The holiday season is over, gone seemingly as quickly as it arrived, and the Boston Celtics have entered 2024 as the best team in the NBA with a bullet. With a record of 28-7, the Celtics put together an 8-2 dating back to our last edition of CelticsWeek, and they currently have three more wins than any other team in the league. We have a lot to catch up on here as we return to action from our short vacation, so let’s dive right in with a lightning round where we touch on all the games we’re discussing today.
Boston Celtics, Week 9: 2-1 record, +56 differential
L @ Golden State, 132-126 (OT)
W @ Sacramento, 144-119
W @ LA Clippers, 145-108
After the 2022 NBA Finals, it’s fair to say that every regular season matchup against Golden State has carried a little more weight in the minds of most Celtics fans. These games don’t actually mean something, but they certainly feel like they do; there’s some measure of payback that comes with beating Steph Curry and the Warriors, even if the stakes are significantly lower. The Celtics weren’t able to accomplish that this time around, though, and instead we all had to watch as, once again, Curry KO’d a Boston team that just looked out of sorts.
The bad taste from the loss went away pretty rapidly, though. Consecutive blowout wins scoring 144 and 145 points against teams firmly in the contender mix in the Western Conference will do that. The Celtics made the Kings and Clippers look absolutely silly, even though they lacked the services of Jayson Tatum for the former game and Kristaps Porzingis for the latter.
Boston Celtics, Week 10: 4-0, +52 differential
W @ LA Lakers, 126-115
W vs Detroit, 128-122 (OT)
W vs Toronto, 120-118
W @ San Antonio, 134-101
It’s hard to ask for a better Christmas present than win over the Lakers, isn’t it? The Celtics toppled their historic rivals on Christmas Day as part of a six-game win streak, capping off a nearly perfect west coast road trip.
Returning home brought with it a couple of unlikely nail-biters. It took an extra period for the Celtics to avoid falling to the lowly Detroit Pistons — and, in the process, become the team to snap Detroit’s historic losing streak — after a late Pistons rally pushed the game into overtime. Trap game avoided, they proceeded to Toronto and went down to the wire against the Raptors, fumbling a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter before winning at the last minute on a bucket from Luke Kornet. A road trip against San Antonio provided barely more than a speedbump.
Boston Celtics, Week 11: 2-1, +42 differential
L @ Oklahoma City, 127-123
W vs Utah, 126-97
W @ Indiana, 118-101
The Oklahoma City Thunder are starting to round the corner — we’ll talk about them more in a moment. They played host to the Celtics on Tuesday night and, in a game with a playoff-type atmosphere about it, handed them a rare loss. The Thunder dropped 40 points on the Celtics defense in the third quarter, and though the Celtics clawed back from a deficit that got as large as 18, Oklahoma City held on. That’s a big win for a young team.
The other two games this week were workmanlike wins. The Celtics raced out to a fast start against the rebuilding Utah Jazz and never looked back en route to a blowout win, and followed it up with a road win over Indiana that saw star performances from both Jays and a strong fourth quarter effort to put the Pacers away. These are wins that great teams should have.
Players of the Holiday: Derrick White and Jayson Tatum
White: 10 GP, 31.1 MPG, 19.1 PPG (51% FG, 42% 3PT), 4.3 REB, 5.2 AST, 0.8 STL, 1.8 BLK, +141
Tatum: 8 GP, 35.8 MPG, 28 PPG (47% FG, 42% 3PT), 8.5 REB, 5.9 AST, 1.4 STL, +115
We’re handing this one out as a general, all-holiday-inclusive award this time around, and we have two clear favorites. Though Jrue Holiday and Kristaps Porzingis had some stellar games in this stretch — the latter would probably be in here if not for what amounted to four missed games — and Al Horford continues to play invaluable basketball off the bench, the players who balled out the hardest these three weeks were Derrick White and Jayson Tatum.
What more can I say about Derrick White that I haven’t already in this space? He’s already recorded three Player of the Week wins this season, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to stop any time soon. He scored 30 points in the Warriors loss and cashed in on seven threes (though on 18 attempts — a bit excessive), and followed it up with 28 the next night to help beat the Kings while shorthanded. White was a positive in plus-minus in every game save Golden State, where he was just a minus-one. He recorded two or more blocks in seven consecutive games, and in the wins over the Kings and Clippers, he became the only player in NBA history to record 6+ threes and 3+ blocks in consecutive games
White bucks expectations at every phase of the game. He’s transformed from a useful bench piece to an everyday starter, and now he’s elevated his game to an All-Star level. He deserves a spot on the Eastern Conference roster for All-Star Weekend.
After a dispiriting dud of a performance against the Warriors, Tatum has looked like a new man as the calendar has flipped to the new year. He shot just 5-of-17 against the Warriors and sat out the next night against Sacramento, but since that point, he’s played in seven games, scoring at least 25 points in all of them and eclipsing 30 in five. Though his shot wasn’t quite there in the Pistons win, he complemented his 30 points with 10 assists, the seventh double-digit assist game of his career. He’s shooting 72% at the rim on the season and getting to the free throw line at will.
His 38 points against Pacers is the crown jewel of the run. This was the superstar Tatum that played his way into MVP chatter early last season, and the Celtics will need to see this version of him much more consistently in 2024.
The Parquet Plays: Highlight reel
It’s been a while since we’ve published one of these, so let’s pick a few plays to highlight as our holiday favorites. We’ll start with a Christmas Day treat from Derrick White. This is just your average defensive possession: a 6-foot-4 guard in isolation on Anthony Davis, forcing Davis to pass out of the paint touch, and then meeting Austin Reeves at the rim for the rejection. Typical stuff, really. Completely normal.
The Celtics probably have the dubious honor of ending the Pistons’ losing streak if not for Kristaps Porzingis. You could pick a number of plays down the stretch in the fourth quarter and overtime that would be worthy of recognition here, but I’m partial to the play that essentially sealed the deal. Porzingis contests Bogdanovic’s pull-up three-pointer and then leaks out in transition, catching the touchdown pass from Tatum and finishing at the basket to complete the five-point swing.
Lastly, we have a couple different angles of a highly satisfying fast break bucket against the Pacers. Even at 37 years old, Al Horford continues to showcase the combination of savvy defense and playmaking that has made him so invaluable to the Celtics for so long. That’s Tyrese Haliburton, the NBA’s leading assist man, that Horford is heisting here. The fast break oop to Brown is just the icing on the cake.
Around the League: The Raptors finally hit the self-destruct button, and are the Thunder ready to make some noise?
Perhaps a year later than they should have, the Toronto Raptors are finally blowing it up. After losing to the Celtics and dropping their record to just 12-19, GM Masai Ujiri decided to make a move. Out went All-Defense candidate forward OG Anunoby, shipped off to the New York Knicks in exchange for guards Immanuel Quickley and RJ Barrett. The next shoe already seems ready to fall: All-Star Pascal Siakam appears likely to be the crown jewel of the NBA trade deadline, available as a rental to any team willing to roll the dice ahead of his unrestricted free agency this offseason.
Maybe we can think of a team who should consider it. The Celtics dropped their first game in over a week to Oklahoma City last Tuesday, putting a spotlight on a Thunder team that appears to be at the end stage of its rebuild. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is in the MVP conversation. Chet Holmgren is the favorite for Rookie of the Year, holding a solid advantage over wunderkind Victor Wembanyama. Jalen Williams looks like a future All-Star, and the team rolls deep with useful role players like Lu Dort and Isaiah Joe.
The Thunder dropped their next two games after the statement win over Boston, but as of this writing, they remain tied with the Denver Nuggets (67.6% win percentage) for the second seed in the West. General Manager Sam Presti has a veritable mountain of draft picks at his disposal, more than the team can even roster — is it time to push the chips onto the table for an All-Star caliber talent to make it to the next level? Siakam will be attainable, along with others like Utah’s Lauri Markkanen. Does Presti make the call? Should he?
Up Next: Heavyweights on deck
With the holiday season in the rear-view and 2024 underway, we’re back to regularly scheduled programming moving forward. This week, we have four games on the docket. The Celtics start the week on Monday with their second consecutive road matchup against the Indiana Pacers — the teams’ fourth meeting of the season — before returning home Wednesday to host the Minnesota Timberwolves, who remain the surprise team at the top of the Western Conference standings. The next day, they travel to Milwaukee for a high-profile tilt with the Bucks, and then round out the week by hosting the upstart Houston Rockets on Saturday.
This is a tough week of games. Four teams with winning records, two of which rank among the cream of the crop of their respective conferences. The Bucks sit 3.5 games behind Boston in the standings and have already lost to the Celtics once this season, making this a potentially very consequential win for playoff seeding purposes. We’ll be back next week to break it all down.