Checking in with the Celtics… Part 1

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Game. Tatum

This season I’m going to do things a little differently.  I’m taking a more detailed approach to each game this season and I’m going to divy up the season into fifths.  Below you’ll find detailed reports of the first 15 games and my personal thoughts on each game. I will also pick a Player of the Game which will help me pick out an overall “MVP” for each fifth of the season. I hope all you fellow Celtics fans out there enjoy the read and please comment your thoughts on this first fifth of the season in the comment section below.  Enjoy…

Game 1 @ Philadelphia; L, 93-107:

  • Tough way to open it up for the Celtics. After keeping the Sixers out of the paint in the first half, they came out in the second and blitzed us scoring 58 points in the paint.  The Celtics also got outrebounded 75-54 and those two stats ended up being the difference.  There were a lot of positives to come out of this game for the Celtics despite the loss.  The defense looked active and the offense was running smoother.  The Celtics attacked the rim all game but just ended up missing some tough shots that I’ll chalk up to elite defense on the part of Philadelphia.  Philly is at the top in the Eastern Conference this year but I think the Celtics showed that not only can they keep up with them, but they can beat them as well.
  • Player of the Game: Gordon Hayward played out of his mind.  He was attacking the rim all night, shooting with confidence and generally looking to be back at full strength after an up and down 2018/’19 season.  He logged 25 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists.

Game 2 vs Toronto; W, 112-106:

  • A trademark of good NBA teams is the ability to overcome adversity throughout a game.  Toronto shot a blistering 50% from 3 and 47% overall from the field but the Celtics still found a way to prevail.  Watching this team scratch and claw its way to victory was a joy to watch.  Another rough shooting night from Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum but the shots are there, just gotta knock them down.  A major plus in this game was the emergence of Grant Williams at the 5.  With Kanter out and Theis limited with an ankle injury, the 6’6 rookie came up huge in crunch time playing the 5 man.  At numerous points he was matched up with Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka (both 6’10” plus) and he more than held his own.
  • Player of the Game: Jaylen Brown came back strong after a tough opening night against Philly.  Tallying up 25 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists in 38 minutes he showed a glimpse of why Danny Ainge felt the need to extend his contract another 4 years.  Brown continues to provide lock down defense all over the floor but his real impact in this game came on his drives to the basket. He constantly put pressure on Toronto and looked confident in his shot all of which are encouraging signs.

Game 3 @ New York; W, 118-95:

  • The first half of this game was slightly concerning.  The Knicks stayed with us step for step and rookie RJ Barrett was doing his best to lead his squad to their first victory.  Once the second half started though, Kemba and the Celtics came out hot.  The Celtics outscored New York 72-44 including back to back 36 point quarters while simultaneously throttling the Knicks on defense.
  • Player of the Game: Kemba Walker loves Madison Square Garden and it turned out to be the perfect place for him to break out of his early season malaise. Shooting 11/17 from the field (including 7/12 from 3) en route to 32 points, Kemba took this game over for the C’s and put the nail in the Knicks coffin in the second half. There are games where Kemba will have to take over the offense and this was certainly one of them.

Game 4 vs Milwaukee; W, 116-105:

  • 58-42 Milwaukee led at halftime and the Boston Celtics looked outmatched. Giannis was doing freaky things and his shooters were hitting everything. Yet, the Celtics came out in second half though and made a fucking statement. “We need everyone”- said Brad Stevens and that’s exactly what he got.  Kemba had 32, Hayward tallied 21 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists and Marcus Smart shot 5/11 from 3 and played mad dog D on everyone from Giannis to Kris Middleton.  It resulted in a 74 point second half in which the Celtics overcame a 19 point deficit.  The Celtics fought and clawed and showed Milwaukee and the entire NBA, that they aren’t fucking around this season.
  • Player of the Game: Kemba played great, Hayward had a fantastic all-around game and Smart filled in tremendously for Jaylen Brown; but this one goes to Jayson Tatum. Tatum has had a rough start to the season but tonight, he had a breakthrough.  Tallying 25 points, Tatum didn’t shoot well and he didn’t do much else besides score but he showed something important tonight: big shot making. Tatum hit the go-ahead 3 in the 3rd, a last second 3 to end the 3rd, a huge dunk in the 4th and he iced the game in the finals minutes with a 3 and a pull-up jumper.  Each shot proved to Celtics fans that we are only going as far as Tatum can take us and tonight was a step in the right direction.

Game 5 vs New York; W, 104-102:

  • The mark of a good team is winning the games you aren’t supposed to win.  Winning the games when the ball just won’t go in the hoop and nothing seems to be going your way.  Got to give credit to the Knicks for hanging tough this entire game but the Celtics eventually overwhelmed them with pure talent.  Kemba Walker got hot late and had yet another 30 point game (3 on the season) and Jayson Tatum hit the game winner over RJ Barrett. It was a choppy, ugly game that saw 24 lead changes and also saw the Knicks beat the Celtics in nearly every statistical category.  When the game got tough though, the Celtics overcame it all and made big plays down the stretch.
  • Player of the Game: Easily could have given this to Tatum for his game winner but I think Kemba Walker did more down the stretch to seal the game for the C’s.  He consistently got to the line (going 14/14) and was also the only Celtic actively seeking out his shot and finishing efficiently.  Kemba finished with 33 points, 5 assists and 6 rebounds.

Game 6 @ Cleveland; W, 119-113:

  • Let’s start with the bad.  The Celtics just couldn’t put the Cavs away. Cleveland kept hanging around and they even had multiple chances to tie it in the final minutes.  In back to back games, the Celtics have played down to inferior opponents and that is a bad habit that’s bound to catch up with the team.  The C’s committed 14 turnovers and if not for their domination in the paint, the Cavs might have pulled this one out.  All that said, a win is a win.  It’s a great sign that the Celtics continue to pull these games out in the final moments by hitting big shots and making huge stops.  Regardless of opponent, those habits are what winning teams are made of.  Kemba (25 points) and Hayward (see below) dominated this game from start to finish and Marcus Smart played his usual stellar defense.
  • Player of the Game: Gordon fucking Hayward! Tied his career high with 39 points in addition to 8 assists and 7 rebounds all while shooting 17/20 from the field.  Simply put, Hayward dominated this game from start to finish.  No Cleveland defender could stop him from getting in the lane and he consistently made the right decision. It was incredibly satisfying to see Hayward play this way.  He showcased everything in his arsenal from his shooting prowess to his change of speed and athleticism. He was the best player on the court and he did it all with a calm and cool demeanor.
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Hayward with the strong start

Game 7 @ Charlotte; W, 108-87:

  • After two close games, the Celtics finally got a nice, easy blowout win over former teammate Terry Rozier.  The defense was tremendous, holding the Hornets to under 25 points each quarter.  For Kemba Walker, this was an emotional return to the city he called home for 8 seasons.  Charlotte played him a stirring video pre-game which made Walker visibly emotional.  The emotion of the game became a little much for him as he struggled shooting but eventually he found his stroke in the second half and finished with 14 points and 6 assists. Tatum had another strong game scoring the ball (23 points) and Jaylen Brown also made his return to the team looking healthy and ready to roll.  This win makes it 6 in a row for the Celtics.
  • Player of the Game: Gordon Hayward continued to build on his strong start to the season with a well rounded 20 points, 6 assist and 10 rebound game.  The Celtics are starting to rely on Hayward for his playmaking skills and he’s consistently making the right decisions. Seeing him play like this is so encouraging for Celtics fans as this is the guy we were so excited about when we signed him away from Utah two years ago.  He plays with an easy confidence and pace that seems to permeate to his teammates.  Kemba has been the Celtics best player through these first 7 games but Hayward has shown that he might be the best playmaker on the roster.

Game 8 @ San Antonio; W, 135-115:

  • Big win for the Celtics but it came at a huge cost.  Gordon Hayward broke his hand and it was a crushing blow to Celtic nation.  I won’t sugarcoat this, I’m bummed.  Hayward started out this season on a tear. He’s been aggressive and confident and looked to be back to 100% capacity.  The rest of the Celtics are going to have to pick up the slack left in Hayward’s wake as he was doing more for the C’s then simply scoring.  The good news though, is the Celtics continued to look great even after Hayward was forced out.  Brown had a huge game (see below), Kemba finished with 26 points and 8 assists, Tatum shot well and the bigs (Theis and Williams) played great all night.  The Celtics hadn’t won in San Antonio in 11 years and they broke that streak with a good ole fashioned blowout.  Going forward without Hayward is going to be tough but I’m feeling optimistic after seeing this thorough dismantling of the once mighty Spurs.
  • Player of the Game: The Spurs started this game off on fire taking a quick 7-0 lead.  Jaylen Brown is the reason that lead become nothing more than a footnote. The Celtics looked shell-shocked but Jaylen was able to break his team out of their funk.  Brown attacked the rim all night, showing off all facets of his game.  Brown finished with 30 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists to lead the Celtics in scoring and also took over playmaking duties once Hayward left the game.  Seeing this type of game out of Jaylen is tremendously encouraging in that we are literally seeing him grow as an NBA player before our eyes.  The Celtics are going to need more games like going forward with Hayward likely out for a number of weeks.

Game 9 vs. Dallas; W, 116-106:

  • Breaking news: Luka Doncic is the real deal. Doncic plays with such a confidence and pace and that it makes it difficult to put the Mavericks away for good.  The Celtics played phenomenal defense on everyone not named Luka including limiting Porzingis to 4 points on 1/11 shooting.  At one point, the C’s were up 14 points but Dallas continued to hang around with a mixture of timely threes and Luka Doncic dominance.  Despite Luka’s heroics, this was a great win for the Celtics.  Overcoming the loss of Hayward and an atrocious shooting night from Tatum (1/18!), the Celtics rallied around each other to get an encouraging team win.  Kemba played like the best player on the floor (see below) and Jaylen Brown continued to prove that the extension he received this summer was no fluke (25 points, 11 boards).  Special shoutout to Brad Wanamaker as well who picked up a lot of the extra Hayward injury minutes and played well (10 points, 4 rebounds, 21 minutes).
  • Player of the Game: Luka and Kemba Walker dueled it out at the end of this game trading step back threes but Walker showed his experience and grit in the end. Kemba finished with 8 threes on the night (29 points) to go along with 5 assists and 5 rebounds.  Every three he hit seemed to be clutch and all his threes in the 4th quarter came when Dallas was making a run to come back and win.  Games like this are why Danny Ainge dropped the bag for Walker and also why Walker came to Boston.  He seems to feed off the crowd at home and every three he hit threatened to tear the roof off the TD Garden.

Game 10 vs. Washington; W, 140-133

  • The defense was absolutely atrocious and this game was yet another example of the Celtics playing down to their competition.  Yes, it ended with the Celtics 9th win in a row but some questionable habits are being formed against teams the C’s should be blowing out. That being said, the Celtics offense looked pretty great.  All 5 starters scored in double figures and accounted for 100 of the Celtics 140 points.  Kemba, Tatum and Brown all tallied 20+ points and Enes Kanter almost had a double double with 13 points, 9 rebounds.  Marcus Smart continued his red hot shooting start going 4/8 from 3 and Carsen Edwards did his best Isaiah Thomas impression and went for 18 points in 20 minutes.  (Speaking of Thomas, it was nice to see him on the parquet floor again and the Garden gave him a big ovation).
  • Player of the Game: This was Kemba Walker’s third straight 25+ point game and he continues to be red hot from the three point line (going 6/12 this game).  I knew Kemba could shoot the rock but I never dreamed he would be shooting this well.  14 threes in the last two games has shattered all my assumptions about him.  Besides his scoring prowess, he is also leading this team in a way we haven’t seen since Isaiah Thomas was roaming the parquet floor.  Something about the confidence and energy that Kemba exudes is affecting the rest of the Celtics in a positive way and it’s beautiful to see.
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Kemba bringing leadership and toughness

Game 11: @ Golden State;

  • Another slow start for the C’s but they managed to overcome it with a little bit of talent mixed with toughness.  I’m not a fan of these slow starts but the way the Celtics have been able to pull these games out has been encouraging.  Another game with 20+ points for the trio of Tatum, Brown and Kemba and a defense effort that caused 20 turnovers off this young Warriors squad.  The Celtics got hammered on the boards (64-50) but good ball movement and 13 steals really helped the Celtics seal the deal in this game.
  • Player of the Game: During a critical juncture with the Celtics down 1, Daniel Thies found himself at the center circle for a jump ball.  Marcus Smart came over to Jayson Tatum before the ball was thrown and told him to jump the tip.  The ball went up and Tatum dove hard towards his own basket as Theis tipped it right into his arms.  Two long steps and Tatum rose up for a thunderous dunk that put the Celtics up one with only a couple minutes left to go.  It was a play that required a tremendous team effort from the Celtics but was only possible because the immense talent that Tatum possess.  He finished the game with 24 points, 8 rebounds 3 steals and nothing but huge shots down the stretch to put the Celtics over the top and continue their 10 game winning streak.

Game 12 @ Sacramento; L, 99-100:

  • Welp, the 10 game winning streak is snapped.  The Celtics didn’t deserve to win this game.  Sacramento came out the gate with a 30-18 first quarter that put Boston in the hole early.  Buddy Buckets Hield went off for 35 points going 7/12 from the 3 point line.  The Celtics got a well rounded game from everyone but turnovers played a huge part in their demise, tallying 15 for the game.  Theis got his first double double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds and Semi Ojeleye also played well off the bench with 11 points and 3/4 from the 3.  Brown had yet another strong game and Tatum came on late to try and push the Celtics over the top.  Smart and Kemba both struggled with their shot but both tallied 9 assists as the Celtics moved the ball well in the second half.  The Celtics came within a inch of winning this game as Smart’s last second runner went in and out but bad habits finally caught up the C’s.
  • Player of the Game: Even though this was a loss, I’ve got to give the POG to Jayson Tatum. Tatum came back in the game late in the 4th quarter and immediately made a difference.  He scored 10 points in the quarter and was aggressive throughout, he just couldn’t put the C’s over the top.

Game 13 @ Phoenix; W, 99-85:

  • Great bounce back win from the C’s in this one.  The defense was phenomenal, holding the high scoring Suns to only 85 points and limiting Devin Booker to 20.  I was worried about this game after the hard fought loss to Sacramento yesterday but the Celtics responded well and seemed to forget the tough loss from the night before.  It must be said that last year’s team seemed to fold in these situations while this season, the Celtics are meeting these challenges head on.  The Celtics once again turned the ball over way too many times (17) but they also forced the Suns into 19 turnovers of their own.  Big shoutout to Daniel Theis for another strong game even though he didn’t score.  Theis tallied 11 boards and played great interior defense all night long against Phoenix’s slashing/aggressive wings.  Some bad news though: Marcus Smart went down with an ankle sprain which we can only hope is not serious.  He did not return to the game tonight.
  • Player of the Game: There was a stretch in the third quarter in which Jayson Tatum was the best player on the floor.  He hit tough, contested jumpers; drove hard and finished in the lane and generally led the Celtics out of the break past the Suns.  That stretch of dominance effectively ended the game and drove the nail into any hope of a Phoenix comeback.  Tatum finished with a season high 26 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 8/16 overall. Kemba Walker is still the man on this team, but Jayson Tatum is starting to show us Celtics fans that he should be mentioned in the same breath with the best players in the league.

Game 14 @ Los Angeles (Clippers); L, 104-107 (OT):

  • Tough, tough loss. The Celtics led by 10 points with 6 minutes left in the 4th quarter….. Then Kawhi Leonard on Theis poster happened…. then Pat Beverley emotionally willed this team into another gear… then Lou Williams finished it off. The Celtics spotted LA too many points early in the game (yet another slow start) and it cost them late.  There were a ton of bright spots to this game though.  The defense was phenomenal for 3 1/2 quarters, Tatum had a huge game (see below), Smart tallied 15 points and 8 assists (despite shooting 1/11 from 3) and Kemba came on late after having an atrocious 1st half.  This is a tough loss to swallow but it didn’t feel like a game the Celtics should win.  It would have been nice (obviously) but I just think the Celtics just didn’t do enough to take this game away from the Clippers.  It’s a lesson that had to be learned and I’m glad Boston learned it this early in the season.  Time to build off of it and get better from it.
  • Player of the Game: Jayson Tatum continues to hit huge, big-time shots game after game on this road trip.  He finished with 30 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists in a valiant effort.  Tatum was also 5/10 from the 3 point line including a 3 over Paul George that sent the game to overtime.  In a game that featured two of the best wings in the NBA today (George and Leonard), Tatum shined.  There were times he was the best player on the floor and I can’t wait to see how he builds off that performance.

Game 15 @ Denver; L, 92-96:

  • Last game of the 5 game West Coast road trip was a scary one.  Kemba Walker left the game on a stretcher after an apparent neck injury.  Based on a couple sources, it looks like Kemba has avoided a serious injury but did suffer from a concussion.  More details will come out within the next couple of days but needless to say, prayers up for Kemba.  That being said, a basketball game still had to be played.  The Celtics played like they were on day 10 of a 10 day road trip which is another way of saying they looked tired.  Once again, the Celtics started off slow and went down by almost 20 points in this game.  Despite the Kemba injury and the slow start, this team battled all the way back to within one point.  I have never been so proud of a team in a loss.  Jaylen Brown played great (see below), Tatum continued to hit huge shots that prove he is on the path to NBA stardom and Brad Wanamaker filled in amicably once Kemba went down (14 points, 4 assists in 27 min.). The fight and grit this team showed when it could have just given in was astonishing and it was an exciting game to watch.  The comeback featured each player coming up big in their own particular way, it just wasn’t enough to put the C’s over the hump.
  • Player of the Game: Jaylen Brown continued his strong start to the season.  Brown and Tatum tag teamed to lead the Celtics in Kemba’s absence but Brown’s stats edged him slightly over Tatum’s clutch shotmaking.  Brown tallied 22 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists on 6/15 shooting and 4/7 from 3.  Brown hit a HUGE corner 3 that put the Celtics to within one point and he played his usual stellar defense all night.

Overall record through 15: 11-4

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Nothing but fun 

15 games in and this Celtics season has started off with a bang.  We’ve had injuries to both Hayward and Kemba but this team continues to preservere.  We’ve seen Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown step up into their roles as team leaders and their play is a huge reason for the early season success.  Kemba Walker has fit in seamlessly within Brad Stevens’ system and has been a strong leader on and off the court.  Kemba’s smiling face and upbeat attitude seems to have permeated throughout every member of the team and it looks like they are having fun every single game.  The 4 losses have been tough and a few have been heartbreaking (eg. Clipper, Kings) but the fight and grit this team has shown in each of them has made the losses palatable.  As a lifelong fan, I’m incredibly happy with how this team is performing and it’s been a joy to watch the rejuvenation of this team after last season’s turbulence.  All that being said, the Celtics need to find a way to start games better.  In each of the 4 losses (and some of the wins as well) the C’s have spotted their opponent too many easy buckets and allowed teams to get into an offensive rhythm early.  The Kings game was a perfect example of that.  The C’s also need to learn to put teams away.  Too many times, the Celtics have allowed inferior competition to hang around and that’s resulted in some tight finishes in games that should have been blowouts.  However, as the season goes, this squad will only get better and the early sample size is a positive harbinger for the future.  Getting a red-hot Gordon Hayward back will be a huge boost and hopefully nothing lingers with the Kemba Walker head injury.  I’m looking forward to seeing this team get back to full health and grow together as the season progresses.

MVP of the first fifth: Jayson Tatum

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Tatum’s got a lot of “Truth” in his game
  • Jayson Tatum has the stats to win this first award (20.5 ppg/ 7.0 rpg/ 2.5 apg with 1.4 steals) but the reason I picked him as my MVP are the intangibles and the growth he has shown. Tatum has had games during this first 15 where he has not shot well at all.  Games where he has had agonizingly slow starts and even games where he seems to revert to his old habits of isolation ball and long mid-range jumpers.  Despite all that, there isn’t another player I feel more comfortable with taking clutch shots (and that includes Kemba Walker).  Tatum has consistently looked for the moment and come through in the clutch for the Celtics in these first 15 games.  He’s already got one game-winner against New York and a filthy crossover game tying shot over Paul George and the Clippers to force overtime. The Celtics have found themselves down in the 4th quarter in multiple games but once Tatum enters, the Celtics always seem to play better and make their run with him on the floor.  Besides coming through on the offensive end, Tatum has also shown huge progress on the defensive end of the court as well. He’s using his long and active limbs to get steals and blocks which has been a huge help in filling the defensive hole left by Al Horford.  He’s also grabbing rebounds at a career high rate which (along with Jaylen Brown) has allowed the Celtics to finish defensive possessions and limit second chance opportunities. Just observing Tatum this season you can see a change in him.  He looks like a player who’s prepared to take a leap into the upper echelon of NBA talent and I can’t wait to see where he goes from here.
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Big shots in big moments

 

 

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