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When It Comes To The Celtics Playoff Run The Only Thing That Matters Is Wins, Regardless Of How They Look

Nick Cammett. Getty Images.

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For years, we've all wanted the Celtics to not play with their food and handle their business in a playoff series. When they have an opportunity to put themselves in a position where they can have a short series, they capitalize. Knowing no NBA team is going to go 16-0 over a playoff run, that can look different from series to series, but the overall goal remains the same.

Take care of your shit, do your best to stay healthy, and move on.

Through 9 games, no team in the NBA has more playoff wins than the Boston Celtics (7-2). Only the Celts and Wolves are undefeated so far on the road (4-0), and that could change tonight for MIN. The Celts own the #3 offense, #2 defense, and #1 net rating to kick off this postseason run, where I would say they are essentially doing what they are supposed to do. This hasn't been all that different from the regular season Celts who also won at a 77% clip (.780), had the top offense/defense/net rating in the field, and did what they were supposed to do during the year. Remember, this was a team that was an NBA best 34-15 against teams .500 or better, and an NBA best 30-3 against teams under .500. 

So far a lot of the discourse around the Celts playoff start is the fact that they are "playing nobody" and "everyone is injured" or it's "the easiest path of all time". You know, shit like this

It's an easy way to go viral and get some engagement. Forget the fact that the 1987 Lakers played 2 different under .500 teams on their way to the '87 Finals, but sure. You also don't see anyone mention the fact that the Celts are also operating without Kristaps Porzingis, and instead, the narrative is they are frauds who are too reliant on KP this playoffs

I'm not sure there is a team out there that breaks the brains of people quite like the Boston Celtics. It's wild to watch in real time.

What I find interesting is year after year when the Celts had a gauntlet of a playoff path, we never seemed to hear about how it was OK if they lost a game because of how tough the competition was. Nobody was making excuses for them when Rob got hurt, or Brogdon got hurt, or Tatum got hurt in previous runs. Yes, the Celtics have played the 8 seeded Heat who were injured as a result of the Play In, and then now face a 4 seeded Cavs team who is also dealing with injuries. Those are true statements.

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But I'm sorry, so what? Do you get extra wins depending on who you play? The Celtics took the regular season seriously, were by far the best team in the NBA, and as a result earned the 1 seed and the potential for an easier path. That's kind of how the playoff seeding works. 

Which brings us to Game 4. 

It certainly wasn't there best showing, in fact, I would argue the Celts mostly played like trash for a large portion of this game. But in the playoffs, it doesn't really matter who it looks. Win by 25, and it wasn't good enough because the Celts weren't being challenged. Win a clutch time game, and it's not good enough because it never should have been close in the first place. Let people twist themselves into a pretzel, because there's no pleasing them. You know what matters? Wins. Being the first to 4 and then ultimately the first to 16. That's it. 

I don't care if the wins are pretty, I don't care if the wins are ugly, I don't care if they are easy or if they are hard as hell to get. Just stack Ws and move on to the next.

After dropping Game 2, it became crucial that the Celts take both Games 3 & 4 in CLE by any means necessary. Just like we saw against MIA, that's exactly what they did.

The Good

- You know what? It only feels right that we start today's blog with a player who truly deserves it. A player who you could make the case was one of the most impactful players of this two game trip, and without how he played I feel confident in stating the Celts not only don't win both of these games, they may not even have won a single one.

Who is that guy? Jrue Holiday

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To put it simply, Holiday has been tremendous over these last two games on both ends of the floor. Not just in terms of the total production, but also the efficiency. Another 6-11 (4-8) last night, these weren't all wide open C&S jumpers either. Time and time again we saw Holiday make tough contested stepbacks in big moments, and it goes without saying that when they are getting this level of play from Holiday, it raises the Celts ceiling even higher.

While he struggled in the 7 previous games offensively, the way Jrue has stepped up and carried the backcourt scoring production while Derrick White fights through his slump is exactly what I was calling for after the Game 2 loss. We already know he's going to be incredible defensively, but with no KP he had to start showing up on the other side of the court. That is what he's done.

The scoring is what jumps out at you for sure, but do not sleep on Jrue's rebounding and how important that was in these last two wins. He's 3rd on the team in total rebounds over these last two games (15) and barely trails Jaylen who's #2 (17). His late game rebounding over Evan Mobley was huge in the Game 3 win, and his 7 rebounds last night were just as crucial in the Game 4 win. With Al looking older by the minute and KP being out, it was going to require everyone to put extra emphasis on rebounding, because to win in the playoffs you HAVE to rebound. To me, this part of Jrue's game has been just as valuable as anything else and it deserves praise because, at this time of year, rebounding is about effort.

Can he keep up this type of efficiency? Who the hell knows. All that matters at the moment is that when they needed Jrue to show up, he delivered. Maybe Game 5 we get Derrick's offense back and Holiday can slide back into this reserve scoring role. The point is, all that matters is doing enough to win.

- Then of course we have the play of the two best players. You probably won't hear much about them on podcasts or the talking head shows because once again, the Jays delivered big time performances on the road to secure the win 

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121 points on 44-82 (8-26) shooting over these last two games, both Tatum and Brown are playing some of their best basketball of the season. While the national discourse is somehow that Jayson Tatum "has been bad" and "isn't a true #1" or "doesn't have that DAWG" in him….I'm not sure what people are watching

When you combine the fact that both have been nails defensively so far, it's hard to ask for much more. Jaylen shot 68.8/66% in Games 3 & 4, making HUGE shots late. Tatum has done literally everything, as seen in the tweet above. You haven't really seen too many teams go on the road and win both games, and the fact that the Celts have now done that in back to back series can be largely attributed to their two best players. They not only showed up, they carried. 

What we continue to see in this series is no different from what we've seen all year. This is a matchup problem for CLE, with or without Donovan Mitchell or Jarrett Allen. If you don't have the size and speed on the wing to stay in front of the Jays, you're going to have a pretty tough time. That's the whole point of how Brad constructed this roster. So when Jaylen says stuff like this

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He's simply telling the truth. The Cavs just don't really have the wing defenders outside of Okoro, and he hasn't been all that effective. Guys like Max Strus, Niang, and LeVert are all going to have issues consistently winning that matchup given how the Jays can score from all 3 levels, and that's exactly what we saw over these last two wins.

- While there's a part of me that's a little annoyed the Celts gave up over 100, I'll take 102. Give the Cavs credit, they played hard as hell and put up a fight despite being shorthanded, mostly due to their unsustainable shooting in the first half. But when it came time to lock in and shut the water off, that's exactly what the Celts did. Just 45 points in the second half on 42/17% splits, the formula was pretty simple. Stop turning the ball over and allowing live ball turnovers/points off TOs, and you can pull away. Make this team consistently beat you in the halfcourt without their best halfcourt player, don't give up OREB (2), take away the 3s and the rest will fall into place.

One part of their defense was I thought was great was the communication. The way the Celts switched in this game was effective and precise, especially when it came to the Kornet/point guard switches once the Cavs kept trying to get Evan Mobley on a smaller player. Those are the small details that can make all the difference, and it showed how the Celts were operating as a cohesive unit. When they do that, they are tough as hell to score on.

- Payton Pritchard might have the most gigantic set of testicles we have ever seen

11 points off the bench on 46% in this series, Pritchard has been huge for that second unit and you could make the case that over these last two games it's actually Pritchard who has two of the biggest shots of each game. The logo 3 at the 7 minute mark of the 4th quarter in Game 3, and the stepback 3 under 10 seconds in the 3rd last night. Remember, he also had the buzzer beating 3 to end the 3rd quarter of Game 1, so this has kind of been his role in this series so far. 

We all know how important bench production is, especially when 40% of the starting lineup can't buy a bucket at the moment, and for Pritchard to have moments like this on the road is big time stuff.

- Another game where the Celts found a way to win despite shooting WELL below their average in 3PA. They shot 35 in Game 3, and just 32 3PA last night, which is around 10 fewer than we usually see. To win two games on the road with that type of approach, all while the guy you traded for to help you win games without 3PA doesn't play, should not be overlooked.

One of the biggest questions we always had to hear was 

"What do the Celtics do in the playoffs if they aren't making 3s? It's the only way they win"

The answer is obvious. They adjust, and they execute. They swap 3PA for aggressive Tatum/Brown drives. They get to the FT line. They feast on the boards against an undersized team (16 2nd chance points). 

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Sooner or later, the 3s will return and the Celts will hit them at their usual 37-40% clip. But in the meantime, getting reps of winning other ways is a good thing, that should help them moving forward. 

- There was this idea last night that the Celtics clutch time offense was awful last night, and I couldn't disagree more. People I think confuse the end result of a play with whether or not it was good offense. Said another way, it's only good offense if you make the shot. This never really makes sense to me, because at the end of the day what matters is your process. Yes, you have to make shots, but when it comes to the Celts end of game offense, the process in which they play is just as important.

What we saw was something Joe seemed to be holding onto until the playoffs, which is the Tatum/Brown 2 man game. I can't ever remember these two setting screens for each other, and at the end of these games we all want Tatum initiating as long as it comes via something other than dribbling down the clock. So when I see plays like this

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Two of those clips were misses, but they were not bad offense. This type of two man action is exactly what the Celts should be doing in these close moments. Putting Jaylen or Tatum as the screener and allowing them to catch the ball at the FT in space requires so much attention that it's going to open up things for shooters. If it's Jaylen on the roll, the midrange pullup is a great look. If it's Tatum, he can go strong to the rim. The Celts don't need to reinvent the wheel in these moments, they just need to make the opposing defense actually defend. When they can't stand around and watch, things look a whole lot better.

- Joe's timeout usage in this series has been A+++++++++++++++++++++++++. 

The Bad

- Despite winning the opening quarter 37-30, I did not like how the Celts started this game. It was entirely predictable that they would come out flat, let the Cavs get cooking early, and mostly play dumb as shit. For a team that has been tremendous at taking care of the basketball, to have 9 TOs in 1.5 quarters is beyond pathetic, and it's the one thing you couldn't do. When you're careless with the ball, that leads to easy transition buckets, usually 3PM. Once a team starts making those and the crowd gets into it, you find yourself in a battle.

It's no different than what we saw against the Heat last year. Letting an offensively challenged team feast off careless passes and transition 3s is exactly how you get upset. Granted the Celts turned things around, but the way they started this game was pretty inexcusable. Not guarding the line, not taking care of the basketball, it was gross.

- While he's still making an impact defensively, especially at the rim in transition, these were probably two of the worst overall games we've seen Derrick White play all season. His offense has completely disappeared at the moment (1-6, 1-4), and while some regression back to earth may have been expected, not quite like this. Just 8ppg on 26/33% splits over these last two games, at some point he's going to have to get back to a more acceptable level. What cannot happen is Derrick lose his aggressiveness as a result of these struggles, because that's not how you fix it.

You fix it by forgetting about the misses and continuing to shoot with confidence. Water will find its level, but it certainly hasn't been pretty these last two games.

- The same can be said about Al's shooting. He put up 25/0% in these two wins, and his shooting struggles have existed pretty much these entire playoffs. On the one hand, I can't blame him. He has to be exhausted and certainly isn't getting any younger.

But at the same time, he needs to make his wide open looks. The Celtics will not be able to survive with Al shooting 0% on 3s like he has over these last 2. It's not fair, and there are still things he does on the other end that are making an impact, but the shooting has to return to a respectable level, especially with KP out. 

At this point you have to wonder what Xavier Tillman did to be in Joe's doghouse like this. It's very clear to everyone with eyes that Al is gassed, so what's the harm in giving Tillman 10 minutes? It's not as if Al isn't getting blown by on the perimeter, and it's not as if he's making 3s, so how much worse could Tillman get? Even if his minutes are a disaster, I still think the rest for Horford makes it worth it. He only played 28 minutes last night, but Tillman getting two DNP-CDs in back to back games is very confusing.

Isn't this why you traded for him?

The Ugly

- In typical Celtics fashion, they built a 15 point 4th quarter lead and of course, we all couldn't just sit back and enjoy it stress-free. Anyone who thought that was going to happen clearly has not watched this team ever play basketball before

Giphy Images.

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At the 7:56 mark, the score was 98-83. Here's what the next 5 minutes looked like

Giphy Images.

Not until 2:49 did the Celtics make a FG, and it came off a Tatum strip. Everything about that picture is gross. Got a lead, went for homerun plays, which is the exact opposite of what you want to see in that moment. No ball movement, no forcing the defense to actually defend, just setting for jumpers. There is not a single paint FGA in over 5 minutes (but there were some FTA to be fair). 

So while this type of shit didn't really happen in "clutch" minutes, the 4th quarter is still important, even the first half of it. This is the type of offensive drought that you cannot have moving forward, and it's entirely fair to suggest that had Donovan Mitchell been on the floor in these moments, maybe things don't turn out how they did. This team is too talented to go 5 minutes without a bucket in the 4th quarter when they have a chance to bury a team, so I can't say I loved what I saw for the majority of the quarter.

But at the end of the day, what matters is the Celts pulled it out and improve to 3-1. I'm of the belief that road playoff wins are never a bad thing, regardless of how you get it or who it comes against. If it were easy, everyone would do it.

Now we turn the page to Game 5, where the Celts will once again be challenged to not play with their food and end this series quickly. Get Al his rest, let KP rehab and be prepared for another battle in the ECF.

The goal will always be the first to 4 and the first to 16, and so far, so good.