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After A Massive Game 2 Win The Boston Celtics Continue To Show The World They Are The True Definition Of A Team

Maddie Meyer. Getty Images.

Welcome to the hardest part of the entire NBA Playoff journey. 

In the race to 16 wins, for some franchises that situation presents itself with securing win #8.

For this franchise and this team, winning 14 games isn't the hard part. We've been here before. Up 2-1 and 4 minutes away from taking a 3-1 Finals lead, we all know what happened next. In my experience, it's the final two wins you need to hoist the trophy that will always be the hardest to get.

Just look at what's happening right now. Many are calling this series over. A wrap. That the Mavs have no chance and they may as well wave the white flag.

You know who isn't doing that? Me. You know who shouldn't be doing that? You.

The Celtics don't raise a banner for winning 14 playoff games. They do not hang a banner for taking a 2-0 series lead in the Finals. And sure, even with teams being 31-5 all time in the Finals (86.1%) with this lead and 424-34 (92.6%) overall in the playoffs, just go ask the 2021 Phoenix Suns how their 2-0 Finals lead ended up. Anything, and I mean ANYTHING can still happen.

You know who knows that? Jrue Holiday. Someone who was there for that 2021 Finals run

This team has been close before, but close isn't what we're looking for. I don't think I'll truly be able to exhale until I see the clock hit 0.0 in the Celts 4th win, but to get to that point the Celts are going to have to play even better. Can they fight off a sense of complacency and continue to be the harder-playing team is the biggest question for the rest of these Finals. They have the Mavs on the ropes, and they absolutely cannot let them off the hook.

The good news is the Celts still haven't even played all that well in these Finals. It certainly hasn't been to their ceiling, which should scare Mavs fans a little bit. It's not as if the Celts have been playing above their heads so far, so while it's true the Mavs can play better, the same is true of the team that's beaten them 6 straight times now dating back to last season. I think we all expect the Mavs role players to play better at home, well the Celts haven't lost on the road yet this postseason.

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What we've seen from the Celts to start these Finals can best be described as maturity. From the stars to the role players, to the coach, we're seeing a level of calmness and focus that simply did not exist in previous runs. Part of that is the roster construction, part of that is being molded by previous playoff failures, and part of that is guys just being older and having a different perspective, but it's undeniable at this point. The Jason Kidd mind tricks didn't work, the Celts' poor offense didn't bleed into other areas of their game, they didn't overreact to Luka going nuclear early, they didn't panic when things got close late etc. 

That's maturity. That's belief and trust in one another. That's operating as a T-E-A-M.

When the Celtics do that, they are virtually unstoppable. Just like they've been all season long. Let's dive in.

The Good

- Another impossible challenge for yours truly. How could anyone decide where to start? When you get so many big performances in the same game, there are multiple areas that deserve top billing.

But I will once again go with the same thing we started the Game 1 blog with, because at the end of the day it will always remain the backbone of the Celtics postseason success.

Defense. Defense. Defense.

When it comes to the defensive performance the Celts have put up in these Finals, what has made it so devastating for the Mavs is the fact that it's coming from all 5 positions. Go ahead and pick a player and you can easily point out several massive defensive plays that helped determine the outcome of this game. Jaylen Brown's individual defense against Kyrie and Luka has been incredible. Derrick White has had his moments. Jayson Tatum with huge 4th quarter steals, Jrue Holiday completely removing Kyrie Irving from the equation, KP's insane rim protection, Al Horford holding his own in space, Payton Pritchard and Sam Hauser putting the Mavs two best players in jail consistently, the list goes on and on.

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A huge reason why the Celts have been effective in this series is the fact that Joe has made it clear they will not panic. Luka going off? OK, have fun tiring yourself out! The strategy is pretty clear through 2 games. Stay home, don't send doubles to Luka and shut the water off everywhere else. For the second straight game, the Celts defense completely eliminated the corner 3 and the lob, and without those two things, the Mavs offense is simply not able to produce enough offense. Having Tatum on the center has neutralized their pick and roll attack, and the results speak for themselves.

Heading into the Finals, the Mavs had a 115.2 ORTG. So far in the Finals that number has dropped significantly to 100.0. Sorry, but you aren't beating this Celts team 4 times with an ORTG of 100.0. To put that in perspective, the Grizzlies had the worst offense in the NBA this season with a rating of 106.8.

Coming off the series against the Pacers, it's crazy what a difference it is guarding the Mavs compared to IND. All that motion and speed with the ability to attack from multiple positions, guarding the Pacers feels 10000x harder. Compare that to the iso heavy Mavs who don't really have a lot of speed or motion and only have 2 guys who can really create their own shot, it feels like too many people were willingly ignoring what the Pacers have done all year just because the Mavs have superstar names. 

- Now that the defensive nod is out of the way, we can talk about Jrue Holiday. Holy fuck. That's the first thing.

If you are someone who right now believes Jrue Holiday is the leader in the Finals MVP race, I won't argue with you. I mean you see the tweet above, the guy is currently doing shit in these Finals not seen since Michael Jordan. He was pretty good right?

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I think we all expected this level of defense from Holiday given what we saw all year, so for me what has stood out has to be what Jrue is giving this team offensively. This is starting to get legitimately insane

With Tatum's offense struggling, it was Jrue who found ways to step up and pick up the scoring slack, which is exactly why he's on this team. He referred to himself as the utility guy and that couldn't be more accurate given the fact that he continues to give the Celts exactly what they need at any given moment. Huge game ending defensive plays? Check. Huge momentum 3s? Check. Smart off ball cuts to score in the paint? Check. 

For all the talk about these devastating Mavs centers and elite rim protection, I counter that with Jrue's Game 2 shot chart

And to think, the Bucks just gave this guy away. I would like to take this time to thank them for that. I would also like to thank the Blazers for answering Brad's call, and I'd like to thank Brad for paying whatever it took to bring Holiday into this group. This is the type of play I think we were all praying for during the entire season, and now that we're getting it, it's better than I ever dreamed of.

- The second spot is going to Joe Mazzulla. Year 2 Joe has been a revelation, and for the 4th series in a row, he's been the best coach on the floor. He has his players prepared, his strategy in these Finals has been flawless, his in-game adjustments have been effective, his timeout usage nearly perfect, and it's time he gets the respect he not only deserves, but has earned.

Making sure a guard whether it's Jrue or White is in the dunker spot has completely neutralized the Mavs defense. Given how poor their perimeter defense is, that small adjustment makes all the difference in the world. Either Tatum/Brown can easily find the teammate right by the rim after rotations, or they can instead use that to find a corner shooter. Many expected Joe to just play 5 out and kill the Mavs in space, well this is a little wrinkle that the Mavs have yet to show an answer for.

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Defensively, from a scheme standpoint there's almost nothing to nitpick. When you combine a solid scheme with elite execution by the players, that's how you keep this Mavs team to under 100 points in back to back games. We all understand how insane that is correct? In 2024? 

Maybe most importantly, Joe has complete buy in from everyone. I would argue that's the hardest part of his job, and there is no denying he's the guy at this point

- Speaking of that Payton Pritchard shot, while the casual fan may have been surprised by a play like this

we certainly weren't. This is what Payton Pritchard does. It's why he takes these shots during the year, because you never know when you're going to need a moment like this in the biggest series of your life. There's no waiting until just after the buzzer so you don't hurt your FG%. You think Payton Pritchard gives a fuck about percentages? He cares about buckets, and the second he steps on the court no matter where he is, that's within range. 

Remember, we've already seen Payton do this earlier in the playoffs

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Then there was the time in February he did it twice in the same game (only one counted)

So yeah like I said, this is just what Payton Pritchard does. Barely played, hadn't shot the ball well all Finals and none of that matters because he's a player that rises to the moment. 

You could make the case that this is the shot that truly turned the game. The Celts 13 point lead had the potential to get down to 6 entering the 4th, and the entire vibe of the game is different. But up 9 after a play like that? It allowed everyone to exhale and then refocus for the 4th.

- It feels crazy we haven't even mentioned either Jay yet, so let's start with Jaylen Brown. 

Another efficient 8-15 from the floor paired with elite on and off ball defense and a perfect 4-4 from the FT line, Jaylen continues to play some of the best basketball of his life. I certainly didn't love the 6 TOs, but I'm willing to overlook it given everything else Jaylen did in this game both as a scorer, defender, and creator. 

Aside from his play, what's stood out about Jaylen's season and this playoff run specifically has been his leadership. It's impossible to miss, and the impact it's making is undeniable. From keeping everyone focused, to being in everyone's ear during the game, so taking the defensive responsibility of guarding the best player, it's all been a huge reason why the Celts are where they are right now. It's one thing to say you're going to be the leader, it's another thing to lead by example. That's the difference in Jaylen's season to me. He isn't just talking about it, he's being about it on both ends of the floor.

The TOs, that has to be cleaned up, just like it had to be cleaned up when Tatum had 6 in Game 1. But given what we've seen all playoffs, I have zero doubt Jaylen will be able to adjust.

- The Boston Celtics won a game in which they shjot 10-39 from three. They also won a game in the clutch against the supposed best clutch team in basketball.

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Remember, we were told all season that 

A) The Celtics could not win in the playoffs if they didn't make their 3s.

B) The Celtics couldn't win close games in the clutch in the playoffs.

Hm. Check…and check?

Not losing the "Bad shooting game" has to have Mavs fans sick. You got the opening you needed, the Celts shot 25% from deep and you still couldn't take advantage. We're now two games into the Finals and we haven't even gotten the standard 23-48 from deep game that you know is coming at some point. Just think about that.

- Please take a moment and join me in praying to the Basketball Gods for delivering our beloved bald point guard, Derrick White.

It's hard to decide what was the bigger play. In one corner, you had the Derrick end of shot clock 3PM at around the 7 minute mark when the game was starting to get in the balance which helped the Celts go back up 10. A broken possession ending in a 30ft three on a night when nobody was making threes was such a huge moment. That's the type of deflating punch you get in the 4th quarter that is too much to overcome.

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Then of course, there was the block at the end. Foul? No foul? Not my problem. You can take your block by James, I'll take my block by White. As we've seen all year, when the Stock Exchange is making an impact on both ends of the floor, it takes the Celtics to a level few teams if any can match. 

I've said it once and I'll say it again. Derrick White is a tremendous Celtic. He's everything being a Celtic is all about. Selfless, about the team, willing to do whatever it takes to win, relentless hustle, intelligence, ready for the moment, humble, etc. 

Derrick White is the perfect example of what it means to be a Boston Celtic, and he has truly been a gift from the Basketball Gods. Anyone could have traded for him, and thank God Brad Stevens was the one who did.

- A large portion of today I'm sure will be slandering Jayson Tatum. Whatever, same shit different day. At this point it's getting desperate, so I say let his haters cope. If your takeaway was that Jayson Tatum was "bad" last night, I'm just not sure what else to tell you

His shooting has been dogshit. That is undeniable. But his overall play? I have almost zero problems with it. Granted his first half last night was horrendous, but there's a reason games are 48 minutes. Kidd tried to bait him into playing hero ball and away from how he's approached these Finals, instead focusing on creating for others and being the sole focus of the Mavs defense. There are many ways to impact winning, and the best of the best figure out how to do that on nights where their shots aren't dropping.

Of everything we've seen from Tatum so far in these Finals, this was by far my favorite part

Giphy Images.

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This is it. This is the level we have been dreaming about since Tatum first arrived. He gets it. He's ready. I could fucking cry.

- Kyrie/Luka were a combined 5-16 (1-6) with 6 TOs in the second half.

Welcome to jail.

The Bad

- Game 1 gave us the 0-7 (0-5) Payton Pritchard performance. Game 2 gave us an 0-5 (0-5) performance from Sam Hauser. Can you imagine what life would look like if two lifetime 40% shooters didn't miss every shot they took? Hauser's looks last night were pretty much all wide open from all the zones he's usually automatic from and yet, he couldn't buy a bucket to save his life.

Again, this is a blown opportunity for the Mavs. At some point, 40% shooters are going to make their wide open 3s. This isn't PJ Washington or DJJ, these are two players who have shot 40% from deep their entire lives. At some point, the tide is going to turn but man was it brutal seeing Hauser's 3PA rim out last night. It made things way more stressful than they needed to be.

- Yes, I am terrified of the Porzingis injury. How could anyone not be? I know he said he's fine. I know Joe said there's zero concern. I don't give a shit. Until I see it with my own eyes, I am going to be terrified. This close to a title and knowing how unstoppable KP is when he's on the floor, it's a very big deal given there is still a lot of basketball to be played in this series.

I guess it's a good sign that he was still able to run unlike what happened the first time? I dunno. I'm preparing for the worst just to be safe. 

- I absolutely hated this Tatum shot

These are the shots Tatum need to remove form his arsenal in that type of moment. He hadn't shot the ball well, he was getting to the rim whenever he wanted, so to settle like this against a player like Exum is playing into the Mavs hands. Kyrie went down and scored to cut it to 7 (right before the White 3PM), and a play like this may as well be a turnover as far as I'm concerned.

When you get into the 4th quarter of a Finals game, every possession is valuable. Wasting it with poor shot selection is asking for trouble, and next time the Celts might not be so lucky. I'm all for Tatum creating offense down the stretch and looking to score, I would just like it to be with a high quality look. That turnaround is a shot he's struggled with all year and is not something I would consider a high quality look. It didn't burn them last night, but it doesn't mean it won't.

- Tony Brothers remains one of the worst officials the NBA has. Awful for both sides, I still do not understand how he's getting Finals games. I know the league uses a system, but if that system is telling you Tony Brothers is good and worthy of a Finals nod, then your system is bullshit and should be scrapped. He's so, so bad.

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- A big part of why the Celts allowed the Mavs to hang around in the first half is because they once again flirted with the Holy Trinity Of Playoff Pain. As a reminder for those who may not know what that is, it's

1. High points off TOs

2. Cold 3pt Shooting

3. Poor defensive rebounding.

Nearly 40% of the Mavs offense in the first half came off points off TOs and 2nd chance points, and the Celts 3-15 (20%) shooting from deep had us 3 for 3 in these areas during the first 24 minutes. 

The Ugly

- Nope. Sorry. We're now up to 9 wins in a row these playoffs (which is patently insane), and we don't touch this section until the Celts lose again.

So here we go. The NBA Finals is pretty much on the line in Game 3. Go up 3-0, and it's a wrap. Allow the Mavs to feel even the slightest bit of hope and we have an entirely different series on our hands. We've waited all season for a moment like this, and I need the Celts to go in for the kill.

14 down, 2 to go.