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The Celtics Execute Flawlessly Down The Stretch To Hold On Against Chicago

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First things first, great win. Just like that, it would appear as though the Celtics have turned things around since their little 4 game slide. At 4-2 over their last 6, with quality wins over IND/WSH/CHI it’s nice to see the Celts start to get back to playing Celtics basketball. Now to be fair, with Joakim Noah out, the Bulls are a bit of a wounded animal. Despite being 2-5 over their previous 7 (with one of those wins being Philly in OT) Chicago still was sitting pretty with a 24-17 record and around the 3/4 seed. Obviously a good measuring stick for the Celts. Having split the season series thus far, last night gave us a glimpse of what could end up being a playoff matchup.

For me, this game was won on the defensive end of the floor. Over their previous 8 games heading into last night, the Celtics were giving up around 108 a game, up almost 10 points from their previous 35 games. That’s bad. They were giving up 30+ point quarters left and right, and looked slow and uninterested in stopping anybody. In fact, the Celtics have only held a team under 100 points one time in their last 6. This is playing with fire, since we are all aware of what their record is when they give up that many points.

But, there is good news. We’ve made it through this gauntlet portion of the schedule, and in fact, moved UP a playoff spot (currently 7th with just 1 win behind the 4 seed). There was a bunch of great stuff to take away from this game, so let’s not waste anymore time.

The Good

– We begin honestly with the Celtics very first possession. I’m not sure how they are still able to run these plays for Avery, it’s as if teams don’t watch film (or read this blog) while preparing to play the Celts. Pretty sure they run this play to open the game around 75% of the time. I like it because it’s so simple, just a little down screen for Avery, but it’s so important because if he makes this shot, it can set him off offensively. Shooting 62% in the first 3 minutes of a game, you can see why. These are wide open looks.

It should come as no surprise that Avery scored over half of his point total in this opening quarter, and it really helped the Celts get off to a good start. Shooting 8-14 (with 2 threes) Avery was efficient and effective. As well as he shot the ball, what we love most in this house was his defense. His 4 steals led the team, and it was good to see AB get back to his defensive roots.

– In what would prove to be a battle of the backcourts, it was nice to see Isaiah didn’t leave his Tacoma Twin hangin. In fact, he matched Avery pretty much bucket for bucket. His 7-15 (3 threes) 21 points 3 rebounds 5 assists 1 turnover helped pace the Celtics throughout this game. When the Celtics needed someone down the stretch, Isaiah stepped up and led all Celtics in 4th quarter points. There are few shots that can demoralize a defense, and I firmly believe that Isaiah’s transition three is such a shot. We saw it a few times in this game, and each time it really was a momentum changer. You hate it when he takes it, but love him when he makes it. I think that sums up Isaiah pretty well.

– Raise your hand if you thought Jared Sullinger was going to match the production of Pau Gasol? Remember, for his career against the Celtics, Gasol averages somewhere around 18/10. Simply a Celtics killer. Always has been and always will be. But last night, Sully was up for the challenge. In fact, Sully threw up one of his better games of the entire season. This was great to see since he laid an absolute EGG (3 points 2 rebounds) in the loss to Toronto. Last night, through a series of inside and outside buckets, Sully matched Gasol’s 18/11 with a 18/12 of his own.

Now I don’t know how I feel about Sullinger leading this team in shot attempts, but I like how he didn’t get frustrated and force anything. What’s interesting is when Gasol is guarding Sully this year, he shoots around 42% and usually struggles. Well, last night his 8-19 (42%) showed a different story. Because of the Bulls excellent low post defense, this pushes Sullinger out a little bit, and turns him into a jump shooter, something that causes all of us a little heart burn.

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– Here’s another weird aspect of last night. When you look at Evan Turner’s production: 10/5/5 you think to yourself “hmm, not a bad night for a bench player”. And you’d be right. He didn’t play that bad. You know if you ignore his 5 turnovers and team high -8. Look, I understand he’s a veteran and maybe they are trying to showcase him, but all I ask is you cut his minutes a little it to get RJ Hunter/James Young some run.

– Ok, let’s talk about the defense, because for me, it was the star of the night. Now it wasn’t perfect, or their best defensive effort of the season, but it was enough to pull it out. The Celtics holding Chicago to 42% shooting and 20 turnovers is going to be a win for me every single time. They played with active hands and made things hard on the Bulls, and in a tradition that is as old as time, good defense lead to easy offense. We saw a lot of this

– Now let’s get to the real reason the Celtics won this game. Beautiful execution when the game was on the line. After the Bulls had cut their 16 point lead down to 97-96 with 4:30 left in the game, many I’m sure thought this was just going to be another Celtics collapse. Ha, you fools. What happened next was some of the best execution this team has had all season. Over the next 3 minutes the Celtics made 4 of their 5 shots and before you know it, the score was 105-96 with a minute left. An 8-0 run when they needed it the most, let’s sit back and enjoy it shall we?

2-0

4-0 (WHAT A LOOK!)

6-0

8-0 and GAME

The Bad

– I suppose I should state the obvious. Almost blowing a 16 point lead at home was awful. The way the Celtics came out in that 3rd quarter is everything I hate about this team at times. They came out flat on both ends, gave up their highest scoring quarter of the game and made things way more stressful than it should have been.

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– I would advise Isaiah Thomas/Marcus Smart not watch the film of this one, because Butler and Rose absolutely murdered them. Butler you expect, because he’s a top 5 player in the league, but they made Derrick Rose look like the Rose of old. His quickness was an issue for the Celts, and they should just promise to never defend like that ever again because it was bad.

– Tough to see the Celtics get worked so hard in the paint, as they lost both points in the paint, second chance points, and rebounding battles. Usually when this happens, you lose, so consider the Celtics very lucky. This is what scares me about potentially facing this team in a series, as the Celts have a real tough time with this group.

– I didn’t love how Smart or Crowder shot the ball. Not so much that they didn’t make them, but where they took them from. Too many jumpers.

The Ugly

– Still too many fouls. The Bulls 26 FTA were more of the same for this group. They are having problems defending without fouling, and sooner or later it is going to become habit.

– Did you hear Danny Ainge absolutely loves Chipotle and has no intentions of stopping despite all the E Coli stuff going around? Bananaland. I trust Danny with my life, but this decision making has me wondering..

 

With today’s game snowed out, the Celtics will look to continue their winning ways against Philly tomorrow, after the Patriots. I fully understand that there is a strong chance you may miss this game, either celebrating or crying. This is my promise to you, don’t worry about it. Me and Larry have it covered.

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Sitting at 23-21 here is a look at the next few for the Celts. Now especially with this team, you can’t take any of these for granted, but it’s a pretty nice stretch.

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23 down 24 to go.