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The Celtics Had Themselves A Statement Win Last Night

Boston Celtics v Oklahoma City Thunder

We all agreed that last night’s matchup against OKC was a solid measuring stick contest. While the Celtics had one of the best records in the league heading into this matchup, they really hadn’t beaten anyone. Sure they looked great against the Knicks and Sacramento and SA w/o Kawhi, but this was without a doubt their toughest challenge to date since Hayward went down. OKC is loaded with high end talent, plays just as stingy defense, and was at home. While at the end of the day this was just a random game in the beginning of November, it felt more important because unlike some other teams in the East, I don’t want the Celtics to talk about being one of the best teams in the NBA, I want them to be about it. Well, last night they proved why that’s true.

Buckle up, let’s get started.

The Good

– Now this is hard, with some of the performances we saw in this game, there are plenty of worthy candidates to lead us off. However, I like to remain consistent, which is why we are starting with Kyrie Irving. Once again, he was fantastic at a time when the Celtics needed him most. After a disastrous first half, Angry Brad got him to snap out of his funk, and boy did he. Kyrie finished with 25/5/6 on 10-22. 22 of those came in the second half, and it was a pleasure to watch.

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A couple things impressed me about Kyrie’s night. First, the fact that he had 0 TOs. Remember, what made Isaiah so impactful was he had a ridiculously high usage rate combined with a very low TO%. Well, we’re starting to see the exact same thing with Kyrie. His usage rate is up to 29.3% while he current has a CAREER LOW TO rate of 9.9%. This is virtually identical to what the PG position gave the Celtics last year, which is so important. The offensive efficiency is coming, but the way Kyrie has taken care of the ball cannot be overlooked. When it came to nut cutting time he was at his best, which is exactly what this team needs.

In 7:18 minutes of action in the fourth, Kyrie went 5-7 for 13 points, had 4 assists and 0 TOs. What you love about how he finished this game was he identified the mismatch on Adams time and time again, and every time he found himself in that situation, he was aggressive. There was no settling for midrange pullups, everything was at the rim and a high percentage shot. When the Celtics needed one last basket to seal the game, they cleared everyone out, sort of like a 4 corners offense, and it was Adams vs Kyrie on an island. When that happens, guess who has the advantage.

But that’s not it. A lot has been made of Kyrie’s outrageous defense. Well, you don’t get a tougher matchup at the PG position than Russell Westbrook. This was a chance for us to see how much of it was real and how much of his early success was primarily due to the opponent. Well, I am happy to report, that Kyrie had a defensive rating of 95.8. He had a Net Rating of +20. In order words, I’m buying in. His defense is real, and it is spectacular.

– There were a lot of factors as to why and how the Celtics were able to come back from an 18 point deficit, but few were more important than the play of Al Horford. Everyone knows with Hayward down guys like Al are going to have to step up, well how does 20/8/4 on 8-10 shooting (4-4 from deep) sound?

Go ahead, says he’s not worth the $27M. Do it, show how much of a fucking dummy you are. Not only is Horford worth the money, I’m ready to rip his deal up and give him a supermax. He isn’t even eligible for it and I want Ainge to find a way to make it happen. I cannot stress the importance of Al Horford to not only this team, but this offense. This is not to say he’s the perfect player, he has his flaws at times, but performances like last night are becoming more of a regular thing this year.

So far this season he’s tied for a career high in DREB%. He currently has the highest true shooting% of his career at 64.9%. His PER is 3 points higher at 20.8 than it was last year. Combine that with the best defense of his career, and an overall +23 net rating, and I don’t think it’s crazy to say if you polled who is the MVP of the first 9 games in the NBA, Horford would be somewhere on the list.

– I saw a lot of people nervous about this game when things looked terrible. It was almost as if they hadn’t watched a Celtics game before. This game was a typical Theory performance if I had ever seen one. A slow first? A just as bad 2nd? Read a book for me one time people and trust in the Theory. It. Never. Fails.

– If there’s one thing OKC does well, it’s rebound. If there’s one thing the Celtics now do better than almost anyone now it’s rebound. In fact, they won the rebounding battle in this game 49-48. Do you know how weird it is to type that sentence time after time one these games are over? The fact that this is a top 5 rebounding team in the NBA continues to make no sense.

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– We should also talk about how this team is the best defensive team in the NBA. Again, a sentence that feels weird to type, but it’s true. They held another opponent to under 100, for the 7th straight time, and last night was another suffocating performance

The best part about this, is it’s coming from everyone on the roster. Semi is defending at a level most rookies shouldn’t be at, Kyrie has reinvented himself, Smart and Rozier continue to be solid as fuck, Baynes is the best center at verticality in the league, Horford is in the zone, it’s amazing to watch. If someone ever wants to question the powers of Brad Stevens, just show them this teams defensive metrics. This is why I’m buying in so hard to their start. Any NBA team can score points, but not everyone can play this type of defense, and it’s only going to get better as guys get more comfortable. I’m giddy just thinking about it.

– Sometimes the best things are the most simple things. Take this gigantic bucket for example.

This isn’t anything fancy. Just a normal pick and roll right? Well, we see the Celtics run this set with a variety of options. There are times Tatum comes off that screen and goes right into a midrange pullup. Instead, how about his patience to let the play develop, realize Baynes had taken advantage of the brain fart by OKC, and delivered the perfect pass. Melo didn’t know what to do, Grant got held up, and the spacing made it hard for Patterson to rotate back over. Beautiful play, beautiful poise, beautiful recognition.

– On a night where Jaylen had his struggles, he still ended up with 10/12

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His rebounding effort in this game might not be talked about as much, but it was CRUCIAL to that third quarter run. He had 7 in 12 minutes, all on the defensive glass, and that’s a big reason why the Celtics had 8 fast break points that quarter. The team as a whole only had 11 rebounds during that quarter, so sure he missed 10 billion FTs, but it says a lot that he still remained engaged in areas that directly impacted winning.

This isn’t a one time thing either. Jaylen’s rebounding has improved a ton from last year, his DREB% is up 4.1% and his total rebounding% is up 2%. That’s resulted in his average from being 2.2 last year, to 5.6 this year. That’s filling in for Avery’s 6 rebounds that the team got last season quite nicely.

– Through 9 games it’s fair to say Ainge hit on Jayson Tatum. Reminder he also got another high lottery pick to go along with it. He may not win ROY, but he’s playing as well as any rookie in the league, and he’s doing it for a first place team. Unreal

– Also can’t stress how important it was that the Celtics took care of the basketball. You can’t come back from that kind of hole if you are careless with the basketball and they finished with just 10.

– The Celtics had 62/66% splits in that fourth quarter. Best 12 minutes of their season no doubt.

The Bad

– I know we probably don’t want to talk about it because of how exciting the ending was, but the way the Celtics started this game was complete bullshit. No movement, no ball movement, terrible and I mean TERRIBLE shot selection, they were lucky to only be down 18 at half. This was the first time we’d seen the starters have such a poor start, and if it wasn’t for Jayson Tatum who knows how bad it would have gotten.

I mean Al had 2 shots, Kyrie seemed a little disinterested, going 1-9 and 0 assists with suspect defense. Marcus Morris came in and it seemed to ruin their entire flow. It was very frustrating to say the least. They simply weren’t defending, especially from behind the arc, which is an area they had excelled in during this win streak. Take the tape from that start, learn from it, and then burn that shit because I don’t want to see that type of effort again.

– I don’t know why, but for the 50th straight season this team has trouble making layups. It wasn’t just the usual suspects like Smart and Rozier either. Kyrie was missing bunnies, Tatum’s finger rolls didn’t drop, this should have never been close if the Celtics could have just made their wide open uncontested layups.

– After a pretty nice streak in which I thought things were back to normal, the Celts once again struggled from the FT as well. Going 16-24 is simply missing too many IMO. Especially when it’s guys like Jaylen missing 5. It’s clearly something mental with Jaylen, who is now shooting 58% from the stripe. Based on the way he plays, and how he attacks the rim, this is WAY too low.

– It was his first game so obviously you can throw away much of the performance, but I can’t lie Morris’ shot selection makes me nervous. Some of the shit we saw from him in the first half is the exact opposite of how this team needs to play. He needs to learn that this offense isn’t so much about isolation stepback threes as it is moving the ball side to side and attacking the rim. He’ll learn, but he came very close to shooting them into a complete disaster.

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– Wasn’t thrilled that Morris’ minutes came at the expense of Theis, who played a team low 7:28, but I guess we should start to get used to that.

– Thankfully it didn’t cost them, but it feels like Brad is just a littttttttle too slow on his rotations. It feels as though he leaves that second unit in maybe 1 or 2 minutes too long, and I’m sure this is just early season issues. I also thought when OKC was going on their huge run he could have called a TO here and there, but again it didn’t cost them the game or anything so this is just me nitpicking.

The Ugly

– I made a rule, this team is given a pass on this section until this streak is over. There may have been some ugly moments, like the Celtics inability to throw a goddamn inbounds pass, but you won’t see me complain about it here. That is my promise.

So the Celts passed the first part of their test in riveting fashion, that’s great. But things get no easier tomorrow night against ORL, who I’m sure you know has one of the hottest offenses in the entire NBA. I’m ready to believe in this team’s ability to defend, this win went a long way towards that, but if they old ORL to under 100 as well, I’m jumping in with both feet and taking off my bathing suit. Now, refill that glass, put on the hater shades and say it with me

7 down, 47 to go.