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After Another Road Win, The Celtics Are Now On The Verge Of Doing Something We Haven't Seen In Over 16 Years

Jacob Kupferman. Getty Images.

After the Celts beat the Bucks (again) and headed out for their season long 6 game road trip, I think most people would have accepted a 4-2 finish. While you could make the case that something like 6-0 or at least 5-1 was on the table if not for the back to back disasters that took place in ATL, there's certainly nothing wrong with a 4-2 trip where everyone came out healthy. Now the Celts head home for 6 of their final 7 games to end the regular season, a building in which they are currently 32-3 and have not lost to an Eastern Conference team all season.

It feels pretty likely that we'll see the Celts hit 60 wins before 20 losses, which frankly, is ridiculous. I was a senior in college the last time that happened, and seeing as how I just turned 37 last week (smh), it's certainly been a while since we've seen a Celtics team pull something like that off. The 2008 team did it, the 2009 team did it and probably go back to back had KG not hurt his knee. So it should be no surprise that the best team the Celtics have had since that era, a team that is also a title contender, is on the verge of checking that box as well. Do not take what we are seeing for granted, that's all I can say.

When it comes to beating the Hornets last night, that's mostly whatever. It was good to see them finally beat CHA for the first time this season, but what I care more about is the fact that we still saw an extremely locked in Celts team even on the final day of a long road trip. In years past this would be a game the Celts would overlook, already dreaming about being home and definitely not taking their opponent seriously because they stink. Usually that would end in a frustrating loss and would kill the vibe of the whole trip.

One of the best parts of the 2023-24 Celts is it feels like we've almost never had those types of games. Their consistent focus from October to now has been one of their greatest strengths, and is why they have a 27-3 record against teams under .500. Remember, in each of the last two years that loss number was 3x as high. 

Listen to Jayson Tatum here. Really listen to him. If you want to know why the Celts may feel different this season, this is why. 

We don't really learn anything basketball wise playing an 18 win Hornets team that has the majority of their talent injured. That's not what last night was about for me. Last night we learned about their ability to maintain focus, which is going to be VERY important in about 3 weeks. If you want the basketball test, that comes tomorrow night against OKC. 

Oh, and not to nitpick, but after all that sky is falling talk (again) after the Celts lost a few games, all of a sudden they are currently tied for the longest winning streak in the conference (again) and are still a conference-best 8-2 over their last 10 games. Interesting how that keeps happening!

Anyways, let's dive in.

The Good

- Just as I said the other night with the win over the Pelicans, last night was another case of the best player on the team setting the tone and everyone else following his lead. With no Jaylen Brown in the lineup, it meant that this was going to be Tatum's team to carry, and carry he did

There was a lot to love about this Tatum performance, whether you want to go with his 25/10/4/2/1 on 9=-19 (4-10), or his only needing to play 34 minutes, or his team best +14, this was exactly the type of performance we should be getting from Tatum against a team that does not have a single defender who can keep him in check.

So while his overall line might have been worse than what we saw in the ATL losses, there's no debate Tatum looked a billion times better in these last two wins. Way more engaged, way more impactful on both ends of the floor, efficient, and it's all coming with him basically never getting to the FT line. He had 0 FTA against the Pels and only 3 FTA last night! There is no foul baiting in Tatum's game, just ethical hoops I'm afraid.

When we talk about this team having focus and not overlooking their opponent, that will always start and end with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. When they are locked in and take shit seriously, we know what happens. When they don't, not only is it very apparent, but it almost always ends in disaster. You can always tell how engaged Tatum is by his rebounding effort, and these last two games looks like a completely different player on the glass compared to what we saw against the Hawks. I cannot stress enough how important Tatum's defensive rebounding is going to become in the playoffs, especially since there are times when both KP and Al disappear on the defensive glass. I wish it wasn't the case, but it is. That means Tatum is going to have to remember he's 6'10 and strong as hell and make sure he's fully engaged on the defensive glass, just like we saw last night.

- Since returning to the lineup on 3/18, we've seen Porzingis play in 7 games and overall it's been a mixed bag. Given where we are in the season, it's hard to know how much is him keeping himself healthy or how much is rust, and what to really be concerned about.

For example, the good news is that over those 7 games he's putting up 18.9/6.3/2.3/1.0/2.0 on 45% shooting. That's more than good enough for a #3 option. The bad news is he's shooting only 30% from three over that span, which isn't exactly great. In fact, since the All Star Break KP is only at 35.4% from deep so if you're slightly concerned about his outside shot, I can see why.

That's why perhaps a game like last night could help calm those nerves. Not because he lit o tup from 3 (1-3), but because he still found a way to dominate while only taking 10 shots

20/7/5 while finishing 6-10 from the floor and only needing to play 30 minutes is a great sign. So often we hear the concern of 

"What do the Celtics do when the 3s stop dropping?"

And all year the answer has been staring us in the face You give the ball to the 7'3 guy and let him go to work, especially if that team does not have a center on the floor. While his 3pt shot has been spotty, everything else about KPs offense has been great, and that's encouraging for the playoff run. There are going to be times when the outside shots simply won't drop, and in previous seasons that was a death sentence for this team.

Now? As long as KP is on the floor, they have a way out. This is why I consider KP to be the true difference maker this time around and why it's so important we just get him through these final 7 games healthy. He is the safety net for the times when the Celts go cold, and last night was a great example of that. Overall the Celts kind of shot like shit, so what did they do? They dumped it down to KP and let him go to work.

I also love the idea of using KP as a creator. Tied for the team lead with 5 AST, do not sleep on this man's passing. He draws so much attention from the defense given the fact that he's a fucking giant, it's not like he needs to make complicated reads, just take your time and find the easy pass. If teams don't double, it's points. If they do double, he can easily pass out of it for points. He is the cheat code this roster has needed and eventually he'll get back up to 36%+ from deep.

- The Celtics are now 27-13 on the road this season. To put that into perspective, no other top 6 seed in the East as more than 21 road wins. If you expand that to the entire NBA, no other team in the league has more than 25.

Add in the fact that the Celtics also own the NBA's best home record at 32-3, I consider this a pretty big deal. In order to win a title you have to not only be able to win on the road, but you cannot be giving away games on your home floor. That was the issue last year, where the Celts were great on the road (highest road winning percentage in the playoffs), but they couldn't stop choking games away at home.

That will be the test this year, but given what we've seen since October, there's no reason to not feel confident. Again, they are the best team in the NBA on the road and at home this season. That doesn't happen by accident.

- Can you imagine the feeling you get when you make a 3 and you know instantly you just made $500,000? That has to be a top 5 feeling and it couldn't have happened to a better player/person than Derrick White

His first three of the night triggered his 185 3PM 500K bonus, and once again it was another tremendous showing from our beautiful bald point guard. You want to talk about a guy that had a solid ass road trip, look no further than DWhite

18.4/6.0/6.0 on 49/39% splits with 3.2 3PM a night

If you were waiting for White to snap out of his little mini-funk from deep, it feels like that's what is happening. Over the final 3 games of this trip, White finished 12-23 from deep (52.2%), and I'll remind you that this is all coming while also not really turning the ball over (1.4) and giving you All NBA quality defense. 

There really isn't too much else to say. Derrick has been awesome, and this is the level of play that makes the Celts reach a different level. With so many other weapons for the defense to focus on, all Derrick needs to do is just make his open looks. He arguably has the easiest life of all time given the quality of his looks, and to be just as locked in on the defensive end is what makes him a special player.

- The goal of every game should be to finish with 30 assists and under 10 TOs. That's the path. We got close last night with 28/10, and I was happy to see that level of ball movement, even against a dogshit defense. There are times we see the Celts play a team with poor defenders and it translates into iso basketball. Last night, 3 players had at least 5 assists, the ball was moving and as a result, the Basketball Gods rewarded the Celts with 19 3PM.

It's simple. You play the right way, you share the ball, and good things will happen.

- More often than not, those good things will be Sam Hauser making a shit ton of 3s. I mean, this is a robot

9-13 from the field, 7-11 from deep, you know Hauser is truly locked in when his jumper doesn't even consider hitting the rim. These makes were as pure as pure gets and for a guy who was in a bit of a slump over his last few games, you always know a game like this is on the horizon. 

I continue to see people dismiss Hauser's season and claim he's going to be nothing in the playoffs, and I just don't understand that logic. Not only is his role different and more defined, he's a way better player on both ends of the floor than anything we've seen from Hauser in previous seasons. Frankly, they are going to need his shooting and spacing in the playoffs, and it wouldn't shock me at all if he has a game or two where his shooting ends up being the difference.

- Al Horford forever. That's it. That's all we need to say. Al Horford forever.

The Bad

- Chalk it up to one of those nights, but a pretty brutal 1-11 (0-8) from Jrue. I don't think this was anything shoulder related, I just think it was one of those off nights that happens to literally every player in the league. The good news is it came against a team like CHA where it ultimately didn't matter, but we'll see how things look against OKC tomorrow night (Jrue struggled in the first meeting).

While he's the 5th offensive option, that doesn't mean the Celts are going to consistently be able to survive 1-11 (0-8). He's too good of a player to be throwing up those type of eggs.

I will say, that if you are looking for something to be nervous about, I would suggest looking at Holiday's corner 3s. He's shooting just 25% from the corners over his last 3 games since returning to the lineup, which is a tad concerning. That's something he's been well over 50% at since the ASB, and one of the playoff fears I think most people have is what happens when that corner shot goes away. 

I'm not saying he needs to shoot over 50%, but it sure as shit cannot be 25%.

- I didn't exactly love the paint defense against a team where Grant Williams was the starting center. In no way shape or form should you be giving up 48 paint points to this Hornets roster, especially when KP/Al are active. Maybe this was partly the Celts not going balls to the wall defensively or what, but another game with 14 2nd chance points combined with nearly 50 in the paint and that's something I think needs to be tightened up.

Too often recently does it feel like the Celts are letting opponents get to whatever spot they want on the floor, especially the paint. To me, that starts on the perimeter and not letting guards have penetration but we've also seen the bigs get pushed around a little as well. Once things slow down in the playoffs and things are all about shot quality, I don't love the idea of the Celts giving up high 2nd chance points and high points in the paint totals. That has to be cleaned up.

- It also feels like the Celts defense is waiting until after the 1st quarter to lock in, and I don't exactly love that either. Go back to the start of this trip and look at their 1st quarter defense

vs DET: 34 points allowed

vs CHI: 31 points allowed

vs ATL: 22 points allowed

vs ATL: 28 points allowed

vs NO: 37 points allowed

vs CHA: 31 points allowed

Is that what anyone with functioning eyes would call "good"? Hell no. Granted in almost all of these games the Celts figured their shit out, but my point is it shouldn't take a quarter of bad defense to start a game for them to be locked in defensively. I would like to see that from the jump if that's OK with everyone. Only 1 quarter in 6 games where you allow under 28 points in the first quarter is pretty terrible, and the reason I care about this is because in a playoff game, all it takes is 1 quarter for a team to start feeling good. One bad quarter could be all it takes and the next thing you know, you've dropped a game you shouldn't have and now a series is going longer than it should.

The Ugly

While on some level I'm happy for Grant that he played well against his former team, I also find it inexcusable that you allowed Grant Williams to have 23/7 on 10-16 (2-3) in his 33 minutes. I will say he has been playing well lately, but that didn't make it any less annoying. 

- Pretty rude of the Celts to get the lead up to 19 and not fully give us the scoring differential and net rating boost I think most were hoping for. Sure a double digit road win is always nice, but I selfishly want to be back in the top 4 all time in scoring differential. I want to pass the 2017 Warriors because screw GS for what they took from us. I know that means nothing and is just a me problem, but I wanted another 20+ win for selfish reasons.

We are so close to the end of these meaningless games you can almost taste it. At least tomorrow will have some juice even with OKC being on a B2B, but that's pretty much it. It wouldn't shock me if the Celts kept some players in Boston and skip the MIL meeting since that's the only road game of the final 7, so I say just enjoy these final handful of games and pray for health. At the end of the day, that's really all that matters at this point.