1. The Celtics aren’t invincible…and maybe that’s a good thing (0:00-7:00)
Halfway through this road trip, Celtics fans were Tootsee Rolling our way to thoughts of a truly historic season. We had just smacked a good, but not great Phoenix Suns team, and everything seemed set for the guys to exact revenge on the Golden State Warriors. That game, however, did NOT go according to plan and neither did the rest of the trip. A subsequent loss to an impressive Clippers squad, followed by a thrilling but head scratching performance against the Lakers has some Celtics fans hitting the panic button. But ultimately this setback might be a good thing for this team. As last season showed, you don’t want, or need, to peak too early in the season, and this trip was a good reminder that this team has a lot of room to grow. Our best basketball is ahead of us, not behind.
2. The Celtics might need one more big man (07:00-18:00)
Ultimately, this will come down to the health of Robert Williams, but with Al Horford out, Blake Griffin and Luke Kornet were put to the test, and they did fine. Blake had some really nice moments throughout the trip and Coach Mazzulla’s move to reinsert Kornet down the stretch may have saved the game vs Lakers. HOWEVER (Stephen A voice), The Greg Monroe rule states that no matter how good your best big men are, all it takes is one 2 minute stretch to ruin your season. Personally, I think the Celtics are fine as is, but some are wondering if an upgrade is on the horizon. With Jakob Poetl available on a 9.4 million dollar expiring contract and Danilo Gallinari’s ready to be packaged, it will be worth keeping an eye on should the Celtics feel this is indeed their one weak link. Considering Rob’s health, it might be a conversation that heats up as the trade deadline comes into view. With Rob healthy, a guy like Poetl isn’t needed. With Rob compromised, Poetl might be a perfect fit.
3. Al Horford is irreplaceable (18:00-24:00)
Boy are we fortunate to have Al Horford extended for a few more years. Playing this stretch of games without Uncle Al was a great reminder of how integral he is to our success on both ends of the court. Blake Griffin is a nice facsimile of Horford on offense, but man did we miss Al on D (actively repressing flashbacks to Bam cooking Theis in the bubble). It’ll be nice to have Al back on the court for this upcoming 7 game home stand. He’s like a great left tackle in football. You don’t notice that the game plan doesn’t work without him until you’re without him.
4. A Mulligan on our duos list (25:00-34:00)
In retrospect, we may have overthought our list. For those of you who missed it, Will and I ranked the top 5 duos in the league on a recent pod. For this exercise, both members of the duo had to inspire confidence in us, otherwise Luka Doncic and pick a player X would’ve been in the conversation. In the end, we decided on: Tatum and Brown, Lebron and AD, Giannis and Middleton, Jimmy and Bam (non-Celtics fans might not get that), and Mitchell and Garland. After seeing the Warriors and the Clippers, the two injury concerns in their duos looked healthy and dangerous. If Kawhi is THAT Kawhi and Klay regains his two way stardom, both of those duos belong in the 4 and 5 spot on that list. Still not changing my mind about Embiid and Harden and KD and Kyrie. I have zero confidence in Harden and Kyrie.
5. Joe Mazzulla is a first year, interim head coach (34:00-45:00)
Coach Mazzulla has done a phenomenal job all things considering. I mean, the guy won Coach of the Month in his first month as an NBA head coach. But this trip shined a very bright light on some blemishes that our league leading offense had been covering up. Mazzulla looked, quite frankly, unprepared for the Warriors and Clippers. Maybe he was hoping for Mazzulla ball to reign supreme, but the defensive game plan for each of those games was confounding. Sitting in a drop defense against elite pick and roll players is a recipe for disaster, and both of those teams destroyed that coverage. I know the Celtics were just looking to survive without their top 2 big men, and playing an aggressive small ball defense isn’t sustainable over 48 minutes, but it was just a little disappointing to see Mazzulla look every bit the interim coach in those games. Not to mention the heavy workload on our stars, the timeouts, etc. But hey, this is a good thing. He has set the bar so high that we all believe he might be another coaching prodigy. When he doesn’t meet that standard, it hurts a little bit.
6. Love and trust, for better or for worse
I may have been the first to advocate for Smart to get the keys back in 2020, but that doesn’t make the Marcus experience any less frustratingly awesome. He was bad for most of the second half of that trip, and I’m not going to lie, I was ready for him to take a seat.
But then, BOOM. Marcus (along with Tatum, obviously) takes over the game and leads the Celtics back from the precipice of disaster. As much as we want him to be a perfect player, we just need to accept that we’re along for this ride. It’s bumpy, it’s fun, and at times you want to get into another car, but at the end of the day he’s our guy. I love Marcus and I trust that he’ll find a way to make winning plays.
Tune into this episode for an extended conversation on each of these topics, plus a look ahead at the upcoming home stand. Also, be sure to leave a comment and follow the boys @greenenvypod.
Music by Black Sheep Optimists