The Celtics Now Find Themselves Just One Win Away From Advancing

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What a difference a week makes. This time last week things could not have looked worse. The Celtics were down 0-2 and it might as well have been 0-5000 based on the way they played. They were out coached, out hustled, out played, the whole nine yards. Hot takes flew around the internet calling for Stevens’ job, that this group of players just couldn’t get it done in the playoffs, worse number 1 seed of all time, frauds, the works. And frankly it was all warranted based on how they played. Fortunately, we can all look back at that time and laugh.

The Celtics got to this spot because they woke up. The areas that plagued them in the first two losses didn’t really show up in the latest three wins. Now let’s all refrain from counting our chickens before they hatch, they still need to actually you know, close it out, which hopefully will come on the road, and you can almost guarantee this team won’t make it easy on us. In terms of last night, that was an important win not just because it gave the Celts a 3-2 lead, but we saw them pull a game out in which they were outshot. In both of their prior wins it mostly came down to their role players making their open looks and the Bulls coming back down to earth. Well last night was different. The Bulls shot 50% and put the pressure on the Celtics to continue to execute down the stretch in order to pull it out.

They responded.

The team we’ve seen over the last three games looks so much more like the team we saw all season, inconsistency and all. But for a team that looked like it had no fight and was primed for another quick exit, here we are with the first series lead of the Brad Stevens era and an opportunity to close out a series for the first time since 2012 (only now Lebron won’t shake his dick on us!!)

Tons to get to, let’s get started

The Good

– Tough competition for today’s top spot. By the narrowest of margins we start with a Tacoma Twin, but not the one you probably thought I’d go with. Enjoy.

Before this series started I went on record saying the most important player for this team not named Isaiah was Avery Bradley. From the secondary scoring, to the defense, to the rebounding, I still think we’re at the point where not everyone correctly values what Avery brings to this team. Well last night his 24/6 on 11-19 shooting combined with his incredible defense on Jimmy Butler will finally put that to rest. Games like this are why you see fans apprehensive to put Avery in trades or be in the pro extend Avery camp. Remember, he’s just 26.

It could not have been a more welcomed sight the way Avery started this game. Mr. First Quarter legit carried the Celtics in his 12 opening minutes, shooting 4-6 for 9 points. Those four makes would be HALF of what the Celts would make that first quarter. Is it any surprise that he got off to such a great start because he attacked the basket early which helped his confidence, so by the end of the quarter he was knocking down big momentum threes to change the momentum? Remember Avery had shot the ball like dick in GM4, and mostly because he started outside/in, instead of the other way around. I mean look at his shot chart from last night

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Any time Avery makes a conscious effort to not just become an outside shooter, his offense looks so much better. But we can’t move on before we dive a little bit deeper into his defense in this game. THAT was All NBA defender Avery Bradley folks. Just an absolute monster.

It is extremely hard to make a player of Jimmy Butler’s caliber a non factor, but that is exactly what Butler was. Defense like this is what makes all of us start to think irrational thoughts and with good reason. The Celtics perimeter defense while legit, took a step back this year, so to see it get back to that lockdown level at the perfect time, led by their best on ball defender, was great to see.

– In the first half, Al Horford had 2 FGA and basically never touched the ball. As a result the Celtics offense stalled, they weren’t getting good looks, and to anyone with a brain it made no sense. They then adjusted in the second half and what do you know, the big guy showed up. In fact, he’s showed up every game this series

I’ll add his 50/50/90% splits just for good measure. In this game, in a close fourth quarter, you know, the time where Horford I guess disappears, he threw in 11 points on 3-3 shooting. He had 19 points in 18 second half minutes. This is what drives me literally insane about this team at times. I despise when all the sudden they freeze Horford out. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? It’s so frustrating because the evidence is right in front of their face. Just watch how they used him in the 3rd quarter as a prime example. There was motion at the top of the key to get the Bulls defense moving, Horford rolled hard to the rim and established good position and he converted. They gave him the ball on the wing and cleared out for cutters which Horford naturally found for easy baskets. They actually ran an offense!! And when it came time for him to make big open threes, he did. This is the Horford I believe the Celtics envisioned when they brought him in this summer.

Many people still think Horford isn’t worth the money, but isn’t the playoffs what really matter? Not what he did against the Grizzlies in some random game during the year, but in the biggest games of the season? This doesn’t mean he wasn’t inconsistent at times, but at the end of the day you have to give credit when credit is due, and Horford has been fantastic so far.

– The Bulls did a good job of collapsing their entire team whenever Isaiah got to the paint early in the game. Isaiah did a better job of finding the open man (even if they didn’t always make the shot). Sort of like this

On a night where Isaiah couldn’t shoot in the first half (more in this later), I thought his passing was much improved. Unlike other certain point guards in this year’s playoffs, it’s clear that Isaiah trusts him teammates. He very well could have forced shots at the rim but instead made the correct basketball play despite the chaos.

What’s great about Isaiah though is he can snap out of his funk at any moment. He went 5-11 in the second half for 17 points, and 3-5 for 11 points in the fourth quarter alone. No surprise that success in the fourth came when he attacked the basket. Getting Isaiah back on track is pretty simple, just give him a one on one matchup with Lopez from 30ft

– I asked on Twitter when the last time the Celtics held an opponent under 100 points in three consecutive games. A stoolie dug it up and it hasn’t happened since late November. The biggest reason the Celtics were able to climb back into this series has to be the fact that they actually played defense.

It came from everyone on the roster. EVEN ISAIAH! The switching, the timely rotations, the communication, the help, this was one of the better defensive efforts we’ve seen from this team. If you want to get excited about their potential advancement, start with their ability to defend. During the year the Celtics held a team to under 100 points 23 times. They are 23-0. Sometimes it’s just that simple.

– If they are going to defend like that, and turn the ball over just 6 times good luck beating this team I don’t care how they shoot. Once again the Celtics were able to keep the rebounding close (42-38), actually had more OREB than CHI, killed them in the paint 56-42, murdered them in second chance points 15-4, and fastbreak points 12-4. Everyone wants to make this about Rondo, but perhaps the Celtics have just done a better job at addressing and fixing the issues that plagued them early. Weird, I know.

– Few things bring me as much joy as seeing Summer League Terry Rozier in a big playoff game. Even though it’s coming at the expense of Jaylen’s minutes, when you do shit like this

you win the minutes. Really Terry did a great job of setting the tone for the second unit, which Olynyk then took to another level. It’s awkward, it makes no sense, but Olynyk has had a pretty good series. I’ll take 14/5 on 55% shooting in just 20 minutes wouldn’t you? For the series Olynyk has 52/40% splits, and for the most part his defense hasn’t been terrible.

The Bad

– What the fuck was with that shot selection to start this game. Always a great idea when you have success going to the basket to immediately stop that approach and take eight consecutive threes. None of which you made. I fully understand that this team loves to jack it up, they live by the three and die by the three but come on. I don’t care if you’re taking open looks. I care if you’re doing shit like what Jae did and you’re taking stupid stepback threes like Marcus did. It is maddening that the Celtics clearly had a gigantic advantage when they take their time, run an offense, and get to the paint, so to see over 50% of the shots in the first half be threes was a tad annoying.

– I had hoped before this series started based on how he was shooting the ball that Jae would have a good series. He’s healthy and was in a rhythm. That has not happened. Another 2-11 performance, he’s struggling right now. His threes aren’t just short, they’re wide, he’s not getting calls when he attacks the basket and I think that’s starting to mess with him a little bit, just overall he’s leaving a lot more to be desired. Coincidently, he was a +9 so it’s not as if he isn’t making an impact, but if you’re wondering why the Celtics haven’t been able to truly blow this team out, I’d start with the fact that Jae hasn’t really hit his open looks yet.

– I was also not a fan with Isaiah’s shot selection in the first half either. Of anyone on the team obviously he has the longest rope, but that doesn’t excuse what we saw. I would call his first half approach a situation where he was clearly forcing things, and his second half approach playing within the offense. Which do you think he did better with? His three point shooting has been no where close to what we saw during the year, and I think it’s because right now he’s caught up in making FUCK YOU threes. We’ve seen him make them before, but when he gets a little happy with this approach it doesn’t always work. The pass out of the post into the wide open three? That he’ll make with ease.

– It is absolutely ridiculous that Lopez turns into an offensive powerhouse whenever he is in this building. Him, Wade making threes, Zipser making shots, Anthony Morrow coming out of no where, you can’t tell me this didn’t feel like the first two games. Guys who cannot shoot were hitting big momentum threes which I was told only happened cuz Rondo was on the floor but I digress.

– Jump for another Wade pump fake. Do it. It’ll work out this time I’m sure.

– Terry Rozier HAS to foul Butler at the end of the third. Not a great presence of mind to not realize they had a foul to give, and even worse that he didn’t listen to his coach because we could all hear Brad yelling for it on TV. Was it a prayer that Butler hit the shot? Sort of, but that isn’t really the point. In the playoffs mental lapses like that will end up in losses more often than not,

The Ugly

– It’s really getting ridiculous how boned the Celtics are continuing to get by the officials. NOW they call a goaltend on a clean Avery block? Isaiah Canaan throws down Isaiah and it’s an offensive foul? I’m not saying they have been great for CHI either, but come on be less blatantly terrible.

– I’ve seen on Twitter since this game went final that “Big deal the Celtics are maybe going to beat the 8 seed in 6 games. That’s terrible, they should have swept” which is a weird stance to have considering almost everyone thought this was going to be a 6 game series before it started. So they lost the first two games at home and looked like shit. That happens. I’ve been seeing a lot grasping for straws now that the Celts have appeared to turn it around and frankly I’m gonna need the Celtics trolls to be a little better.

You can almost bank on Rondo playing tomorrow night. I don’t know the history, but if the Celtics were able to pull this out, winning all three road games has to be pretty rare. They’ve been the best road team in the East all year, CHI seems ready to call it a day (they are not practicing today) and it’s looking like a BOS/WSH second round which is going to be must watch stuff. Lose Friday and anything can happen in a Game 7 so I’d prefer to avoid that stress all together.

What a week, what a series, what a response. Say it with me…

3 down 13 to go