pretty much gone at this point.

Another 13/8/7/2/1 on 5-10 (3-6) in his 35 minutes, Holiday is shooting 47/50% since returning to the lineup. As he gets his conditioning back I imagine the defense will get even better, but it already looks mostly the same to me. 

The one thing I will say Holiday has a bad habit of is not boxing out. Too many times it feels like he doesn't even look back to check his man and a guy waltzes in for an easy OREB putback. Very weird for such a smart player, but if that's the biggest complaint you can have, that probably tells you the guy has been pretty nails ever since he got to Boston. 

- Alright, the time has come to once again show you something very erotic. My hands are tied, I'm just the messenger that needs to make sure everyone is fully aware of what we are currently watching when it comes to the 2023-24 Celtics

We already knew about their historic point differential and what NBA history says about team that get into the range we're currently seeing

You clear +11.3, well, you see what that has meant.

But what if we took things a step further? How about scoring differential on the road? As we saw at the top of that blog, road wins/play is important when you want to win the title

Interesting. You go down that list and this is what you see when it comes to those teams

Won the title

Won the title

Won the title

Won the title

2024 BOSTON

Seems like if you cross over the +7.8 threshold, that seems to lead to one thing as well. As you can see the 2022 Celts could not get to +7.8, and unfortunately I do not remember that team winning the title.

The point is, the next time the Celtics lose a meaningless game in March, try and keep some perspective. 

- The Celtics giving up 37 points in the first quarter and then just 55 points the rest of the way was pretty nuts. No quarter over 24 points, only 31 points combined in the 2nd and 3rd, and I don't care who it comes against you hold an NBA team to under 100 points in 2024, that's impressive.

The Bad

- Make no mistake though, that first quarter was horrendous. It wasn't just the 37 points on 62/45% splits, it was also the fact that the Celts turned it over 4 times and looked generally disinterested in getting stops or providing any sort of resistance defensively.

Points off TOs have been a problem over the last 3 games, and that's obviously not something you can afford to fuck around with in a playoff series, and that first quarter was a good example of what can happen if you get careless.

Of those 37 points, 10 of them came on fastbreak buckets, which came via live ball turnovers. When playing a good team, self-inflicted wounds like that are how you get into holes that you might not always be able to climb out of. Then even when you get in halfcourt possessions, the Celts were way too passive when it came to letting the Pelicans feast at the rim.

- This game also highlighted some concerns that some may have when it comes to the second unit and physical defenses. This wasn't the best matchup for Pritchard, because their perimeter defenders are long, quick, and physical. His impact came more via his OREB than anything else, but given how important his scoring is for that unit, the Pelicans basically took that away.

Same thing with Hauser. He had that one three in the fourth quarter but other than that was a non-factor offensively. Every bench player not named Al Horford only walked away with 1 FGM, and that's a tad troubling.

I also don't really know what to make of Xavier Tillman either. I like his physicality, I like his defensive instincts, but I don't think he's separated himself over Luke Kornet at this point. 

The overall point is in a playoff situation, the bench (not Al Horford) production needs to be better.

- Tony Brothers is the worst. Always has been always will be.

The Ugly

- I'm not sure what fits for this section because there wasn't anything truly pathetic. Maybe the Tatum tech? I mean, he clearly gets fouled, tells the refs they missed it

and he's given a tech for being right. The same guy who isn't allowed to clap either. It's wild how crazy some players are allowed to go at an official with nothing, and the slightest reaction from Tatum is a tech. Not to mention on the very next possession they called a play with the same amount of contact a foul for NO, so Tatum had a point.

This is just the long list of incidents we're seeing across the league every night. Shit, Nick Nurse and Kelly Oubre were just fined $50K because they freaked out over a call the NBA admitted was wrong. Did the ref have to pay a fine? Of course not. Time and time again we're seeing these officials get emotional when they are called out for their bullshit, and Adam Silver continues to not give a shit.

- Admit it, you too got a little nervous when the 22 point lead got down to 12. It's normal. That's what happens when the wounds of a blown 30 point lead are still fresh. I'm not proud of it, but I think it's important to let anyone else out there know they aren't alone. It shouldn't have to be that way and yet…..

So here we go, 2 more wins until we see the ultra rare 60/20. The Celtics haven't hit 60 wins before 20 losses since the 2008-09 team (then KG got hurt), and as we know, the 2008 team did it as well (66-16). That would mean the Celts have gone 20-4 since they hit the all important 40/20, which for my money is pretty good. Play like they did last night, and that should be yet another box we can check off.