The NBA season waits for no man, least of all over-fed and travel-weary basketball scribes. With Thanksgiving in our rear view and the calendar about to turn to December, let’s take a look at what the early holiday season brought for the Boston Celtics.
Boston Celtics, Week 5: 2-2 record, -10 differential
L @ Charlotte, 121-118 (OT)
W vs Milwaukee, 119-116
L @ Orlando, 113-96
W vs Atlanta, 113-103
What’s Trending: Highs and lows, shorthanded
The Celtics’ Thanksgiving slate can be summarized with a simple statement: it contained one of their best wins, and their very worst loss.
Beating the Milwaukee Bucks behind a sick Jayson Tatum? Quality win. The Bucks may have made things interesting with an improbable run in the final two minutes of regulation, but all that really matters is that the Celtics led wire-to-wire against arguably their top competition in the East — and led wire-to-wire in the process. At present, the Eastern Conference looks like a three-horse race between Boston, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, with the Orlando, Miami and Indiana lurking on the periphery. The Celtics have to feel good about having wins against the Sixers and Bucks in the book already.
Those Magic, though. In their third game of the week, the Celtics dropped an IST matchup against Orlando, failing to score 100 points in a game for the first time this season. This isn’t your typical Magic team, of course. They’re 12-5 on the young season, just a game behind the Celtics in the standings, and their youth movement is starting to generate some serious results. There’s no shame in dropping a game to this Orlando team. Losing a blowout while looking utterly feeble offensively, however, is a tough pill to swallow — especially if you care about the In-Season Tournament, which looks a lot less favorable to Boston after the defeat.
Then, we get to our other ongoing storyline: the Celtics are hurt. Against the Bucks, the team lost Jrue Holiday, who suffered a lower ankle sprain and missed the team’s next two games. On top of that, Kristaps Porzingis injured his calf in the third quarter against Orlando, subsequently missing the rest of the game as well as Sunday’s win over Atlanta. Porzingis will be re-evaluated sometime next week. Celtics fans should be no stranger to lengthy injury reports, but these hopefully will be short-term absences for this roster.
Player of the Week: Jayson Tatum
4 GP, 39 MPG, 32 PPG (47% FG, 35% 3PT), 9.5 REB, 4.3 AST, 1 STL, 0.8 BLK, -25
I’ll be honest — this isn’t the most inspiring Player of the Week slate. There just aren’t many compelling candidates. Jaylen Brown was too inconsistent; brutal performances against Charlotte and Orlando are easily disqualifying. Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday played incomplete weeks, while Derrick White was somewhat incognito. I considered taking Neemias Queta here, solely for his energizing 15 minutes against Atlanta. Ultimately, though, Tatum claims a somewhat modest — for his standards — win.
Against the Hornets, Tatum was in demolition mode. How’s 45 points feel to you? Alongside 21 points from Payton Pritchard — 16 of which came in the first half — he provided just about all of the offensive punch for Boston on the evening. It may have been a less-than-exciting result, a letdown defeat in overtime against a substantially weaker team, but this was a sizeable carry job by the the 25-year-old.
A gutty effort against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks deserves some recognition, as well. Tatum was a surprise appearance on the injury report on Wednesday morning, coming down with an illness and subsequently being listed as questionable. He toughed it out, and though his statline was a bit more ordinary than normal — 23 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists — he managed to be an important piece of the puzzle.
Tatum rounded out the week with a worse-than-it-looks 26-5-3-2 against Orlando and a nice 34-9-4-2 rebound against Atlanta. We’ll have more exciting Player of the Week selections than this as the season goes on, but Tatum was comfortably the best of a weak field this time around.
The Parquet Play: Jaylen Brown, ascending
There’s simply no choice but to show some love to Jaylen Brown here this week. This dunk in Sunday’s win over the Hawks was a stunner. Clint Capela is a large man and a sturdy rim protector. None of that matters when Brown gets a head of steam like this.
Around the League: Monday night’s Battle of Misery
Here’s a bit of inside baseball for you. I’m writing this on Monday evening, thoroughly worn out after a Sunday spent traveling halfway across the country. On my screen, at least for a time? A “dramatic” Monday night showdown between the 2-14 Washington Wizards and the 2-14 Detroit Pistons. Reader, let me tell you: after a tiring week of holiday travel, this is a level of basketball that will make you question your sanity.
The Wizards walked away the “victors” of this particular contest, downing Cade Cunningham and the Pistons 126-107. Even in victory, though, they continued their peculiar brand of avant garde basketball incompetence. Washington coughs up mind-boggling blunders with astounding regularity, What is Jordan Poole doing here, exactly? Do you know? I don’t. Does he?
Jordan Poole is something else man pic.twitter.com/8ilPDyXkko— Slightly Biased (@BiasedSlightly) November 28, 2023
Then we have the team with the dubious honor of losing to Washington by 19 points. We discussed the Pistons in brief here last week, discussing the struggles of Cunningham in his third NBA season. Though he may be the most glaring problem, Cunningham is far from the only one. The young Pistons simply haven’t meshed as we might have envisioned, even as rookie Ausar Thompson and sophomore Jalen Duren look like gems. There simply isn’t enough talent here. Kilian Hayes is one of the NBA’s worst regulars, Alec Burks is either washed up or checked out, and the reclamation project duo of Marvin Bagley III and James Wiseman are providing essentially nothing. Monty Williams’ aggrieved quotes about the team’s immaturity are recurring weekly at this point.
The optimist says that the Pistons now are where the Houston Rockets were a couple years ago. They’re so aggressively young that they just don’t know how to win basketball games yet, and they just need further growth and an infusion of veteran leadership to shift gears and pull out of the rebuild. The sun certainly hasn’t set on this era of the franchise yet. It just looks pretty darn gloomy right now.
As for what could fix the Wizards? If I knew that, I’d be making a lot more money in this industry, I’ll tell you that much.
Tuesday, November 28: vs Chicago, 7:30 PM EST (NBC Sports Boston)
Friday, December 1: vs Philadelphia, 7:30 PM EST (ESPN)
Two games await on the schedule this week, as the NBA’s In-Season Tournament ramps up towards its conclusion. First, the Celtics face their final IST game of the group stage, battling the Chicago Bulls with some control over their fate for the next round of the tournament, however unlikely. Here’s the excellent Sean Grande with a quick summary of what they may need to do to advance:
Celtics-wise, making the quarters is unlikely. But it feels like they have a slightly better chance to win Group C, than get the wild-card.— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) November 25, 2023
Boston wins Group C if...
** They beat Chicago by 23 or more AND...
** Brooklyn beats Toronto by 8 points less than Boston beats Chicago.
Although it's more complicated in terms of scenarios, getting the wild-card would probably require the Celtics to beat the Bulls by even more than 23.— Sean Grande (@SeanGrandePBP) November 25, 2023
New York (+18)
and Cleveland (+6)
are all sitting at 2-1 with a better differential than Boston (+0).
In other words, if a deep run in the tournament is what you seek, you’re wanting to see a lot of points for the team in green on Tuesday night. Hey, they’ve had some notable blowouts over Chicago in modern history!
As a reminder, if the Celtics fail to advance in the tournament, they do not have a week off from games, as has been a bit of a misconception in recent weeks. Teams that do not continue in the tournament will be assigned regular season games on December 6 and December 8, and continue with their regularly scheduled programming. Unfortunately, if you’ve got gamesmanship on the mind, there’s no loophole to be found there.
For now, regardless of Tuesday’s result, the Celtics will move ahead to a high-profile Friday night showdown against the Philadelphia 76ers. It is, remarkably, already the third matchup between the two teams, lending an unusual bit of importance to a December basketball game. The Celtics split the first two games in Philadelphia, and host the Sixers at home with an opportunity to score what could be a consequential win for playoff seeding down the road.
Will the Celtics be playing for an IST title next week, or will it be back to regular season business as usual? We’ll be back next week to discuss.