There Is A Strong Chance We Are Currently Witnessing One Of The Greatest Celtics Teams Of Our Lifetime

There Is A Strong Chance We Are Currently Witnessing One Of The Greatest Celtics Teams Of Our Lifetime

Icon Sportswire. Getty Images.


 

If I were to ask you how many fingers you needed to list all the teams in the NBA this season that have had more than one winning streak of at least 9 games, how many do you think you’d need? What if I gave you a hint and told you have been been 6 separate 9 game winning streaks this season. Would that help?

OK, go ahead, think about it.

 


Have your number?

Is the number 1?

Because friends, that is our latest reality. The 2023-24 Celtics, amidst all their historic moments through 71 games this season, have become the only team in the entire league that has not only won 9 in a row once, after last night’s win over the Bulls they have now done it twice.

As I’ve done all season, I’ve tried to make sure instead of taking these opportunities to be cocky, use it as an opportunity to have some perspective and instead be appreciative of what we are watching. You can go a whole year and be lucky to have one 9 game winning streak, so to get 2 (and counting)? Insane. When you take a step back and look at the run this team is on right now, it’s pretty much unlike anything we’ve seen in over 15 years

 

Will you please take a minute and look at that shit. Really take a second and look. The consistency, the balance, this is the work of a machine.

The last time we saw something like this?

The 2008-09 Celtics. You know, the team that was destined to go back to back had KG not injured his knee. That team started the year 20-2, and finished it 62-20. They, like the 2008 Celtics hit 60 wins before 20 losses. The 2023-24 Celts? They are well on pace to hit 60 wins before 20 losses. Even the insane 2nd half run of the 2021-22 Celts, a team that barely lost over the final 4 months of the season never had a 20-2 stretch. They got close with a 20-3 stretch from 1/29 to 3/23 (look familiar????), but not quite a .900 winning percentage unfortunately.

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In looking back at recent Celtics history, there’s a bit of a trend when you look at this type of stretch at this point of the season.

As we know, two of those teams won the title, and all of the previous three at least made the Finals. Sure it might all be nothing, but you tell that to my Celts Kool Aid intoxicated brain. If you don’t think I spent way too much time believing in this weird coincidence and that it’s actually not a coincidence but a sign of what might be to come, I’m curious about what blog you think you clicked on.

And unlike the previous wins of this streak, we finally got to see what the Celts look like against a team with a pulse. Down 3 starters on the road on the second night of a B2B, the Bulls are a potential first round opponent. Who says they couldn’t make their way out of the Play In? Is it wild to think they could beat the Hawks and then one of PHI/MIA? Hell, they almost did it last year if not for collapsing over the final 3ish minutes of the 4th quarter against the Heat. So while games against the Wizards and Pistons are throwaway games, at least this one had some potential value.

Saturday I blogged about how the biggest difference to me is the fact that the Celts have morphed into this type of basketball machine to where it doesn’t matter who or where they play or who is in or out of the lineup. They are consistent. They are overwhelming. They are now an NBA best 28-1 against teams under .500.

 

This is what wagons do. They don’t fuck around and let up just because they are about to lock up the Eastern Conference with a month to go. We saw it Friday night against a 12 win team on the road missing guys, and we saw it again Saturday night against a 34 win team on the road missing guys.

Take a second and appreciate that, and then we’ll dive in.

The Good

– There are a few candidates for the top spot today, but I don’t think there’s any need to overthink it. When Al Horford gives you 31 minutes, 23/8 while going 8-16 (5-10) from the floor, he kicks us off

I say this unironically, I love Al Horford. Like real, genuine love. I know he doesn’t love me back or even know what I am, but what he has done for my favorite basketball team cannot be overstated. He’s everything. Always has been, always will be. When I need him most, he’s there. That was the case in his first Celtics stint and it’s been the case ever since he came back.

3 starters out? OK no problem. A day of rest and a quick HGH cycle and suddenly Al Horford is destroying the Bulls like he’s in his prime. The legs on his jumper look fresh, which we all know is the most important thing for Al at this stage. It’s why his load management plan is so important, because once he’s rested he has the ability to blow that load all over a defense.

OK, that was maybe a little too far but can you blame me? It was a 3P bukkake last night via Al Horford’s jumpshot, all of which looked as pure as it gets. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This team HAS to get Al his ring. They just have to

– Let’s play another round of trivia shall we? If I were to ask you what players this season have made at least 20 3PM over a 3 game stretch, who would you go with? What if I told you it was only two players?

Steph Curry is the obvious answer, that guy makes 20 3s in his sleep. With all the great shooters in the league and the volume at which guys take 3PA, picking the second player is tough.

Well, I suppose it’s not tough if you watch this team play, because the player is Sam Hauser.

How about 7 of 8 from deep right in your eyeball?

What are we even watching right now? I’m ready to declare it, I now have more confidence in a Sam Hauser 3PA than I did Ray Allen. I know how insane that sounds, but what do you want me to do? Look at that video! Look at how quick the release is and what these makes look like. Hauser isn’t even remotely close to hitting the rim. We’re seeing it off movement, in the corners, on the wing, it doesn’t matter.

Over this 3 game stretch, Hauser is shooting 65.6% from deep on 10.7 3PA a game.

Allow me to repeat that.

65.6% FROM DEEP ON 10.7 3PA A GAME.

Add in some positive defense and rebounding, and I know there are some that feel like Hauser will return to his previous season’s impact once the playoffs roll around, but I don’t know how you could form that conclusion after watching him this entire season. Not only is his role established, but this is the best two way version of Hauser that the Celts have ever had. He looks playoff ready to me, and if he’s going to shoot 65.6% from deep then I don’t give a shit what he looks like on the defensive end. The spacing alone is a weapon.

I’m just not sure what defenses are going to be able to do when we see Tatum + the bench lineups if we are going to have games where the defense has to focus so much on Tatum and it allows guys like Horford/Hauser to live off clean looks and go 12-18 from deep. If you leave Tatum and put your focus on shutting down the 3s, congratulations Jayson Tatum just got to the rim with ease. If you crowd him, congratulations Hauser just made his 7th three of the night. What exactly is the answer to that?

– Which is something I would like to touch on next if that’s OK with everyone. One of the most noticeable parts of Jayson Tatum’s night last night wasn’t his team high 26 points or team high 9 FTA. To me, it was how consistently he was able to get into the paint and how willing and able he was to continuously use his offensive gravity to find an open teammate. That my friends, is the good shit.

How many times did we see Tatum get into the lane, the defense would crowd him and he never panicked, instead making it clear that he had already read the defense before his move, knew where the rotations and secondary rotations were going to come from which allowed him to make a perfect pass to an open shooter?

Even on some misses, the process from Tatum was exactly how he needs to play, and an example of how he’s able to beat a defense without scoring. What we’re seeing this year and in this game specifically is the improvement in Tatum’s ability to process information quickly. He’s seen every defense out there, so and you can tell by how intentional his drives and kicks were last night that he clearly had a plan the whole way. He knew how the defense was going to react, and he knew where his outlets were.

That’s a credit to Tatum and his development, but it’s also a credit to Joe Mazzulla and his staff for having everyone prepared.

If you want to put stock into shit that will matter in a playoff series, this is it. Tatum is going to be doubled like crazy and teams are going to collapse on him whenever he puts the ball on the floor. His ability to make them pay for it while also taking care of the basketball is how this team overwhelms their opponent.

– This final month of the season is going to be filled with the bench guys getting their run and an opportunity to flourish, and I’m not sure any reserve has done that more than Luke Kornet. Sure Pritchard is playing like Pro Am Pritchard and Hauser hasn’t missed a three in a week, but Kornet has been just as impactful if not more than any bench player since the All Star Break

I’ll remind you, this is the 3rd center. You’re telling me you wouldn’t take 8/13 with 2 blocks on 4-5 shooting in 30 minutes? Of course there’s going to be plays where Kornet looks like he has cinderblocks for hands when he fumbles a pass out of bounds every once in a while, but other than that? His impact has been ridiculous. We’re on a stretch right now where more often than not, Luke Kornet is the best center on the floor. Think about ever saying something like that when the year started?

The truth is, there will still be playoff matchups that he’ll struggle with. A quick guard gets him in space and it’s a disaster (although his trailing blocks have improved), but that’s no different than any 3rd center to me. The way he’s hitting the offensive glass is important for a team that takes a lot of 3PA, and his 5 OREB were a big part of last night’s win. As a team, the Celts finished with 12 OREB for 23 2nd chance points. They won that battle 23-2 in a game that was decided by 11 points, which seems important to me.

– Last night was also another great example of why those who cry about the Celtics’ 3P volume while kicking and screaming that they need to take more midrange or 2PA in order to win simply still do not get it.

The Bulls scored 113 points, shot 57/37% from deep, and had 36 AST and only 7 TOs. Every other instance of something like that that has happened in NBA history has resulted in that team winning by blowout. I had no idea of that until @bostonsportsinf pointed it out to me, but it’s true

So what happened? Simple. Mazzulla Ball happened.

The Bulls couldn’t miss from 2pt range, but there’s a problem with that. As we saw in the Suns wins, if you are not ready to stay attached to the Celts in terms of 3P volume, it doesn’t matter how efficient you are from 2. With a 3P difference of

21-48 vs 9-24

you don’t really stand a chance. That’s just basketball math at the end of the day. This is a concept the anti-Mazzulla weirdos can’t seem to grasp. Nobody is saying 2s are bad. You need 2s. But in 2024, if you aren’t shooting 3s (especially open ones) and your opponent is, there’s a very strong chance you are going to lose by double figures.

– Unfortunately, the score only got to 6 within 5 minutes and not 5, so the NBA won’t count last night as a “clutch time” win, but anyone who watched it knows it was. This was a game that required the Celtics to execute down the stretch of a two possession game against a team that leads the NBA in clutch time wins.

For the second straight clutch time showing, we saw exactly what I think we’ll get in the playoffs, especially with Jayson Tatum. There was no settling, there were no low percentage looks. Everything about his approach was aggressive and at the rim. I would best describe it as Playoff Tatum. You know, the guy that stops fucking around once the games matter and uses his size and strength at the most important time of the game.

Naturally, you won’t hear about any of this from the talking head shows. There won’t be any think pieces about stuff like this or any discussion about Tatum’s great clutch play over the last few games. Why? Because the Celts came through. it’s funny how that works huh?

– Another game without Jrue, and another game where Derrick White/Payton Pritchard combine for 14 AST and just 1 TO. For those now keeping track at home, over the last two games that pairing has combined for 34 AST and just 3 TOs. That is basically a 10:1 ratio. Holy shit.

And while we technically didn’t get another 30/10 games in terms of AST and TOs, we got close with 28/12. To no surprise, the Celtics won. Seems like those things may be related, but what do I know.

– Only 3 OREB for the Bulls in this game which was surprising when you remember that historically Nikola Vucevic dominates this team on the glass. To see him only have 2 rebounds all night was pretty insane, but it just goes to show you how committed everyone was to hitting the glass. Winning the rebounding battle 41-29 is pretty impressive, especially when it was mostly all bench guys that did the work.

– We cannot end this section without the video evidence of Jrue’s shoulder. I don’t know about anyone else, but I needed to see this clip. I feel much better about it and while I’m still nervous, I think we can exhale

The Bad

– When you’re on a 9 game winning streak and are 57-14, we’re nitpicking at this point. But if I had to choose something to kick off this section, I guess Tatum’s 5 TOs would fit. A little high of a number for him, and a handful came off passes that weren’t even close. Plays that I would say had good intentions, just bad execution. It wasn’t a huge deal obviously, but it was also nearly half of the team total. That’s technically not good, or as some might say, bad.

– I know some may not want to hear it, but I haven’t exactly loved the Celtics defense these last few games. Feels to me like they are back to giving up way too many high 20s/low 30s quarters after having a run of almost never doing it.

Over their last 3 games, the defense comes in at 21st in the NBA. That stinks. Over that stretch, the Celts are 17th in opponents’ points per game, at a 111.3 number, something that I would also say stinks.

They rank 30th in opponent FG% at 53.8%, which we can all agree stinks. When you pair it with their 22nd ranking in opponent 3P%, that’s not great either.

The point is, while you can accept that there’s most likely some letting up in this department given none of these games matter, defense WILL matter in about a month. So much focus is always put on the offense, but I would like to remind you that if the Celtics do not defend, they will die.

– What gets you into trouble in this department in a playoff series is of course turnovers leading to fastbreak buckets. The Bulls had 14 points off the Celts 12 TOs, and won the fastbreak battle 17-8. These are the small details that will burn you in a playoff game, and we know this because we all live through the MIA series. Make teams beat you in the halfcourt, where your defense is among the best in the league.

But when you get careless with live ball turnovers and allow teams to get on the break, suddenly you find yourself in a dogfight dispute being automatic from three. That’s what has to be cleaned up by the playoffs in my opinion.

– Giving this play a hanging-on-the-rim tech is without a doubt one of the most embarrassing things I’ve seen from an officiating crew this year

Add in the fact that Tatum was given a tech because he passed the ball “too hard” to a ref, I cannot understand how Adam Silver looks at this shit and says “Yup, this is perfect. No problems here!”

In no world should that dunk be a tech and in no world should any player let alone a star player be given a tech for passing the ball to a ref. What a disaster that unfortunately we see every night all across the league. Meanwhile Adam Silver continues to not give a shit. So embarrassing.

The Ugly

– Nope. Rules are rules. We’re off until the Celts lose again.

With 11 games to go in the season, you can feel the finish line. I think at this point it’s time to sit any player that has as much as a hangnail and just let the Hospital Celtics do their thing. With 1 more win they’ll lock up the 1 seed, and given what the schedule looks like, I feel confident that the Hospital Celts can get it done. Can this streak match the season high one of 11 straight wins? With back to back games in ATL, as long as everyone makes sure to get some sleep and not get lost in the beauty of Magic City, my guess is it happens on this trip.

 



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