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Three leaf clover: Jayson the giantslayer, signs of a great defense, and sad excitement

Tatum flashed the finishing bag, the defense started to figure it out, and a little bit about my dad and basketball.

Boston Celtics v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Week...4? I think. Thanks for joining me for another edition, and this will be the last time I open by saying the week number. There’s zero chance I’ve got it right this time, and it’s not even been a month. On to the fun stuff (and one sad stuff).

Stat of the Week: 88.9%

Mitchell Robinson is a very good shot blocker, maybe even great. Isaiah Hartenstein is a large man that can protect the rim quite well. Jayson Tatum did not care. He shot 88.9% in the restricted area on Opening Night, cashing in on 8 of his 9 attempts.

Allow me to take you into the world of the uncoordinated nerd for a moment. You’re at a wedding, the dance floor is absolutely rocking. The DJ just put on Get Low by Lil’ John and the Eastside Boyz, a song even you feel capable of dancing to. Your friend brings over a beer and says, “come onnnnn, Spoons, let’s get out there!” You resent his enthusiasm as you finish the newly acquired beer. You go out there, you do the best you can, and you know that you look ridiculous. But it’s ok, because you tried.

Mitchell Robinson, welcome to the dance floor. Get Low just started.

If this is the Jayson Tatum the Celtics get all season, those MVP conversations might start spreading FROM THE WINDOWWWWWW TO THE WALLLLLL.

Xs and Oohhhhhhhhs: signs of greatness from the defense

The Celtics defense was more inconsistent against the Knicks than the number of O’s and H’s I put in the title of this section every week. But that’s ok. When you replace the foundational piece of the defense for the last decade and Grant Williams (who was solid), things are going to be different. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be worse, but it’s going to take time.

Here’s an example. There’s a lot to like about this possession, and a lot that tells me these guys aren’t 100% comfortable.

It’s great help from Tatum on IQ’s initial drive and he allows Jrue to recover. Then, for some reason, Jrue helps on the Barrett drive that Hause-trap is all over. It’s a swing to IQ, which should have been trouble, but Jrue is so good he teleports back in front of Quickley. Hartenstein (guarded by Luke Kornet) meanders over to screen for IQ, and that’s when the error occurs. It looks like Luke is expecting Jrue to ICE (effectively forcing Quickley baseline in this instance), but Jrue instead tries to get over the screen. This leaves Luke too deep, forces the awkward help from Hauser and the Knicks are shooting 2. Encouraging signs, but far from perfection.

Or on this play, where Tatum just doesn’t read how much of a maniac Jrue is and is a bit late getting over to Quickley. Unfamiliarity be thy name.

It’s nothing concerning or critical, it’s just the reality of a team playing its first game together. The ceiling is there, and as the season rolls on, I expect them to get closer and closer every game. The last three minutes of the game were an absolute showcase of what this defense can look like. Guards and wings flying everywhere and the literal Prudential Building standing in front of the rim if you can even get there. Just beautiful.

Non-basketball Stuff of the Week: the sad excitement of a new NBA season

This is a significant change in tone, so if you’re simply looking for lighthearted basketball takes, feel free to skip. I’ve just been thinking about it a lot and felt the need to write about it. It is decidedly cheaper than therapy.

On November 2, 2021, I received one of those unforgettable, life changing phone calls that you spend the rest of your life trying to forget. I remember exactly where I was, atop my staircase carrying a hurriedly packed suitcase. My only thought: get in the car and get to Massachusetts as quick as possible. And then my phone rang again.

It was the second call from my mom that day. I no longer had to hurry home; it was too late. My dad had passed away.

Sometimes I forget about that moment, viscerally reminded only randomly, or on Father’s Day or his birthday, which shamefully and ironically feels almost more important to me now. But as the calendar makes its unrelenting march closer and closer to November 2nd, the empty feeling of loss starts to wash over me. It’s not crippling, but it’s persistent.

He passed two years ago. For all intents and purposes, I’m over it, at least as much as you can ever get over something like that. But I still can’t help that little feeling of guilt, that little nugget of shame that hits me. Gearing up for what should be a long season of joy, truly appreciating basketball for what it is, fun, I get what’s becoming a familiar tickle in my gut: November 2nd is just around the corner. The high of a new season chased by the loss of a father. Who am I to bask in excitement while that reminder hangs over me? Shouldn’t I only be sad?

The frustrating part is that he absolutely wouldn’t want me to feel that way. He’d want me to enjoy everything in life, including basketball, to the absolute fullest. Without reservations. Rationally, I know this. Unfortunately, humans aren’t particularly rational. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

If I’m looking for a positive, it’s that loss has a peculiar way of making us appreciate what we have. To savor that first cup of coffee, a perfectly cooked pizza, or the first Jayson Tatum drive of the season. I’ll walk into every Celtics season now with the specter of his death’s anniversary hanging over it — the perfect reminder that life is short. You only get so many moments and so many seasons to enjoy. I’ll be delighting in this one, and every one after. Maybe it’s backwards, but to me, it feels like a fine way to honor his memory.

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