While The Comeback Was Nice, The Celtics Still Have A LONG Way To Go To Be On Cleveland's Level...Which We Knew Already

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Heading into last night’s game, this is what I wrote in my blog

As we turn the page to CLE, this is will be talked about being a big measuring stick game, but I only think that to some degree. For example if the Celtics win, I don’t consider them on CLE level, and I’m sure if they lose, I’ll hear all about how far away the Celts are. I know that going in. But I do think it will be competitive considering they only beat the Celtics by 6 and it was without Horford AND Crowder (Isaiah did go for 30/6 though but nbd). This group hasn’t gotten a chance to face the Cavs yet, who are dealing with injuries of their own. I’m already angry with how many FTs Lebron is going to take and how the NBA is going to “miss” calls for them this time, but that’s all part of playing Lebron at home.

Well that’s basically what happened to some degree. The game was competitive (but mostly because CLE let up in the 4th), and again the Celtics fell to the Cavs by 6. Making it very clear that they are miles and miles away from seriously contending with CLE at this point in time, but what confuses me is who that surprises? How do people go from the Celtics goals being to win a round, to all the sudden being on the level of the defending NBA Champion? I understand that’s the goal, but in what way is this Celtics team a finished product? By no means was THIS Celtics roster the finished product. The lineup that Danny & Co put out to say “OK, now we are title contenders”. Everyone knows they need to add pieces, and those pieces need to be premiere talent. That DOESN’T mean that the pieces they currently have can’t be part of the puzzle. Was Kyrie winning titles by himself? Was Love? No, the idea being you get these guys together and now you’re contending. Well guess what, unless you’re GS you aren’t on CLE level, so why all the freaking out?

Now Horford is not Kevin Love that much is clear, and my stance on Isaiah/Kyrie is well known. The problem is there is no Lebron James out there that is coming to the Boston Celtics. It’s not Paul George, it’s not Jimmy Butler, it’s not Gordon Hayward. So keeping that in mind the Celtics have to approach their rebuild a bit differently.

I’ve seen a lot of chatter that the Celtics can’t beat good teams and all that, and on the surface that’s true. They are 0-6 against the top two teams from each conference. That’s not great by any stretch. You could even call it bad. But I can’t help but think, as fun as they were last year, did beating GS, OKC, CLE all on the road suddenly make the Celtics title contenders? Absolutely not. The playoffs are all about matchups, and since the start of the year the goal has been to get a top 3 seed, win a round, and see what happens against TOR in Rd 2. How has that changed? The Celts have separated them from the 4-8 crowd, I think we can all agree on that, so what is wrong with allowing a team to develop together? In a world where fans want things RIGHT FUCKING NOW, that’s not how the NBA works, especially if you don’t have the studs like a GS or CLE. And remember, it took a while of GS playing together before they even became the GS we see today.

Last night we saw what we already knew. The Celtics are not title contenders, but they are better. They are making progress whether you think so or not. The whole point of this rebuild was to show outside talent that Boston can be a destination. It started with trading Isaiah, which got us the best big man on the market last summer. Continue to show progression and suddenly other elite players realize they could be the missing piece.

Ok now let’s take a deeper look at this game

The Good

– As with any time the Celtics play the Cavs, I’m always excited for Isaiah vs Kyrie. For some people it’s still hard to imagine that Isaiah has played his way into the same tier as Kyrie, and last night was a prime example of why that’s true. Sure Kyrie has the better team and they won which is more important, but I’ll take 31/9 on 13 shots in 33 minutes. He matched Kyrie punch for punch, especially late when the game mattered most. This sequence sums it up

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That’s two big time players exchanging blows at the most critical time of the game, so it was nice to see Isaiah have my back and pull out a performance like this. What’s crazy about Isaiah’s performance is he took just ONE shot in the first quarter and ONE shot in the fourth quarter. He really is incredible.

– Things didn’t get out of hand until the third quarter, and if it wasn’t for Avery Bradley’s start, this game is probably over in the first 12 minutes. Mr. First Quarter got off to a great start (11 points) and more importantly, didn’t disappear as the game went on. He led the team in shots (21), and finished with 23 points 3 rebounds and 4 steals. The Celtics defense wasn’t good, and his 119 rating is a little high given the type of defender he is, but it was still the lowest of any starter. Now I didn’t love his 10 3PA, especially when he is so much more effective if he can get to the midrange, but he came up big with 9 fourth quarter points so I don’t really have too many problems with Avery’s night.

– I know it stunts development, I know it makes no sense, but until Gerald Green stops shooting the ball this well, he needs to play, ESPECIALLY given how much that second unit struggles to find offense. He came in for the third game in a row and provided instant offense. His 8 points (2-4 from deep) in 15 minutes is what I would call an ideal scenario whenever you are taking the chance and giving Green minutes. For me he really set the tone for the second unit, that for the most part played pretty well. Now I’ll repeat, a lot of that had to do with the lead and CLE mailing it in, but as a whole the bench still put up 45 points. That’s encouraging.

Aside from Kelly, everyone pretty much played well. It was the Smart-Jaylen-Jae-Jerebko-Zeller lineup that made it interesting, especially Jonas. This was the best we’ve seen Jonas play since he went almost 2 weeks without missing a shot. I liked his combination of outside shooting, and midrange, and again while he may stall the development of others, there IS value in Jonas Jerebko

– Yes, he had a really bad night, but Horford still did this that I am confident not one player on the 2015-16 Celtics roster does

– You saw that Jaylen turnaround right? Go back and make sure you watch it because it is beautiful and it keeps me up at night that we don’t get to see it more. Damn you Gerald Green.

– Marcus Smart doing Marcus Smart things in the fourth quarter was enough for me to forgive his 3-7 shooting. He played the entire fourth, made 1 of his 2 shots, had 3 assists and a BIG TIME steal. Again this was another night where his box score doesn’t jump out at you, but his impact is felt all over the place

The Bad 

– OK buckle up because we have  a good amount to get to. I hate doing this as much as you hate reading this, but this is a fair space, and when the Celtics fucking suck at something, I cannot let it slide.

Let me begin with the defense on Kevin Love, or should I say the lack thereof. We saw this happen when the Celts played MEM with Gasol, and it reared it’s ugly head in the worst way here. Why, WHY do the Celtics think sagging off a big who can knock down threes is a good idea. I mean Kevin Love was taking warmup threes in this game. Horford was often at the goddamn FT line when Love caught the ball. What do you think is going to happen? He murdered you. The Cavs are one of the best three point shooting teams in the entire league, and the way the Celtics defended the perimeter it was as if they thought it was a team full of Intern Tex’s shooting. Horrific. The Cavs shot 14 of 38 from deep but don’t be mistaken. When this game was tight, they were 50% from deep and 58% from the field. That is the very definition of piss poor defense.

– The Celtics lost this game for many of the same reasons they often lose to CLE. They cannot handle them on the glass. CLE had an offensive rebound rate of 36%. You aren’t beating any NBA team if you allow them to put in that sort of work on the offensive glass. I counted around five or six that came off missed threes, a couple of them the ball even hit the floor. This is what I would call a problem, and it’s on everyone, not just the bigs. Iman Shumpert had to, Kyrie had one, Lebron had two. Defensive rebounding is an effort thing, and last night the effort on the glass was nowhere to be found.

– The biggest culprit obviously is Horford, and he deserves criticism for this. You can’t play 29 minutes and get ONE rebound. And it has absolutely nothing to do with how much money he makes. I won’t try and spin it, this was absolutely pathetic, and something I don’t think we see again. I mean one rebound? That’s some Kelly Olynyk shit.

I said that because that’s exactly what Kelly Olynyk did too. He had 12 minutes, one rebound. Tyler Zeller? Nine minutes and ZERO rebounds. So in a total of 50 minutes of floor time by THREE 7fters, they grabbed a total of one rebound.

There is your big issue.

– When the band got back together after Isaiah’s injury they started to play better defense. Their defensive rating was around 100 together, which is more than acceptable. Well, this latest effort was what I would call a bit of a step back. The Cavs scored 122 points and that’s because they gave up. They had 100 through three quarters, and 66 at the half on great percentages. That is simply wayyyyyyyyy too many points. Currently 18th in the NBA in total defense, the Celtics need to address this first before almost anything else because if they don’t defend it doesn’t matter how great Isaiah is, or how great their offense looks. You need to be able to get stops come April.

–  I thought Avery had a couple threes that felt a little rushed towards the end of the fourth quarter. One came from the top of the key where I think he was expecting contact, and the other came from the corner where he fumbled the catch and still decided to shoot it anyway. He didn’t do a lot I didn’t like, but I could have lived without those.

– People who are outraged over that last possession. You don’t like the result, that’s about it. The actual play I have no problem with, Jae had made a three from that exact spot 2 minutes earlier, and he and Isaiah ran the same type of high screen and pop they run 1000000 times a game to get an open shot. Jae is having a career year shooting the three and is a 40% shooter, so you live with that. I want Jae to have the confidence to take that, and he simply missed.

What I have a problem with is the chirps I hear about how Brad doesn’t trust Isaiah, or if Isaiah was clutch he takes that shot. Do we all forget that Avery Bradley hit the game winner in the arena last year? Lazy take imo.

The Ugly

– That Amir Johnson three absolutely killed the Celtics momentum. See when you play the Cavs it’s a lot like the Warriors. When you’re winning you’re tied, when you’re tied you’re losing, and when you’re losing you’re losing. So right after the Celtics make a little push to get a small cushion, one bad shot from Amir sparked like a 9-0 run for CLE, effectively erasing everything the Celtics had just done. He needs to be fined for every three, it’s the only way.

– RIP to Kelly Olynyk for whatever defense he tried against Richard Jefferson that resulted in him being on the floor and Jefferson making a layup. Agility: Not one of Olynyk’s strengths.

– What the hell was Marcus doing on the most critical defensive possession of the game. This is good defense? Was he expecting help? Why should he be expecting help?

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The good news is the Celts are right back at it tonight against a MIA team they have shown they can beat. Head into the home friendly January at 21-14 and I find it hard to be that upset with where the Celtics are. After the injuries, the schedule, and how poor their effort was to start, this team is still very much alive in that 2-3 seed discussion. Are they worse than CLE and not title contenders? Yes. Is that news? No.

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