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Isaiah Thomas Is A Baaaaaad Man

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Well that was very close to being what could have been, a season changing loss. Instead, last night was probably one of the more exciting wins this group has had, even if it was against the lowly Dallas Mavericks. We’ve already identified the problem that the Celtics repeatedly play down to their competition, and this game was no different. After a fantastic first quarter, they STUNK for the next 24 minutes. Basketball is a weird sport that while momentum is so important, it’s something that can change on any play. Had they lost this game, between DEN/WSH/NO and with GS on deck, their confidence would have been shot. Radio shows would kill them, I’d kill them here, it would not be a pretty picture. Even when you’re playing a bad team in this league, the game still matters, especially when you’ve had the start the season like the Celtics did.

When you look at the bigger picture, it does appear that the Celtics are starting to turn things around on both ends. I’m not sure 6-5 is where many of us thought they would be at this point, but I also don’t think any of us would turn away these wins either. Beating Dallas doesn’t fix all their problems, or suddenly make them contenders or anything like that, but what it did do is show this team actually has a fucking backbone, and when in doubt, just trust in Isaiah.

A few hours before tip I asked the Celtics to make sure this was a happy blog. As they tend to do, they did it in their own way, but here we are. Let’s get started.

The Good

Mike Gorman has seen a LOT of Celtics basketball. Generations worth. And while he’s the type of guy who will never turn away a fresh glass of green Kool Aid, he’s also someone who should be taken seriously when it comes to evaluating basketball talent. Not all of his takes are something I agree with (Zeller), but safe to say I stand with Mike on this one. We are seeing something special in Isaiah Thomas, we have been for quite some time, and despite what he is doing on the basketball court, there are still some who undervalue him. It’s actually pretty wild when you think about it. Other guards put up Isaiah numbers and they are praised, considered the best in the league, guys you should build around. Meanwhile Isaiah is treated differently, and you can’t convince me it’s not because of his height. We all know my stance on that.

Despite the disrespect, here is how Isaiah’s season looks so far

He ranks 6th in all guard scoring

He ranks 8th in all NBA scoring

He ranks #1 in PG scoring

He is one of 3 PGs to average at least 27/6 while shooting 45% or better. The other two are Steph Curry and James Harden

He has a true shooting percentage of 60%

He has an assist percentage of 35%. That’s Steph Curry territory, and much better than guys like Kyrie, and Dame

And yet, watch your Twitter mentions blow up the second you say he deserves to be talked about in the same group as these players. It’s bizarre. I understand people are going to point his defense, and act as if Kyrie and Dame and Curry’s issues don’t exist either.

Which brings me to last night’s performance. I wrote about it a few days ago, but what makes Isaiah great is that he never quits. All it takes is one make, and he is right back to being a real killa. With the game in the balance, you need your best players to step up and win the game. You can’t consider yourself that type of player, unless you actually do it. Again I ask, what MORE could we as a fanbase want from our best player than a guy who is competitive as all hell, refuses to give up, and shows up when the stakes are at their highest?

The numbers are ridiculous: 4-5 (2-3) shooting 12-13 FTs for 22 points in 12 minutes. He played 18 of the 24 second half minutes and was the only player to play the entire fourth quarter. The way in which Isaiah took over this game was a true masterpiece. He had already established the fact that he could get into the painted area whenever he wanted (he just missed floaters), well that turned out to be a positive for him once we got late in this game. Isaiah is at his best when you give him space and let him go to work. We talk about guys ability to create their own shot, well Isaiah is getting to the point where mentally as a defender you have no idea what to expect, or how to defend it.

What makes Isaiah tough to guard is he gives zero fucks. Look at where he caught the ball on the wing here. He hadn’t been able to make a shot all night, so the defense stupidly sags off. Dwight Powell is terrified of Isaiah blowing past him, so instead, Isaiah knocks it down right in his eyeball. Remember how big of a three this was, Dallas had just made one to push it to a two possession game.

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Just one minute later Isaiah went right back to it, same spot, found a big who he knew was going to over challenge because he just made a big shot, and it resulted in another huge three points

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Then what happens after you establish your shot from the outside is you get those bigs to come out juuuuussst a little further. When Isaiah sees that it means one thing. Hey Dwight Powell…SEE YA!

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And finally, every go to player in this situation hits the dagger shot to close the deal. When Isaiah came off that screen and took that little hop step you knew he was going for the kill, and like the real killa he is, he fucking nailed it.isaiahthreewinner

What I also love about the knock on Isaiah is that he is just a scorer compared to some of the other guards in the league. I heard Mazz a few weeks ago say he wasn’t a facilitator.  I dunno call me crazy, but isn’t this what a facilitator does?

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And what’s crazy is this is not the first transition in between the legs pass we’ve seen from Isaiah! Amazing night for Team Isaiah. If only there were some shirts we could sell.

– Not to be outdone was his Tacoma Twin Avery Bradley. At this point I don’t know what to think about what Avery is doing. Another 18/13, this rebounding is getting extremely ridiculous. At the moment I am choosing to ignore what a glaring issue that is for your frontline, and instead would rather focus on the historic effort. In typical Avery fashion, he carried this team in the first quarter. He’s the best first quarter player maybe ever, and his 12/6 in just 9:40 of floor time was pretty impressive as was his team high +11.

As they like to do Brad ran Avery off a couple screens early and put him in his comfort zone offensively. Watching them run offense for Avery early is what makes me so angry when they shy away from the ball movement late. When they pass like they did in this first quarter, they are going to be tough to stop.

– Don’t look now, but the Celtics defense has jumped to 17th. That will happen when you play the teams the Celts have recently, but credit where credit is do. We are seeing things start to level out, guys are starting to shoot their averages against us, and in this game in particular the communication and rotations were pretty good/

When this team defends well, they rebound better and that is what you see when you look at the 53-32 rebounding difference. The Mavericks got only 5 offensive rebounds the entire game. If you aren’t defending well, it makes defensive rebounding very difficult, so perhaps the solution to their rebounding struggles isn’t to give up assets for a sort of shitty 7 fters, maybe they just need to get back to playing good defense.

– You wouldn’t know it by how he shot the ball, but Marcus Smart was one of the biggest reasons the Celtics even won this game. This performance was prime Marcus. Sure he couldn’t shoot, but he literally did EVERYTHING else, and at the end of the day found himself making a game changing, winning play.

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That’s your PG guarding a SF in case you didn’t realize. The other night on WEEI I was asked about Marcus and if I was disappointed in his development. I said absolutely not, because THIS is why you put up with his shooting woes. You can be a winning player without scoring 20 a game. Few players in the league make an impact on a game the way Marcus does, as consistently as Marcus does, and last night was no different.

– Big night for you if you are a lover of outlet passes. Amir had a beautiful outlet pass to a streaking Isaiah and Marcus had a pretty nice one as well to a streaking Avery. Good defense creating easy offense has been the backbone of this team for the last few years, so it was nice to see them get back to that a few times

– Speaking of Amir, another nice effort from him. He seems to be working his way out of whatever funk he was in last week, and I’ll take 8/6/4 from him anytime.

– I want to talk again quickly about the progression of Jaylen Brown, because even though he is getting limited minutes, he is making great decisions. We all knew he could dunk in transition (which he did), but what continues to impress me is how calm Jaylen plays. For a young rookie getting his first NBA experience, he doesn’t rush, he doesn’t panic. He takes his time and finds a way to make a play. His second shot was a prime example

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We’ve seen this midrange fadeaway from Jaylen a few times already, and I’m ready to declare it a legit weapon. The numbers don’t shock you (4 points 3 rebounds in 11 minutes), but this is what I talked about in the season preview. Jaylen is in a unique position as a rookie, but I would say he has for the most part been very solid.

– He’s had some tough outings, so good on Jonas for staying with it. He led the second unit at +9, rebounded well, and at least saw a three go in.

– They didn’t lose to the goddamn Dallas Mavericks.

The Bad

– They almost lost to the goddamn Dallas Mavericks

– But seriously, half this game was tough to watch. The second and third quarters were perhaps some of the worst basketball I’ve ever seen this group play. Guys couldn’t hit a shot really on either side, but you can’t get to the point where you are blowing double digit leads against this Mavs team. Especially with what you’ve done already this season.

The third quarter I can understand, at this point if you couldn’t see this coming, you have not been paying attention. The Celtics scored 29 points and shot like 57% in the first quarter. That is the very recipe for the Theory. There was NO CHANCE that third quarter was going to be good and guess what.

The Celtics started the quarter with three straight turnovers. Blew their lead, scored 18 points and shot 36%. The Theory is real, and it struck again.

– Seeing as how I am raising a new puppy, I am all about bad habits right now. Can’t let Walter pick up any of Larry’s bad habits. Well, Terry Rozier is starting to pick up Isaiah’s bad habits. That jump pass turnover in the second quarter made me audibly gasp, and what bothered me about it was Rozier rushed the whole way. He looked like rookie Terry Rozier who was all over the place, and not calm, cool, and collected Summer League Crush winner Terry Rozier. Three turnovers and zero assists is not what I need from Terry moving forward.

– Desperate for offense Brad went to Gerald Green, and while he did make one layup, he was a DISASTER on the defensive end, at crucial parts of the game. Wesley Matthews straight up abused him. He was late on rotations, he was slow, he was dominated.

– With Dirk out, we didn’t get the Dirk vs Kelly matchup that I know for a fact I wasn’t the only one desperately waiting for.

The Ugly

– Going over 23 minutes without a FT is weird.

– Maybe this is a little harsh, but I am putting the three point shooting in this section, only because it is making me nervous. The Celtics are falling waaaaayyy too much in love with launching it behind the arc. Chuck it and get back is giving me flashbacks of Doc Rivers’ offense, and that would be cool as long as you ignore the fact that we don’t have nearly that same level of talent on this current roster.

– Good shooters missing FTs will always make this section. Marcus, Avery, Isaiah I’m looking at you

At the end of the day, the only thing this win really does is bring the spirits up a little bit as we head into the biggest game of the year. The Celtics are really the only team recently who continuously plays Golden State tough. In their last 6 games, five of them have been within around 5 points, and we all know what happened last year. If you don’t, the Celtics almost swept this team. I’m not sitting here saying the Celtics > Warriors, but I do think that they have the pieces to make it a competitive game and cover. Throw in the Durant storyline and this is going to be must watch stuff.

Oh also on Durant, I’d think it would be pretty lame if the crowd booed him. He didn’t ever play here, he just made a choice that 100% of players would make. Once the Warriors came into play, that was it for everyone else, no matter what you said in the pitch meeting, or how close Wyc tells you the Celtics were. Also, remember if GS implodes or something and he opts out, don’t burn that bridge.

In the meantime, the Celtics and myself needed this win, and I’m glad we got it.

6 down 46 to go.