Checking with the Celtics…Part 4

Houston Rockets v Boston Celtics

Yesterday on March 11, 2020 the NBA announced the suspension of the regular season for at least 30 days (most likely will be longer though). This was done as a reaction to the coronavirus outbreak in an effort to help stop the spread of the virus and keep their players safe and healthy.  This is an unprecedented event in my lifetime and in the NBA as a community. In a situation like this, health is of the utmost concern and I encourage everyone to be safe and think rationally during this time.  Sports should be the last thing on our minds. However, the point of my posts this year was to follow the Celtics throughout the NBA regular season and playoffs. With the suspension implemented on March 11, I figured I might as well finish part 4 of my regular season coverage in the hopes that we will be able to see Celtics basketball again within the coming months.  Fingers crossed this isn’t my last post…  As of now, we as fans and as a basketball community have no idea how long this will last and the effects it could have on the playoffs or end of the regular season.  It’s a scary time but my hope with this post is that we can take our minds off of it for a couple minutes as we look back over the games the Celtics have played post all-star break before the outbreak began.  Check it out below…

Author’s Note: I write these recaps as the games happen so obviously when I say things like “in the coming games” or “during the stretch run” I wrote them with the assumption that NBA games would continue on as scheduled. 

Part 4 (Games 55-64)

Game 55 @ Minnesota; W, 127-117:

  • The Celtics came out of the all-star break with a lot of energy. At times the energy was misplaced but it was nice to see guys like Brown, Hayward and Theis flying around after being a little banged up in the first half of the season. The energy on defense was high but the Celtics let the Wolves get away with too much in the second half. Offensively, the Celtics played a dominant game. 4 scorers had over 25 points led by Gordon Hayward (see below) with 29; Jayson Tatum with 28; Jaylen Brown with 25 and Daniel Theis with 25. Speaking of Theis, this was far and away the best game I’ve seen him play. Tallying 16 boards to go along with his 25 points; Theis dominated the game from the inside for the C’s and silenced a lot of doubt about the big man position for the Celtics (at least for the time being). He probably should have been awarded player of the game but there was one player who I think made a bigger difference in getting the Celtics the win….
  • Player of the Game: Gordon Hayward had a stretch in the third quarter where he just took over. Recently, that has been Tatum’s spot to step up but tonight it was as if Minnesota was daring Hayward to beat them. Hayward probed and ran the pick and roll to perfection. He consistently found the right guy or when the read called for it, he simply stepped into his shot and knocked it down. He finished with 29 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds with 15 of his points coming in the third quarter that would prove the difference in a Celtics win.

Boston Celtics v Minnesota Timberwolves

Game 56 @ Los Angeles Lakers; L, 112-114:

  • This game came down to a combination of brute strength and a dash of finesse. Lebron James received the ball on the low block with the game on the line and Jaylen Brown defending. Brown had his forearms locked in on Lebron’s back letting him know he was right there with him and that no ground would be given. Lebron dribbled the ball, feeling where Brown’s weight was distributed; pivoted away from the smothering defense and rose up for a fade-away right over Brown’s outstretched arms. Game over. The Celtics suffered a tough loss but it had its fair share of bright spots for the Celtics. Playing without Kemba Walker for the second straight game the Celtics played one of their best games of the season off the back of Jayson Tatum (see below). Aside from Tatum’s individual brilliance though was a tremendous defensive effort by the team in green. Jaylen Brown played like a man possessed guarding Anthony Davis and Lebron James for multiple possessions and holding his ground. Theis continued his strong play out of the all-star break and Gordon Hayward had some great moments despite a tough shooting night. Smart played his usual stout defense while also running the show and contributing in multiple ways to keep the game close all the way into the final possession. Ultimately, the best player in the world hit a tough shot over one of the Celtics best defenders and that’s what we will have to live with.

  • Player of the Game: Tying a career high 41 points, Jayson Tatum set a another personal mark for himself against the highest level of competition. When we played the Clippers before all-star break, I said that that performance would be a marking point when we look back on this season and assess Tatum’s rise. With his performance tonight though, he may have relegated that night to a footnote. Anthony Davis is one of the best defensive players in the NBA and Tatum consistently rose up to shoot over him and drive by him in the second and third quarters. He pulled out everything tonight: the side step 3’s, the calculated drives to the basket, the pull up midrange game, etc. Tatum did everything he could to keep this team close all the way to the end and he almost won the damn game all by himself. The emergence of Jayson Tatum continues….

Game 57 @ Portland; W, 118-106:

  • The Celtics bounced back from a tough loss in LA with a great win out in Portland.  Playing the Blazers in their house is always a tough game but the Celtics managed to do it with relative ease on the backs of Jayson Tatum (see below) and Jaylen Brown.  The two combined for 60 points as they paced the Celtics who were without Kemba Walker for the third straight game.  Both Brown and Tatum remained efficient all night and the dearth of quality wing defenders to guard them really hurt Portland.  The Celtics held an 8 point lead going into the half but a huge third quarter put them over the top as they buckled down on defense and Tatum really started heating up…
  • Player of the Game: Zero free throws, 36 points…Jayson Tatum was a model of efficiency tonight.  He shot 14/22 from the field and made 8 of 12 three’s en route to a second straight phenomenal game from the young forward.  Tatum was in a good rhythm all game but it really crescendoed in the second half.  He started hitting 3 after 3 and when the defense finally started to run him off the line, he pump faked and hit his mid range jumpers.  Watching Tatum cook like this is something Celtics fans love to see and something we are almost expecting on a nightly basis at this point.  I don’t expect him to be as efficient as he was tonight, but the fact that he’s taking these types of shots is great news for the C’s.

Game 58 @ Utah; W, 114-103:

  • 4 straight games without Kemba Walker on this post all-star break road trip yet the Celtics finished with 3 wins and one tough loss. I couldn’t be more proud of this team and the resilience they’ve shown. This Game against Utah could have easily been a “schedule loss”. The Celtics flew from LA to Portland and back down to Utah playing 3 games in 4 days and I would have understood if they were fatigued both mentally and physically. Instead, the Celtics came out firing and hungry. The first quarter saw them build an 11 point lead over a shell shocked Jazz team. Eventually, the fatigue began to settle in as Utah chipped away at the lead but this Celtics team dug down and did what they had to do to win. Jaylen Brown played phenomenal, Jayson Tatum continued his ascendance (see below) and Gordon Hayward left Utah with a win even though he had a tough game personally. All in all, going 3-1 against the Western Conference was great for Boston in that it proved to the NBA that the Celtics are for real, that they can succeed without Kemba and that they are a threat to challenge Toronto for the 2 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

  • Player of the Game: Jayson Tatum’s first half was one of the best halves I’ve seen him play this season. His offensive game has become so varied that defenses are constantly on their heels when he is in attack mode. One night after hitting a career high 8 three pointers, Tatum came out in this game and used that to his advantage. Jazz defenders were flying out to prevent the jump shot so Tatum simply read what they gave him and drove hard to the hole. He had a couple of tough finishes along with his usual stellar, midrange game. Tatum is doing this kinda stuff every night now. He’s taken a hold of that number 1 option on the Celtics and I can’t wait until Kemba gets back to see how these two mesh and work off each other.

Game 59 vs. Houston; L, 110-111 (OT):

  • This was a thrilling game from start to finish. Even though it was a tough loss, I think the Celtics (and Tatum in particular) learned a valuable lesson on closing out games. The C’s had multiple chances to put this game away and they squandered those possessions by settling for bad shots or taking too much time to get into their sets. The defense played phenomenal but going up against this Rockets team is a tough matchup. Getting consecutive stops on Harden and Westbrook is a tough task for any team especially when the game is on the line. The Celtics just couldn’t come up with enough stops late. The Celtics were without Kemba Walker again but Marcus Smart continues to play terrific in his absence and finished with 26 points and 7 assists. Jaylen Brown played well and hit the biggest shot of the game when he caught a ricochet off an intentional free throw miss by Tatum and banged in a 3 to send it to overtime. Hayward also played well scoring 18 points and shooting 50% from the field….

  • Player of the Game: ….but the player who the Celtics have leaned on during this Kemba-less stretch and who has come up huge has been Jayson Tatum. While taking the floor against two former MVP’s in Westbrook and Harden, Tatum not only looked like he belonged but that he deserved to be mentioned in the same breath. He tallied 32 points and 13 rebounds and he took every big shot for the C’s down the stretch. While he struggled a bit getting his shot off at the end of regulation and overtime; it was a great lesson for him to learn. One or two more made buckets and Tatum would have closed the Rockets out and it would have been a great win. Perhaps the lesson learned tonight will pay dividends in the playoff battles to come.

Houston Rockets v Boston Celtics

Game 60 vs. Brooklyn; L, 129-120 (OT):

  • Horrible game. Possibly one of the worst games I’ve seen played by the Celtics. Up 21 points, the Celtics straight up blew this game. The Nets, the worst 4th quarter scoring team in the league hung up 51 points on the C’s. Caris Levert dropped 51 points for the game and the Celtics got thoroughly embarrassed. There were some great moments early on in this game but those all got erased when the Nets took the lead. To add insult to injury, the Celtics also hobbled themselves in the process. Hayward left with a knee injury, Brown left with a hamstring injury, Tatum was out sick and Kemba couldn’t play in the overtime period because of his minutes restriction. That left the Celtics with Brad Wanamaker, Marcus Smart, Grant Williams, Daniel Theis and Javonte green to close the game out. However, the subtraction of those players is not an excuse and this loss was unacceptable.

  • Player of the Game: For the first time in my history of writing these… the player of the game goes to… NOBODY

Game 61 @ Cleveland; W, 112-106:

  • The NBA season is a long and winding road.  Win or lose, you always gotta look ahead to the next game. Last night’s loss against Brooklyn was harmful in more ways than one but nonetheless, the Celtics couldn’t afford to let it affect them. Without Brown, Hayward or Kemba; the Celtics started Wanamaker, Smart, Williams, Theis and Jayson Tatum (making his triumphant return from illness). This game was ugly and the Celtics looked tired but they managed to pull it out thanks in large part to Tatum’s individual brilliance (32 pts, 9rbs, 6asts) and contributions up and down the roster. This was a great bounce back game as the Celtics showed the resilience they’ve played with all year and didn’t let a bad loss affect their play.

  • Player of the Game: With a career high 22 points on 8/11 shooting to go along with 5 threes, Semi Ojeleye gets his first ever player of the game. Semi played like a man craving for an opportunity. With Brown and Hayward out, the wing spots were wide open and Semi finally got to show his improved game. He was confident shooting the 3, he was strong and aggressive going to the basket and he provided his usual stellar defense. Semi is a player I personally love and I give him all the credit in the world for his perseverance and positivity this season. He hasn’t gotten many minutes but in this one game alone, he showed why the Celtics should consider finding more for him.

Game 62 vs. Utah; L, 94-99:

  • “It’s on us. I don’t know what’s going on out there. It’s like we let other teams’ pressure take us out of the game…we’ve got to be the aggressor.” – Marcus Smart. This was the Celtics’ third straight loss at home and the second home game where they’ve shown little to no effort.  The Jazz dominated the Celtics in the second quarter 32-20 and that is simply unacceptable in any game or quarter but even more so while at home.  Aside from that second quarter, the Celtics played decent basketball but abysmal quarters like that cannot be tolerated from a team with championship aspirations.  I hate to be so harsh but there is a silver lining in that hopefully the Celtics feel the guilt after efforts like this.  There’s no finger pointing in the locker room but quotes like the one Marcus Smart gave above should spark a fire in this team going forward.  As a side note, I will say the Celtics were without Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward but that is no excuse to lose a game like this especially when you just beat this team handily in their own tough environment in Utah.
  • Player of the Game: I’m hesitant to give the POG to anyone for this game…but if anyone deserves it, it’s gotta be the birthday boy Marcus Smart.  29 points, 3 rebounds 6 three pointers with a steal and a block to boot give Marcus the edge of over anyone else from the Celtics this game. Smart’s play has been so consistent over this stretch and he continues to lead by example even when the team has been shorthanded and lacking effort.  His performance on the court would be enough but it’s also his leadership off the court that makes him so valuable.  The Celtics need Marcus Smart to be a hardass in the locker room and I think he takes that role in stride.

Game 63 vs. Oklahoma City; L, 104-105:

  • Welp….this is yet another home loss that is incredibly tough to swallow. The Celtics were up 18 points during a portion of this game yet they blew another lead and handed the Oklahoma City Thunder an astounding comeback victory.  Even after blowing the lead, the Celtics were in control of the game after a Jayson Tatum layup to put them up by 1.  A turnover by the Thunder gave the Celtics a chance to ice the game at the line if they could only hold onto the ball.  Kemba Walker has been tremendous for the Celtics all year but this was a low moment for him… The ball was inbounded and Kemba inexplicably ran away from the half court line and got himself in a difficult position in the corner with Chris Paul and Dennis Schroeder hounding him the whole way.  Schroeder stripped the ball from Kemba to hit what would be the game winning layup… I don’t like to be so critical of the Celtics but this stretch of 4 straight home losses has become a disaster for a team with Championship aspirations.  They followed up a tremendous West Coast road trip with 4 duds (the Houston loss wasn’t a dud but it’s a loss nonetheless) at home and I can’t help but feel disappointed in this team. A difficult stretch of away games approaches and I hope the Celtics are ready…
  • Player of the Game: Gordon Hayward made a terrific return from injury if not triumphant.  He looked great and was moving well and finished with a team high 24 points with 4 assists and 5 rebounds while also shooting 4/7 from 3.  Hayward played 38 minutes this game and didn’t look like he was hampered by his injury at all which was great news for Celtics fans.  As I’ve said in this space before, a healthy Hayward puts this team’s ceiling in another stratosphere.

Game 64 @ Indiana; W, 114-111:

  • Let’s start with the bad… the Celtics blew yet another lead.  They led by 19 points and almost lost an important game that they absolutely needed.  But they did win…and that’s the important thing.  This was a huge win for the Celtics and (hopefully) a confidence booster.  Beating a team like Indiana while they’re fully healthy and in their home stadium is a win to be proud of.  The starting five played fantastic with each member scoring in double figures.  30 points for Tatum (see below), 27 and 10 for Hayward and 20 points for Daniel Theis.  Marcus Smart also played solid filling in for the injured Jaylen Brown.
  • Player of the Game: For the sixth time in his last 8 games, Jayson Tatum dropped 30+ points.  He also added 6 rebounds and 4 steals.  Tatum has continued to thrive in his role as the primary scorer.  As we get closer to the playoffs, it’s clear Tatum has become the go-to guy on this squad.  I believe that a team with a Jayson Tatum-Kemba Walker 1-2 punch will be deadly once we get to playoffs. Add in the all around efforts of Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward and if this team can gel a little bit more, I’m feeling pretty confident heading into the stretch run.  Now… onto Milwaukee…

Boston Celtics v Indiana Pacers

Overall Record Through 64 Games: 43-21

Record Over Last 10 Games: 5-5


Random Thoughts:

  • Coronavirus: As I  re-read and edited this post it was hard not to see the harbinger of dread that the coronavirus has hung over the NBA’s final days before it’s suspension of the season.  As you undoubtedly have heard, the pandemic sweeping the nation and the world at large known as COVID-19 has put a screeching halt on not just the NBA but all sporting events worldwide.  As I stated to open this post, I hope everyone has remained safe and taken the necessary precautions to maintain their health during this difficult time.  Having said that, I’d like to address the virus as it pertains to the Celtics and basketball in general.  For this Celtics team, the silver lining has got to be the health aspect.  I know how awful that must sound but I’m speaking of health from a purely athletic/movement-based standpoint.  Injuries to Kemba, Hayward and Brown will now get a chance to fully heal with this extra time.  When and if the NBA season returns, I expect we will see a healthy Celtics squad that we haven’t seen since opening day.  Lingering injuries to role players like Enes Kanter and Robert Williams III will also get a chance to fully heal so there’s at least some good in that.  On the flip side though, this team needs more time to gel.  5-5 over their last ten games hasn’t been ideal (as you’ve read above) but a big win over Indy and a tough stretch of scheduling would have shown what this team was made of down the stretch.  If the NBA allows teams to play a few games before jumping right back into the playoffs, I’m not sure even that will be enough time for this Celtics team to “figure it out.”  All that being said, the Celtics physical health in terms of the virus is of the utmost concern as it should be.
  • Rough Stretch: Obviously a 5-5 record over their last ten games is not ideal.  The record looks even worse considering the Celtics went 3-1 during their West Coast road trip then proceeded to drop 4 of their next 6 with most of them being played at home.  They haven’t played well offensively but the defense has really been what has let the Celtics down.  Caris Levert single handedly willed the atrocious Nets to a victory; the Celtics continuously blew leads and most damming of all, they barely put up any kind of resistance.  Simply put, the Celtics have to finish these games.  When Boston has blown these leads, you can almost feel them letting their foot off the gas as the momentum swings in the opposing team’s favor. That cannot happen with great teams and especially not with teams that have thoughts of a Championship
  • Injuries: During the Brooklyn game, the Celtics lost both Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown to injury. Jayson Tatum was out sick for a stretch and Kemba Walker has been dealing with knee soreness for multiple games.  For once, Hayward’s injury seemed to be the least serious of the 4 core guys and Tatum only missed one game in total.  By far the most concerning injury is Kemba Walker’s.  Missing 4 straight games after playing in the all-star game was upsetting to see but I think his play post-injury has been even more galling.  Kemba’s averages have all gone down and he’s playing like a guy who’s lost confidence in his body.  Losing the ball late against the Thunder was a key example of that.  I still believe Kemba will be ready come playoff time, I just hope there is not a lingering, more serious injury below the surface.
  • Silver Linings: So many bad things have happened since the Celtics got back from their West Coast swing.  4 straight losses at home, injuries and a pandemic all seem to be piling up against the Celtics and make it difficult to see the forest through the trees.  As fans, we have to remember that this team is 43-21 and just clinched a playoff seed.  If the playoffs started today, Boston would be playing a wounded Philly team who I have no doubt they would be able to beat (Dilly Dilly, Fuck Philly!). They would get a second round date with Toronto which would be tough but I feel pretty confident in that series as well.  With a fully loaded Celtics team, I think we could give Milwaukee a great shot.  Right now, we as fans (and as humans beings in general) have to hope that this virus will pass with minimal damage and that the season can continue.  I just miss Celtics basketball so much….*insert crying face emoji.

MVP of the Last 10 Games: Jayson Tatum

Houston Rockets v Boston Celtics

  • Watching Jayson Tatum grow this season has been thrilling as a Celtic fan. It seems that with each passing month or game, he gets better and better. Ever since he was named an all-star, it’s looked as if a weight had been lifted off of him.  His 4 game stretch against the Lakers, Blazers, Jazz and Rockets was inspired.  He went toe-to-toe with the King, went full MJ-mode in Portland, outdueled Spida Mitchell in Utah and almost took down The Brodie and The Beard.  That’s some elite competition right there and Tatum looked like the best player on the floor for 4 straight games.  It’s no wonder that the Celtics rough stretch occured when Tatum was out sick with an illness.  Kemba is still the fearless leader of this team and Smart is still the heart and soul but I think Tatum has proven himself to be the Celtics motor and most valuable player.  I can’t wait to see what this kid will do in the playoffs.

Houston Rockets v Boston Celtics

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