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CelticsWeek #4: Room for growth

The Celtics extended their second win streak of the season, but it wasn’t without flaws.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Holidays from us here at CelticsBlog! Holiday travel has left us a bit late with the latest edition of CelticsWeek, as the Celtics fumbled the win streak mentioned above with an overtime loss to Charlotte on Monday night. We’ll tackle that game and more next week, but for now, let’s take a look at the team’s performance for the week of November 13.

Boston Celtics, Week 4: 4-0 record, +31 differential

Game 10: W vs New York, 114-98

Game 11: W @ Philadelphia, 117-107

Game 12: W @ Toronto, 108-105

Game 13: W @ Memphis, 102-100

NBA: Boston Celtics at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

What’s trending: Too close for comfort

For the third time in four editions of CelticsWeek, the Boston Celtics have recorded a zero in the loss column. This time, though, came a little more challengingly than the previous, with the latter three games coming by progressively closer margins.

The week started off encouraging enough. A blowout win over a pretty good Knicks team was an encouraging sight, a short-handed win over the 76ers even more so — we’ll get to that one. The final two games — at Toronto and at Memphis — raised some eyebrows, though. The Raptors and Grizzlies (in their current, injured state) shouldn’t necessarily provide a whole lot of opposition, but both games came down to the closing moments for the Celtics to secure the win.

Against Toronto, a Derrick White triple with just under 30 seconds to play was the difference. The Raptors pulled back from a 16-point halftime deficit behind a 32-point third quarter, another in a growing trend of blown leads in the early season slate. Sunday’s battle with the Grizzlies didn’t bring the expected reunion with Marcus Smart — he’s sidelined three-to-five weeks with an ankle sprain — but it still managed to feature plenty of drama. A lackluster Celtics effort saw them mired in a tougher game than expected, given Memphis’ lengthy injury list, and it took a wild final sequence for the Celtics to walk away with the win.

The luster is wearing off of the new season. We’re in the weeds now, and this is where the hard work starts. This team has some things to fix.

Player of the Week: Al Horford

4 GP, 23.7 MPG, 8 PPG (57% FG, 50% 3PT), 4.8 REB, 1.8 AST, 1.3 BLK, +15

NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not exactly the most eye-popping stat line we’ve seen in this space, but when it comes to Al Horford, we should know by now that the numbers seldom tell the full story. Sam Hauser has a case for a repeat title here, and Kristaps Porzingis had an excellent week — when he played — but it’s time to show Boston’s elder statesman a little love.

The Celtics faced their first — and likely not last — taste of injury trouble this week, as Jaylen Brown (sick) and Kristaps Porzingis (knee) sat out Wednesday’s crucial rematch against the 76ers. As much as any basketball game can matter in the month of November, that one did; a second loss to Philadelphia in the early weeks of the season could very likely have

Al Horford responded by doing what he does best: punking the Philadelphia 76ers. Starting just his third game of the season, Horford posted his best scoring night of the season with 14 points and four made three-pointers. More importantly, though, he held Sixers star Joel Embiid to the worst night of his; Embiid scored just 20 points on 16 shot attempts and four free throws, his lowest marks in each category this year. It’s frankly incredible that the 37-year-old Horford is still doing this — and, mind you, that was the first of five blocks from Horford on the night.

The Philadelphia win was the crown jewel, but the entirety of his week was strong. He followed up his first double-digit scoring night of the season with another against Toronto, and connected on eight threes for the week after hitting six across the team’s first 10 games. This has been — and will continue to be — a more muted regular season from the big game, as the Celtics continue to limit his workload with an eye towards the postseason. But this week was a nice reminder of

The Parquet Play: Game-winning block? Game winning block.

Kristaps Porzingis has very long arms.

Around the League: The Miami Heat’s usual tricks, and what to make of Cade Cunningham?

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the Miami Heat are outperforming their peripherals! Owners of just the 15th-best net rating (+1.4) in basketball, the Heat have, exhaustingly, continued to pick up wins. Miami is currently sitting pretty at 4th place in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Celtics for the conference lead and ahead of four (!) teams with a better net rating than theirs this season: New York (+4.7), Orlando (+4.0), Indiana (+2.3) and Atlanta (+1.8).

A few obvious disclaimers: it’s still early and the standings are still quite cramped, with the Knicks, Magic and Pacers all sitting within a game of Miami in the standings, and net rating is certainly not everything. Still — they can’t keep getting away with this! Last year, the Heat made the Eastern Conference Finals despite our entire understanding of the sport suggesting they were simply not a very good basketball team, and as it stands now, they’re on pace to have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs despite being a very mediocre one. Enough, I say!

Elsewhere, the Detroit Pistons have found themselves a rare piece of the spotlight in recent days — though not for reasons they might have liked. Their would-be franchise player, Cade Cunningham, has been a topic of discussion recently for what has been an underwhelming third season for the erstwhile first overall pick. The counting stats look nice — he’s averaging 21 points and seven assists per game — but Cunningham has been one of the least efficient scorers in the sport. He struggles at the rim and remains a below-average three-point shooter on high volume. His true shooting percentage sits at just 50% as of this writing. Luka Dončić, he is not.

Given how miserable the Pistons have been across his tenure, it’s difficult to offer Cunningham much in the way of a fair evaluation. They’re certainly not doing him any favors! That said, the results have been less than inspiring to this point, and, barring a course correction soon, it’s increasingly starting to look like he isn’t the number one option many believed him to be coming out of college.

Up Next:

The week of November 20 kicked off with Monday night’s overtime loss to Charlotte prior to this writing. From there, the Celtics have three more games ahead of them this Thanksgiving week. First, they face a stiff test in the Milwaukee Bucks in Boston on Wednesday night, who — despite some early season struggles — sit just a game behind the Celtics at the top of the Eastern Conference

We already know this win streak has met its end, but was Monday’s defeat a continuation of a concerning trend alongside the Celtics’ recent sloppy performances? We’ll be back next week to discuss.

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