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05 December 2023

A Boston Celtics Blog: 17 Banners and Counting
  • Red-hot Pacers, poor defense send Celtics packing in In-Season Tournament: ‘I wanted to go Vegas’
    Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

    Combined with poor shooting and turnovers, the Celtics’ bad defense helped the Pacers to advance in the In-Season Tournament.

    After going to extreme measures to take down the Chicago Bulls with the necessary point differential and advance in the In-Season Tournament, the Boston Celtics fell short on Monday night. They were taken down by the offensive juggernaut that is the Indiana Pacers.

    But while the Pacers certainly made some big-time shots in spite of solid Celtics defense, Boston still left something to be desired on that end of the court.

    “We got to just be more connected defensively,” said Jayson Tatum. “But, I mean, it’s the NBA. Sometimes guys are going to make plays. He hit some tough shots. So it’s kind of twofold. Guys get paid a lot of money to play basketball, and they’re pretty good.”

    Many of the Celtics’ biggest issues came on the offensive end. They shot just 12-of-41 (29.3%) from three-point range and turned the ball over 17 times, but defensively, it was just too easy for the Pacers.

    Indiana shot a scorching-hot19-of-40 (47.5%) from distance, led by Tyrese Haliburton (five threes), Buddy Hield (four threes), and Bennedict Mathurin (four threes).

    Boston’s biggest issue, alongside their poor shooting and turnovers, was the third quarter—a trend that has haunted them all season.

    The Pacers outscored the Celtics 37-23 in the third, turning a seven-point halftime deficit into a seven-point lead heading into the final frame. They shot 15-of-27 from the field and 6-of-12 from deep.

    “Personally, I felt like I was horrible in the second half,” said Derrick White. “Them getting a lot of easy looks offensively. So I gotta be better in that aspect.”

    White struggled on both ends in this game, shooting 2-of-9 from deep and turning the ball over five times, but his defensive woes were emblematic of the team’s inability to stop Haliburton and the Pacers.

    Indiana has been the best offensive team in the league for the majority of the season, and they’ve taken the In-Season Tournament by storm—a huge help in their quest for the playoffs and a big moment for Haliburton.

    “It really is another thing that’s a simulator of playoff basketball,” said head coach Rick Carlisle. “So it really helps us. And so, coming out with the win tonight was big for a lot of reasons that I mentioned. But I know this is very special to [Haliburton], as well.”

    And while this game certainly meant a lot to the Pacers, the Celtics wanted it badly, too.

    “Yeah. I wanted to f****** go to Vegas,” Tatum said with a smile. “I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to go Vegas, so yeah, I’m mad. Next year, I guess.”

  • New season, same issues: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/Pacers
    Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    The Boston Celtics let some old issues creep in against the Indiana Pacers.

    #1 Third quarters are STILL a problem

    The below Tweet is three years old.

    The Boston Celtics had just lost 106-101 to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Brad Stevens was still the head coach. We’re three years, two head coaches, and an NBA finals appearance removed from when I posted that Tweet. Yet here we are, still talking about third-quarter struggles and how the Celtics can’t seem to start the second half on the right foot.

    Against the Indiana Pacers, in the quarter-finals of the in-season tournament, the Celtics lost the third quarter by 14 points. Boston shot 3-of-10 from deep, was outrebounded 12-14, and outscored on the interior. We’ve seen this story too many times, even if we narrow the scope to this season.

    At this point, it feels redundant to say they need to figure things out. They’ve been needing to figure it out for three years.

    #2 Poor perimeter shooting

    I’m not anti-three-pointers. I like the fact the Celtics have incorporated more interior play into their offensive system this season, and I think the balance, for the most part, is right where it should be. However, there has to be some self-awareness, too.

    As a unit, the Celtics shot 29.3% from deep on 12-of-41 shooting. They went 34-of-56 inside the three-point line. 11 of Jayson Tatum’s buckets came from two-point range, and so did 12 of Jaylen Brown’s.

    You can’t expect the Celtics to go away from their perimeter game totally. Their offense relies on spacing, and being a threat to fire from deep is a core principle surrounding that threat. However, when it’s apparent it isn’t your night, maybe tone down the perimeter offense and look to feed what is working and is having consistent success.

    I’m not saying to take 25 threes. That’s far too low of a number also to keep the floor spaced and the defense honest. 35-38? Sure. If you know it’s not your night, and the Pacers’ intensity is impacting your ability to get clean looks, then switch it up. Part of the problem is becoming too predictable.

    #3 Things keep getting ugly in the half-court

    Speaking of predictability...Boston’s half-court offense has been a tough watch in recent weeks. Look past the win/loss totals, look past the big scoring nights from one or two guys in the rotation, and focus on the execution. It’s been rough.

    There’s a great clip circling the internet at the moment. In it, Kara Lawson is describing why second actions are so important at the highest levels of basketball. Lawson explains how every team knows your playbook, and oftentimes, your initial actions are countered and blown up, at which point, it’s how you react that’s important.

    I’ve discussed the Celtics need to incorporate more counters into their offense in recent editions of the takeaways, so I’m not going to harp on them too much here. However, I do want to provide an example of an initial action that is well-defended that then led to a disjointed possession ending in nothing.

    The Celtics went to a “Ram action” in the above clip. It’s designed to create a mismatch on the perimeter and potentially in the post, too. It forces multiple switches, and ideally, the second screener receives a pass and attacks his mismatch. Boston had significant success with this action under Ime Udoka.

    Here, the Celtics look to get Tatum a mismatch with Tyrese Haliburton — as they did throughout the game. However, as the switch occurs and Aaron Nesmith picks up Dalano Banton, the play breaks down. Nesmith knows Banton wants to feed Tatum and gets active in denying the passing lane.

    Banton holds onto the rock a little too long and is forced to go with Payton Pritchard, who misses a contest mid-range jumper.

    Now, this play broke down when Nesmith killed the passing lane. But Banton isn’t the only one at fault. Tatum could have re-screened. He could have relocated to make the pass easier. Pritchard could have curled to get a handoff above the perimeter, giving him extra options on his drive. Instead, everybody stood still. The shot clock wound down, and the possession ended exactly how the Pacers wanted it to.

    There has to be a commitment from everybody on the court to work for each other. When everybody is moving, good things happen; just look at how it flows in the clip below.

    First of all, let's give Luke Kornet some credit because his exit screen made this play. And second, why are possessions like this the exception and not the rule?

    #4 Where are the sets?

    Building off of the above point, most of what the Celtics are running is principal-based. There are very few possessions where we’re looking at a designed play, at least in the open court. That’s perfectly normal. Teams often save their set plays for late in the fourth or during out-of-bounds possessions.

    Still, when your offense isn’t clicking how you want it to, and the defense is pressing up on you, having some set actions you can flow into makes all the difference. I totally get not wanting to give everything away so early in the season and keeping some curveballs in your back pocket. However, the point of having a coach is to help stem the bleeding at times, especially when it’s clear the guys on the floor are struggling to figure it out.

    #5 Penetration is too easy

    The Celtics struggled to contain dribble penetration and second-drive actions on Tuesday. Tyrese Haliburton’s presence was clearly a big factor, but he wasn’t the only player getting to the rim whenever he wanted.

    According to Cleaning the Glass, the Pacers ended the game with a half-court offense that would secure 113.8 points per 100 possessions. Boston’s was ranked at 97.9 per 100. A lot of the Pacers' success was based on how easily they carved through the point-of-attack and found cutters, shooters, or second drivers to attack a rotating defense.

    There were also problems when defending penetration off the high pick-and-roll.

    The Celtics had three players looking to contain Haliburton on the penetration, likely because they had been daring Myles Turner to shoot from deep for most of the game. But also, and more importantly, because the lack of rim protection without Kristaps Porzingis on the floor means they need to pressure primary ball-handlers higher up the court. Either way, defensive slips like this, where you hyperfocus on one player, can lead to bad habits and a string of errors.

    #6 Gettin’ Nerdy With It: Delay actions

    The Celtics did find some success with their delay actions. Here are two that stood out to me, as they looked to spam Horford as a passing big until the Pacers clued up and shut it down.

    The below clip is “Delay Ricky”

    And this one is “Delay Wedge”

    Both times, the Celtics get Al Horford the ball in the delay before running a screening action to create rotations within the defense. In the wedge action, Tatum’s cut draws two defenders, allowing Derrick White to drain it from deep.

    #7 Luke Kornet steps up

    For all the talk of needing an upgrade at the center position, Luke Kornet came in clutch for the Celtics. He was arguably one of the most impactful players outside of Tatum and Jaylen Brown and had a solid performance on both sides of the ball.

    Kornet ended the game with 6 points, 4 blocks, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal, shooting 3-of-5 from deep. For someone who is supposedly a wink leak, Kornet has been enjoying a strong spell of games while Porzingis has been out with injury.

    #8 Brown & Tatum show up on offense

    It’s very rare that the Celtics get a solid offensive game from both Tatum and Brown and wind up losing. Tatum was once again dominant on the glass and a valuable creator in a point-forward role. The turnovers that have blighted him in recent games were not an issue, and his interior and post scoring gave the Celtics a significant boost.

    Brown was also aggressive. He drove the lanes, got to his spots, hammered home some dunks, and fought around the boards. The Celtics need this type of scoring dominance from their two star players moving forward. If Brown and Tatum can sustain their offensive production once Porzingis is back in the lineup, it’s going to be scary, and hopefully, the halfcourt offense finds its rhythm.

    #9 Where was the press? Still waiting for zone...

    Against a Pacers team that likes to push the pace and play with early offense principles, you could have been forgiven for expecting to see the Celtics go to their 2-2-1 press throughout the game. That defensive curveball is designed to slow down faster-paced teams and force them into a half-court set with 10 seconds or more missing from the shot clock.

    Yet, we rarely saw anything outside of drop coverage, and we certainly didn’t see many, if any, defensive curveballs.

    Also, coming into the season, there was excitement that we could see the Celtics incorporate some zone defense. Throwing out some zone looks and killing a couple of possessions while teams adjusted is a good way to quell any offensive rhythm or potential advantage. So far, though, no dice.

    If Boston was ever going to start toying with some zone defense, Tuesday could have been the ideal time. Maybe it would have worked, maybe it wouldn’t have, but at least we could have said the coaching staff was trying out different things to give them an advantage and limit the Pacers' momentum.

    #10 Pritchard isn’t doing himself any favors

    I’ve been really patient with Payton Prtichard to begin this season. I think that when he’s confident and in rhythm, he can be a serious impact-maker off the bench. However, there’s been more bad than good so far, and there has to be a limit on how many bad games there can be before a potential change is considered.

    An 0-for-5 night and career-low shooting despite a career-high in minutes isn’t encouraging. It’s still too early to close the door on Pritchard, but he needs to find some rhythm fast.

    Looking ahead

    The Celtics will have a few days off now. They will face the loser of the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks game, which will take place on Tuesday night (Dec. 5.) Hopefully, we can start to see an uptick in performance level and a more entertaining and aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball. Because over the past few weeks, it’s been a tough watch.

    With that in mind, the Celtics are 15-5. There is still plenty to be happy and excited about. Now, all we can do is wait for Friday.

  • Indiana Pacers eliminate Boston Celtics from inaugural In-Season Tournament, 122-112
    Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

    The Celtics’ In-Season Tournament run was a brief one, as they fell to the upstart Pacers in the quarterfinals

    The Boston Celtics squeaked into the quarterfinal of the NBA’s first annual In-Season Tournament behind a blowout win over the Chicago Bulls and some fortunate point differential math, but their appearance in the single-elimination phase of the tournament didn’t last long. They faced a tough Indiana Pacers team that has played their best basketball of the season in the tournament, and ultimately fell 122-112 at the hands of a brilliant game from Indiana’s burgeoning superstar guard, Tyrese Haliburton.

    Jaylen Brown had his way with Indiana’s questionable perimeter defense, terrorizing the rim en route to 30 points, 24 of which came inside the arc. Jayson Tatum added 32 points but struggled with efficiency for much of the game, and Derrick White scored 18 but appeared to be playing through an injury suffered in the second half. Six Pacers scored in double figures, led by a stuffed stat sheet from Haliburton. The 23-year-old guard responded to arguably the most important game of his career to this point with his first triple-double, scoring 26 points, grabbing 10 boards and dishing 13 assists.

    The Pacers sport one of the most dangerous offenses in basketball, a group of speed demons that wreck opposing defenses with lightning-paced fast breaks and drive-and-kick three-point shooting. With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined for the fourth straight game, the Boston defense had to be prepared to see their rim protection put to the test early and often.

    That was certainly the case from the jump tonight. Both teams put up a high volume of shots, though they each struggled with efficiency to begin the night. The amped up tempo favorite Brown especially, as he sliced his way to the rim with aggression en route to 10 points in the first quarter. Turner enjoyed Boston’s smaller defensive looks, scoring eight, and the two teams were neck-and-neck entering the second quarter, with Boston ahead 24-22.

    The Pacers found some scoring mojo as play continued into the second, and started to build an edge on the Celtics from behind the three-point arc. Boston cashed in on less than 30% of their looks from deep in the first half, getting doubled up by Indiana for much of the half (eight threes to four) before Tatum and White finally connected on their first threes of the game in the final minute before the break. They took the lid off the rim in that last minute, going on a 10-2 run to create some distance, and led at the halftime break 55-48. The Pacers’ 48 points made for their second-lowest figure at the half this season.

    Brown’s big night was put on pause in the second quarter, as he picked up his third foul of the game and found himself resigned to the bench and recording just 11 minutes in the first half. Returning to the court in the third, he picked up where he left off, kicking off the Celtics’ second-half scoring with a pair of two-point buckets. No Indiana defender was able to contain him when he got going downhill.

    Haliburton arrived to the game in the third quarter as well, cashing in on a pair of deep three-pointers and a layup in the first regular season appearance on TNT of his young NBA career. As is his custom, the NBA’s assist leader puppeteered every aspect of the Indiana offense, scoring or assisting on virtually every basket. Through three quarters, Haliburton recorded a ridiculous 19-10-7 stat line and piloted an 18-5 Pacer run to give them an 85-78 lead heading into the final quarter.

    Sam Hauser’s fifth three-pointer of the evening kicked off the fourth quarter action, as the two teams stared down a tightly contested finish. The duo of Hauser and Luke Kornet provided most of the impact off the bench for the Celtics tonight, with the former scoring 15 points on another hot-shooting night and the latter swatting four shots and pulling off some nice finishes in the paint.

    The Celtics inched their way through the Indiana lead in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, though the Pacers were not making anything easy on them. The Celtics were hamstrung by self-inflicted errors, coughing up 17 turnovers (compared to just six from the Pacers) and making only 66% of their free throw attempts. Regardless, they fought through their struggles and tied the game back up with just under six minutes remaining in regulation.

    The game remained knotted up for much of the next few minutes, with the two teams punching and counterpunching as the lead stayed within one possession. Haliburton continued to shine, connecting on two more deep threes that swung the score in Indiana’s favor. The second of those finally swung the game, as he drew a shooting foul and converted the four-point play, then found Buddy Hield on Indiana’s next offensive possession for the three-point dagger.

    Next up, the Celtics will play for tournament seeding, hosting the loser of the Milwaukee Bucks-New York Knicks matchup on Friday, December 8.

  • Boston Celtics (15-4) at Indiana Pacers (10-8) Game #20 12/4/23
    Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    It’s the first In-Season Tournament bracket game… ever. That’s pretty cool.

    If you thought the Celtics' curb-stomping of the Chicago Bulls would be their final In-Season Tournament game, you underestimated the power of the Brooklyn Nets.

    By employing highly advanced tactics such as fouling Andre Drummond with a 30-point lead, the Celtics managed to beat the Bulls thoroughly enough to win any and all point differential tiebreakers, needing only a Nets win by a certain amount to make it to the bracket.

    And such an amount happened, setting up tonight’s date with the Indiana Pacers, which is almost certainly the path of least resistance to Las Vegas given the alternatives in New York or Milwaukee. At least on paper.

    But we don’t play basketball games on paper, and the Pacers will certainly provide some pretty staunch resistance considering their track record in the In-Season Tournament so far. The Pacers convincingly sautéed the Cavaliers, 76ers, and Hawks in their group play, three teams that most preseason projections had ahead of them.

    Given the continued emergence of Tyrese Haliburton as a legitimate man-that-guy-is-good guy, the Pacers punching above their weight class isn’t completely shocking. But even more concerning for the Celtics is how dialed in the Pacers have been for these games. They’re 4-0 in the IST and 6-8 outside of it, which is a stat that probably doesn’t mean anything but might mean something if you want it to.

    But the Celtics clearly care about this tournament, too. Whatever code of honor exists in the NBA will need an addendum to accommodate intentionally fouling with a thirty-point lead, as Mazzulla and Co. went full tilt in their final group stage game to give themselves the best chance of advancing. However morally correct that was—or however good Mazzulla, the players, or the Bulls even felt about it—it helped the Celtics advance.

    But such chicanery will not be necessary going forward, as these games are single elimination. Just win the basketball game, and get one step closer to the NBA Cup. But what kind of March Madness-but-it’s-the-NBA-and-it’s-early-December game will this be?

    Maybe a shootout. The Pacers’ biggest problem is a complete lack of perimeter defenders. They can’t begin to hang with elite wing scorers, and Haliburton can struggle with his diet of eating screens. Myles Turner can clean up some messes at the rim, so the Celtics will almost certainly try to space him out with Al Horford as much as possible.

    Even still, the Pacers know exactly who they are. If they’re going to win, they’re going to win a certified wild-west shootout, which has led to some comically high-scoring games such as their 157-152 win over the Hawks. The Hawks are another defensively challenged team, and if the Celtics give up 150 points tonight, I will have follow up questions.

    Probable Pacers Starters
    Tyrese Haliburton (?)
    Buddy Hield
    Bruce Brown
    Obi Toppin (?)
    Myles Turner

    Probable Celtics Starters
    Jrue Holiday
    Derrick White
    Jaylen Brown
    Jayson Tatum
    Al Horford

    The Celtics and Pacers have met already this season, though Haliburton missed the game due to injury, resulting in the Celtics dropping a 155-point nuke directly on the Pacers’ heads. Even still, the Pacers looked completely unable to guard the Celtics' first, second, fourth, ninth, and twenty-sixth offensive options.

    Haliburton is nursing a knee injury, which caused him to miss Saturday’s clash with the Miami Heat. Considering how much Haliburton seems to care about the In-Season Tournament, I’d personally be surprised if he misses tonight's game. However, keep an eye on his status as we get closer to tip-off, as a Haliburton-less Pacers would be a radically different matchup.

    The Celtics, on the other hand, will be without Kristaps Porzingis, who is rehabbing from a calf injury and might also somehow be in Latvia. The Celtics won’t have quite as much firepower without him, but the Celtics have proved capable of shredding teams nonetheless by leaning on the unstoppable force of Horford.

    The Celtics are currently a clean 5.5-point favorite, which definitely assumes Haliburton will play. But even if he does, the Celtics should have a clear advantage even on Indiana’s weird blue court. Hopefully they can keep the searing baby blue out of their eyes and hit some threes.

  • Jayson Tatum named Eastern Conference Player of the Month
    Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Tatum led the Celtics to a 14-4 record while averaging 27.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists.

    For the third time in his career, Jayson Tatum was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for October / November, the NBA announced on Monday afternoon.

    Tatum averaged 27.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists during the months of October and November, which includes the entire season, with the exception of Friday’s game against Philadelphia.

    So far this season, Tatum is shooting 49.9% from the field and 36.2% from behind the arc. At the same time, he’s averaged a career-high 3.4 turnovers and shot a career-low 80.5% from the free throw line.

    The Celtics currently have the league’s best record (15-4) and the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.

    In the East, other nominees included Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, Orlando’s Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner, New York’s Jalen Brunson, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton, and Cleveland’s Donovan Mitchell.

    In the West, Nikola Jokic has been named Player of the Month, leading the Denver Nuggets to a 13-6 record and averaging 29 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 9.2 assists per game.

  • Report: Kristaps Porzingis could return to the Celtics this week
    Kristaps Porzingis, Boston Celtics. | Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

    Porzingis has been out since straining his calf on Nov. 24.

    Boston Celtics center Kristaps Porzingis is reportedly moving towards a return to the floor. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the big man could be back in the lineup later this week.

    Unfortunately, the Celtics will still have to battle the Indiana Pacers in the In-Season Tournament quarterfinals on Monday without Porzingis — marking it his fourth-straight game on the sidelines.

    The 28-year-old hasn't had any setbacks in recovering from the strained calf that he suffered on Nov. 24 against the Orlando Magic. Should the Cs come out on top in Indy, it sounds like he’ll be back to help them try and capture the first-ever NBA Cup in Las Vegas.

    With a win, their next game would be on Thursday afternoon against the winner of the New York Knicks/Milwaukee Bucks matchup, which will be played on Tuesday night.

    With a loss, the Celtics would host the loser of that game on Friday.

    Regardless, that leaves at least another two days for Porzingis to recover from his calf strain.

    When he returns, the big Latvian will be a welcome addition to the lineup. In 15 starts for Boston this year, he’s averaged 18.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game while shooting a career-high 54.7% from the field.

  • The In-Season Tournament could build a championship mentality
    Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    The In-Season Tournament could provide a platform for the Celtics to dominant in the postseason.

    The group stage of the In-Season Tournament is over. The Boston Celtics will face the Indiana Pacers in a quarter-final contest tonight. From here on out, every game is win-or-go-home.

    For a team aspiring to win a championship this season, the Celtics must be well-versed in high-pressure situations. We know that Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford have the necessary experience to be playoff threats. Jrue Holiday has a ring to his name. And Kristaps Porzingis has the talent to be a serious threat during season-defining moments.

    However, individual talents and experiences don’t count much when a team is down with three minutes left. Those are the moments when you need a collective performance. The moments when past experiences as a unit often prevail.

    There’s a reason the Denver Nuggets are such a force right now, and the Golden State Warriors always find a new level in the postseason. They have continuity. There’s a connectedness that comes with years of high-pressure moments. The Celtics have some of that connectivity, too. However, multiple new faces means there will be some on-the-fly learning.

    Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

    That’s why, in my opinion, making the IST quarter-finals was such an important opportunity for the Celtics. They now have a potential three win-or-go-home games to develop unity and build habits in those pressure situations. There’s a form of learning that will be occurring throughout the remainder of the tournament.

    Irrespective of whether the Celtics win the in-season tournament and secure the $500K prize money, they will play playoff-style basketball against motivated opponents in some tough environments. The league wanted competitiveness and entertainment; They’re getting both of those things. However, they’re also giving teams a chance to sharpen their skills.

    In Boston’s case, they’re helping create a monster.

    Point differential is forcing teams to be remorseless in their offensive approach — a lesson the Celtics have needed to learn throughout the Tatum and Brown era.

    “Like the things that you’re seeing in the in-season tournament this year go on in Europe on a daily basis because of the structure that they play with,” Joe Mazzulla said following Boston’s win over the Chicago Bulls. “… You talk to players here who have only played in America, it’s a different perspective on, like, respect for the game. European respect for the game is like, do what we did against Chicago every single time because there’s always a point differential where, here, at some point, the other team concedes, and you put in different lineups, and you just kind of hope the game’s over. And so regardless of if it’s 30 points and a point differential, or we’re up 18 with six minutes to go, can we play as hard as we can and not just hope for us, like be hopeful that we’ll win this game or get through it. Can we strive in those situations?”

    As a European, I was always raised that the greatest compliment you can give a team or player is never to let up. It doesn't matter how high the score is or how badly you’re winning/losing. You never take your foot off the gas. The respect is shown in your understanding that their talent is more than enough to change the narrative in a few short minutes. So, you keep pushing, and you play with no remorse.

    Outside of allowing Boston room to elevate its offensive mindset, the In-Season Tournament is a platform to build winning habits in the face of elimination. It will help the new members of the roster gel with their teammates in a scenario that previously wasn’t available until the post-season began. For a contending team like the Celtics, it’s like a crash course in how to excel during the toughest of moments, with a game on the line and a summer of regret breathing down your neck.

    You can argue that post-season basketball only comprises the best teams from each conference and that a game like the one against the Pacers is not much of a learning experience. That would be a fair rebuttal. However, I posit that a team such as Indiana, who aren’t playing for a shot at a ring this year, will be extremely motivated by an additional opportunity for success and will bring a level of commitment and execution that would rival most playoff games.

    Regardless of how you feel about In-Season Tournament basketball, the lesson Boston can learn, and the months they have to build on those lessons and incorporate new methods of dealing with situations based on the data collected, is invaluable. The Celtics should use their remaining in-season tournament games as a way to hone their championship mentality. To adopt a win-at-all-costs mindset and to finally take that next step into becoming a dominant franchise that swats aside all challengers.

    If they win the In-Season Tournament, great — winning breeds winnings, after all. If they don’t, that’s fine, too; the experience, lessons, and opportunities for improvement that are important right now. That’s why I’m all in on this current run toward Las Vegas and why I’ll be extra motivated when cheering on the Celtics during In-Season Tournament play. I want that monster we all know they can become.

  • Checking in on Juhann Begarin and Yam Madar
    Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    The Celtics 2023-24 season is off to a flying start. They have the best record in the NBA and have advanced to the quarterfinals of the first ever In-Season Tournament. Things are looking good in Boston.

    Across the world, a couple of Celtics draftees are putting in work in France and Turkey. They aren’t coming to the NBA this season, but is a debut in Boston any closer for either Juhann Begarin or Yam Madar?

    (Note: All stats are through games played as of December 2 for Begarin and November 30 for Madar)

    Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

    We’ll start with Juhann Begarin. The 6-foot-5 wing is now playing for Nanterre 92 in France. This is after spending the last four seasons with Paris Basketball.

    Begarin has started in 13 of the 14 games Nanterre 92 has played this season. The now 21-year-old has averaged 9.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals per games. Begarin is taking only 7.9 field goal attempts per game, which is his lowest mark since he became a rotation regular with Paris Basketball in 2020-21.

    Begarin is hitting 45.6% from the field, but is making a disappointing 27.9% of his three-pointers. The guard/forward is also getting to the free throw line only 1.5 times per game and hitting 60%.

    Begarin’s three-point shot hasn’t improved in any kind of notable way since he’s been playing at the higher levels in France. He had one season of 34% shooting, but hasn’t topped 31% since then. More worrisome is that Begarin doesn’t seem to have the same finishing pop that he once had. He seems to be taking more pullups than getting all the way to the rim.

    Here’s what an NBA international scout had to say about Begarin:

    “He’s still a good athlete, but he’s not overpowering. That’s disappointing, given his age. He can still get by guys, but his handle needs work, especially if that was to be an NBA skill. What has me worried is that he doesn’t look to be any stronger. He looks a lot like the same guy, in terms of upper-body strength. The shot doesn’t look broken, but it never goes in. He’s usually off left or right. That’s not as fixable as short or long. He’s still not seeing the floor well as a passer. Lots of mistakes that I figured he’d correct by now in his third season in the top French league.

    On defense, he’s still very competitive. He uses his speed and quickness to give guys trouble. He’s good at contesting shots off the bounce. He does a nice job getting out to shooters because he’s quick and he can jump.

    I’d say he’s no closer to being an NBA player than he was over the last few years. He’s closest on defense, but he doesn’t defend well enough for that to be a signature skill to get him to the league.”

    His rebounding and steal numbers have settled around just under 4.0 per game and around 1.5 per game, respectively. Those are solid enough and signs that he’s still getting his job done defensively.

    Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

    Yam Madar moved to Fenerbahce in Turkey this season after two years with Partizan in Serbia. The move has challenged Madar in new ways.

    This season, Madar has played in 18 of the 20 games that Fenerbahce has played this season. The 6-foot-3 guard has started in 10 of those 18 appearances. Madar’s starts have mostly come in the domestic Turkish League and in the VTB SuperCup tournament.

    In his 18 games, the Israeli guard has averaged 8.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Madar has shot 48.1% from the field, but just 31.9% on 2.6 three-point attempts per game. Madar is getting to the free throw line slightly more, as he’s hitting 83.3% on 2.3 free throw attempts per game.

    Madar seems to be playing with a bit more poise in Turkey than he did in Serbia. The faster pace has been a good fit for him, as Madar looks good pushing the ball and picking out shooters, cutter and rim-runners in transition.

    However, Madar is in a prolonged shooting slump to start the season, as his shot looks the same as previous years. He shot 41% from deep in each of his two seasons with Partizan. Look for his numbers to come up as the season goes along.

    Defensively, Madar still relies on beating guys to the spot with his smarts than being overly fast or quick. He’s a competitive defender. Think about how Payton Pritchard defends in the NBA, as how Madar defends over in Europe. It’s fairly similar.

    Madar looks stronger in his upper body. He’s not getting bumped off the ball as easily, even if his turnover numbers have ticked up slightly. Those are mostly plays where Madar is being a little too ambitious in trying to make something happen.

    His most recent EuroLeague game against Real Madrid was his best performance of the season. Madar scored 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-4 on three-pointers. He was asked to play a bit more of a scoring role off the bench in a 100-99 overtime victory.

    In his minutes in that game, Madar was tasked with defending notable players like Rudy Fernandez (his primary matchup off the bench), Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull. Madar held up well against all three players.

    Here’s what another NBA international scout had to say about Madar:

    “He’s tough. He’s not afraid to challenge guys on either end. He likes to play a physical game defensively, but quicker opponents can shake him fairly easily.

    He’s pretty far away from being able to defend in the NBA, for me. He’s just not fast enough. Teams will isolate him in the halfcourt and he’s going to get blown by a lot. If you could keep him off-ball, he’d be better. But it’s a lot of clutch-and-grab stuff. He’ll get called for that in the NBA. You are allowed to be a lot more physical, especially off-ball, over here.

    On offense, I like the way he runs the team when he has the ball. Fenerbahce uses him a lot more a secondary creator, because they play a lot of guards. But he’s still making plays. I’d like to see him as a primary creator more often, but it’s not gonna happen on a team with Nick Calathes, Marko Guduric, Scottie Wilbekin and Tyler Dorsey.

    The shot is fine. He’s just a little amped up when he gets into these games as a backup. I think he misses his first couple long every time I see him. The one worry is that he’s not getting his shot off quite as easily as he did the last couple of years. The EuroLeague defenders are NBA-lite versions, so that’s not a great sign for him as a scorer in the NBA.

    Overall, maybe Madar could be a third point guard in the NBA. He’s a step above a G League callup for me, but not too far above that. He’s 22 now too, so that’s something that we need to watch. We’ve seen some point guards come over later in their careers, but those are the best of the best in Europe. He’s not at that level. Maybe someday.”

    So, there you have it. Both Begarin and Madar remain guys to continue to monitor overseas. But it seems unlikely that either will be playing in Boston anytime soon. At best, maybe they could be that additional little “something” to juice a trade offer. Even then, that doesn’t seem overly likely. Neither has taken the necessary leap to be at that sort of level.

    The good news? Begarin and Madar are just 21 and 22 years old, respectively. There’s still time for both to continue to grow and more improvement should come.

    Lastly, according to each scout and front office person we spoke with, don’t expect to see either player in Summer League again. One scout told CelticsBlog, “Been there, done that. Neither guy has anything to gain by playing in Summer League. Outside of dominating, it won’t help them land an NBA spot.”


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