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CelticsWeek #13: Zero to one

The Celtics are no longer flawless on their home court, but otherwise enjoyed another winning week

San Antonio Spurs v Boston Celtics Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

The Boston Celtics had a busy slate last week, facing a four-game slate that included a home date with the reigning NBA Champion Denver Nuggets. They’ve entered the dog days of the regular season holding onto the league’s best record, though they lost their home win streak in the process. Let’s take a look at how it all played out

Denver Nuggets (102) Vs. Boston Celtics (100) At TD Garden Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Boston Celtics, Week 13: 3-1 record, +35 differential

W @ Toronto, 105-96

W vs San Antonio, 117-98

L vs Denver, 102-100

W @ Houston, 116-107

Well, it had to happen eventually — the Boston Celtics have lost a game at the TD Garden. That glorious zero in the loss column is gone, and they now sit at just 20-1 on their home court. Season’s over, everybody. Might as well pack it up and go home.

In all seriousness, though, there’s probably not a team you’d rather lose the streak to than these Denver Nuggets. The defending champs have continued to play fantastic basketball this season, and Nikola Jokic continues to maintain a claim on the title of “best player in the world.” They’re a worthy foe, and won a great game, all without the baggage that would have accompanied the streak being broken by a team like Philadelphia or Miami.

You can’t win ‘em all, but to the Celtics’ credit, they did win the rest. The other three games on this week’s slate did not present much drama, as Boston handled Toronto, San Antonio and Houston by multiple possessions each. They ended another player’s Toronto tenure, beating the Raptors in Pascal Siakam’s final game with the team — more on that soon — just a few weeks after doing the same to OG Anunoby. Victor Wembanyama came to town and provided some thrills, but a sound gameplan and impressive start from Luke Kornet held the Spurs at bay. Kristaps Porzingis scored 32 points and blocked five shots to complete the season sweep of Ime Udoka and the Houston Rockets.

These are, truly, the dog days of the NBA regular season. The holidays are far in the rear view now, and the All-Star Break is still a month away. It is a grind, and this week felt very grind-y. At least the Celtics are grinding out wins.

Player of the Week: Luke Kornet

4 GP, 19.8 MPG, 5.5 PTS (85% FG), 5.8 REB, 1.5 AST, 0.5 STL, 1.8 BLK, +10

It’s almost tempting to take Jordan Walsh here, isn’t it? The rookie second round pick made his NBA debut this week, and though he didn’t find his first NBA points, the Boston crowd went absolutely ballistic for him. Plus, he’s the NBA leader in rebounds per 48 minutes. Really makes you think, huh?

That’s less of a joke that it seems. This is the exact kind of week to make an off-kilter pick, to be honest. Everyone had a couple very good games; there were some big Jrue Holiday scoring nights, and Porzingis had the big night against Houston. Nobody dominated the entire week, though. It’s a good week to cast an eye to the bench, which always leads to some of my favorite picks in this section.

With that in mind, I’m quite partial to Kornet here. He had one of his busiest weeks of the season, and acquitted himself very well. It’s hard to ask much more from your third center than a shooting percentage of nearly 85% and seven blocked shots, after all. Kornet was called into action as the team continues to rotate nights off for Porzingis and Horford, which led to his first start of the season in the San Antonio game. It was, for my money, his best night with the team. The Celtics clearly wanted size to counter the incomprehensible length of Wembanyama, and Kornet earned the nod alongside Horford in a very Daniel Theis-like role. His final line was a very Theis-like six points, nine rebounds, four assists and three blocks.

Kornet continues to impress me this season. Concerns that the Celtics absolutely need to find an upgrade among their frontcourt reserves are diminishing rapidly as he keeps delivering. He’s playing within himself, thriving in his role as a finisher and rim protector. His scoring has been efficient and his defense has been more than just a gimmick. No avenue should be left unexplored as the trade deadline approaches, but Kornet has made the decisions much less critical with how he’s been playing.

The Parquet Play: The courage of Payton Pritchard

I think we should all approach life with the sheer, unmitigated confidence of one Payton Michael “Jordan” Pritchard. Say what you want about him, this guy certainly believes he can do anything he wants on an NBA court. I, for one, find that beautiful.

It just goes to show that these highlights don’t always have to be sophisticated or instructive. Sometimes it’s just an absolutely comical shot that you can’t stop watching on a loop.

Around the League: Toronto cleans house, and Indiana lands the big fish

It seems there’s just no time to sit around and wait for February’s trade deadline to arrive this year. These teams are rearing to go — particularly Masai Ujiri and the Toronto Raptors. Almost a month after shipping off OG Anunoby to the New York Knicks, the Raptors have made another splash on the transaction list, sending All-Star forward Pascal Siakam to Indiana in exchange for Bruce Brown and three first round picks, with the Pacers confident in inking him to a long-term deal this offseason.

As if in response to criticism of their general inaction in recent deadlines, Toronto has been firing away this time around. Siakam was the crown jewel of this pool of trade targets, with Anunoby not far behind. Both are already gone more than two weeks ahead of the buzzer, and more moves — Brown? Chris Boucher? — are likely to come. The return for these deals can be questioned, especially considering the firsts that Siakam brought back don’t look especially valuable right now, but at least they’ve chosen a direction, and assertively so.

So what does this mean from Indiana’s perspective? Well, I enjoy myself a Beyblade joke as much as the next guy, but the truth is that Siakam probably qualifies as underrated by the NBA sphere at this point in time. He’s a versatile forward who is going to elevate them on both sides of the floor, a legitimate All-Star who brings much-needed experience to a young team. Rick Carlisle’s defense sorely needs a rangy wing defender like this, and the fit alongside Haliburton should be seamless. Their ability to sign Siakam to a long-term extension this offseason will obviously color how we’ll look back on this deal, but the basketball fit makes sense.

Does this move elevate Indiana into the upper tier of the East? Well, no. Indiana has a ways to go yet if they’re going to catch Boston, Milwaukee or Philadelphia. Siakam is a plug-and-play star who makes them better right away, but there’s still growth that needs to be done from a roster that is broadly very young before they’re contenders. This is a step forward, though, and I think the second tier of the East — Cleveland, New York, Miami — should be side-eying what the Pacers are building, especially if Siakam inks a new deal. Indy’s coming.

Up Next: Stars aplenty

Three games lie ahead of us this week, starting with Monday’s solid win over the Dallas Mavericks. The Celtics get a bit of a reprieve after the victory, enjoying two days off before a date with Jimmy Butler and the Heat. This a rest-imbalance game, with the Heat playing the second night of a back-to-back, though they don’t have to travel in between like the Celtics did before the Milwaukee loss. From there, Boston will return home to round out the season series with the Los Angeles Clippers. It’s a slate loaded with star wing players, and we’ll be back to break it all down next week.

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